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Westmoreland

Westmoreland mom who beat addiction calls drug court 'my saving grace'

Renatta Signorini
| Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, 4:12 p.m.
Judge Christopher Feliciani (left), talks about the hard work that graduate Helena Uncapher put into kicking her drug habit, during the Drug Court graduation ceremony at the Westmoreland County Courthouse, in Greensburg, on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017. Uncapher who has been sober for 18 months, and has become a manager at the convenience store that she works at.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Judge Christopher Feliciani (left), talks about the hard work that graduate Helena Uncapher put into kicking her drug habit, during the Drug Court graduation ceremony at the Westmoreland County Courthouse, in Greensburg, on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017. Uncapher who has been sober for 18 months, and has become a manager at the convenience store that she works at.
Ashely Hixson hugs her son Noah as Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio reads her proclamation of graduation, during the drug court graduation ceremony at the Westmoreland County Courthouse. (Trib photo)
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Ashely Hixson hugs her son Noah as Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio reads her proclamation of graduation, during the drug court graduation ceremony at the Westmoreland County Courthouse. (Trib photo)
With tears in her eyes, Alissa Bordonaro listens as Westmoreland County Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio talks about Bordonaro's transformation from addiction to sobriety during the drug court graduation ceremony at the Westmoreland County Courthouse  in Greensburg on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
With tears in her eyes, Alissa Bordonaro listens as Westmoreland County Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio talks about Bordonaro's transformation from addiction to sobriety during the drug court graduation ceremony at the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017.
Judge Christopher Feliciani (left), presents a proclamation of graduation to Cory Cramer, during the Drug Court graduation ceremony at the Westmoreland County Courthouse, in Greensburg, on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Judge Christopher Feliciani (left), presents a proclamation of graduation to Cory Cramer, during the Drug Court graduation ceremony at the Westmoreland County Courthouse, in Greensburg, on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017.
Judge Christopher Feliciani (left), places a medal around the neck of of Greg Sokol, during the Drug Court graduation ceremony at the Westmoreland County Courthouse, in Greensburg, on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Judge Christopher Feliciani (left), places a medal around the neck of of Greg Sokol, during the Drug Court graduation ceremony at the Westmoreland County Courthouse, in Greensburg, on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017.

Helena Uncapher kept her freedom.

She kept her kids.

She got a job.

She has a life because she pushed away the negative thoughts that could've held her back from enrolling in the Westmoreland County drug court program. It would've been easier for the 32-year-old Hempfield woman to sit in jail and serve a sentence on drug charges.

“It's my saving grace,” Uncapher said Thursday. “I'm very grateful to be a part of it.”

Uncapher and four other participants of the intensive court treatment program graduated Thursday after months of close supervision by probation officials and a judge, as well as regular therapy sessions, drug tests and keeping a diary. The successes and struggles of each participant were noted by their supervising judge and each received medals. In its two years of existence, the program has graduated seven — the first two in June — and 42 more are enrolled. Sixteen people are on a waiting list.

The special court was initiated in 2015 as county officials struggled with a surging drug epidemic that has flooded courtrooms with cases and prisons with addicted defendants. In exchange for their participation, the defendants can get mitigated sentences.

“We're asking our district attorney to go against what he's built to do,” Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio said. “If we didn't have John Peck's buy-in, we wouldn't be here today.”

The program costs about $300,000 to operate annually and is funded through court costs paid by defendants, private donations and money from the county's budget.

Bilik-DeFazio and Judge Christopher Feliciani said they plan to request enough funding to expand the program capacity from 50 to 100 participants in 2018. The pair informally asked the county commissioners, who were present for the graduation ceremony, for their support.

“We've only just begun our effort to eradicate drugs” from the community, Feliciani said.

The five graduates have done their part to help.

Uncapher had 100 percent compliance during the past 16 months and had 120 clean drug tests.

“In one word, Helena is amazing,” Feliciani said.

She manages a Hempfield convenience store and is pleased with where she's landed. She credits it to the drug court administrators.

“They really, truly gave me a live that I never had, that I never thought was possible,” Uncapher said.

Other graduates — Greg Sokol, 31, of Pricedale; Ashley Hixson, 28, of Scottdale; and Alissa Bordonaro, 35, of Greensburg — expressed appreciation for the help through the program and hugged family and friends after the ceremony.

Sokol turned down narcotic painkillers after ankle reconstruction surgery while he was enrolled in the program, Feliciani said.

“He was able to just say no ... because he wasn't going to risk all his clean time for some pain,” the judge said.

Sandy Cramer wasn't sure what to expect when her son Cory Cramer, 34, of Greensburg enrolled in drug court because of the newness of the program.

But now, as a graduate, Cory Cramer has completely changed, she said.

“It was a godsend,” Sandy Cramer said after the ceremony. “I can't put it into words how much I appreciate all (Feliciani has) done. It did save his life.”

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374, rsignorini@tribweb.com or via Twitter @byrenatta.

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