RICHLAND — Trause Gladney was a young man when he became addicted to money and the "fast life" it afforded him.
He sold crack to support his lifestyle, yet knew that his high wouldn't last forever and one day he would get caught.
At 21, Gladney was locked up in federal prison for five years for distributing a controlled substance. He was released 1 1/2 years ago after serving the full sentence, but he had a problem with pills and couldn't find work to support his young family with a felony conviction on his record.
Gladney recognized that he was struggling and needed help. So when he heard about a re-entry program geared toward people on federal supervision, he asked to get on board.
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In January 2011, the Pasco father of four joined the Tri-City's inaugural class of the Sobriety Treatment and Education Program, or STEP, a federal drug court program that targets high-risk, high-need people and works with them for a minimum 12 months "to achieve long-term sobriety and to become a positive and productive member of society."
On Wednesday, Gladney celebrated with loved ones as he became the program's first graduate. A small ceremony was held in Richland's U.S. District Court at the end of the regular meeting between program participants and STEP team staff.
"I think all of us on the team are just really proud of him," said U.S. Magistrate Judge James P. Hutton with the Eastern District of Washington. He is the STEP judge for the Tri-Cities and Yakima.
Hutton said that during the past year, Gladney had a positive attitude and very few problems other than finding and keeping work.
Gladney, now 27, thanked the team for keeping him disciplined and helping to turn his life around.
"It's been hard work, but I appreciate this," he told the group, saying it will pay off in the long run for him. He just started classes at Columbia Basin College in a two-year certificate program to become a welder and ultimately "take any job with decent pay."
Gladney also joked that the program kept him in shape, as he was known for running through the federal building's big parking lot to be on time for the STEP meetings.
"To complete something is always good," Gladney later told the Herald as he enjoyed cake and punch in the courtroom.
Unlike state drug courts where participants sign up while in the pretrial process and have their pending charge dismissed upon graduation, the federal model doesn't accept people until they have done their time behind bars and are on probation.
"The state goes at it at the front end, we go at it at the back end," Hutton said. "Part of it is (the Department of Justice) wants to see people pay the penalty for their crime, but also understands that it may help society if we can help get (the federal offenders) clean and sober when out on supervised release."
Another incentive is the participants -- the majority of whom were in for drug-related crimes -- will get one year taken off their probation upon successful completion of STEP. An average term of supervised release is between three and five years.
The Eastern District of Washington reportedly was the seventh federal jurisdiction in the nation to start the drug court program. Spokane kicked things off in the district in June 2007, with Yakima following in January 2009 and the Tri-Cities one year ago.
The district has absorbed the cost of the program with the judge, prosecutor, public defender and probation officer all volunteering their time, in addition to their normal workload. The team also includes drug counselors.
Participants are screened to make sure they are a good candidate and, if accepted, go through four phases of the program.
The first phase is about stabilization, making sure they have an appropriate home, are in drug or alcohol treatment and are meeting with a mental health counselor. They typically must have three-times-a-week urinalysis testing in the beginning.
Hutton, who calls it therapeutic court, said the team realizes the recovering addicts may relapse or misstep while in the program, but will work with the participant through treatment and sanctions to help them succeed instead of immediately kicking them out. Participants who have done well receive kudos at the meetings.
Participants must work or do community service hours each week, and by the final phase are "looking toward their life after probation" and are required to have continuously stable employment, Hutton said. They must write an essay about how they intend to remain clean and sober, their goals for the future and what support they have, whether it is family or a job, he said.
Once they graduate from STEP and are off federal supervision, they no longer get formal support from the team but are encouraged to visit and even get references if further treatment services are needed.
"I thought when I started this that success would be easily measured and pretty apparent, but it has turned out that in fact you kind of measure success by small steps. I think the real proof is in where someone is five years after they leave the STEP program," Hutton said.
Gladney said what helped him get through the program was knowing "I didn't want to go back to prison regardless. Breaking the law, that was behind me." His supervised release ends in July.
His fiance Angela Barrickman said it was stressful seeing Gladney in his addiction, made even more difficult by his prison sentence as she struggled to raise their kids. But Barrickman, who has been with Gladney for 10 years and is expecting another child in March, said she has seen a big change in him as he progressed through drug court.
"He's grown up a lot," she said. "I'm very happy. It feels like life can move on."