Winnebago County Judge, Circuit Court Branch IV
as told to Jelissa Burns
“You absolutely build relationships with people over that period of time and especially seeing them every week, or two weeks, or three weeks depending on the phase they’re in in the drug court program. You have a relationship with them. You have things that you always bring up in conversation with that particular person just because of your relationship or because it’s a running joke. You know how kids come home and say ‘Mom, look, I got an A on my paper’, people in drug court want to tell the judge and the team, ‘I got a raise. I got a promotion. I got a new job!’ – all of those things that they lost because of their years of drug use. They want to come in every week and share those things. When you hear negative news from them, it’s heartbreaking. It just absolutely breaks your heart. You don’t want to say that these individuals are like family, but the connection is so close. It’s like if one of my children’s best friends had a problem, it’s like that closeness. If you stop and think about life, and you think about the fact that nobody picks their family, nobody picks who they were born to. If I were not born into the family I was born in, raised where I was raised, there’s nothing standing between me and being the person at that table other than the random act of where I was born. A big part of it is poverty, a big part of it is family trauma, or if you didn’t have enough to eat, and you watched abuse and people who abused substances. If no one told you it was important to do your homework or comb your hair or show up clean – all of these things that were an automatic in my home weren’t automatic to them. So by a flip of the coin, where they were born triggers everything in their life. When you realize that these are all human beings and the only difference is where they got dropped into life, how can you not think of them as just like you? When I look at all the things they’ve overcome and how they’re able to function I am in awe of them. They are wonderful people who got dealt a different hand of cards than I did.”
Karen Seifert is one of the judges who presides over the Winnebago County Safe Streets Drug Court Program. She has been a judge for the Winnebago County Circuit Court since 2006.