ELYRIA — Judge John Miraldi saw Joe Cuevas heading into the courtroom Tuesday and smiled and gave him a thumbs-up.
Cuevas saw the hand motion and returned it with a smile.
Miraldi and Cuevas established a love-hate relationship nearly six years ago.
At the time, Miraldi had just been elected as Lorain County Common Pleas Court judge; Cuevas had a case on his docket.
“I used to say, ‘What am I gonna do with Joe? What am I gonna do with Joe?’” Miraldi said to family, friends and court-appointed representatives during Tuesday’s Lorain County Recovery Court. “And then he got it. … He got it like no other.”
Now, 410 days sober, Miraldi is cheering Cuevas’ effort.
Cuevas, Renee Hildebrandt, Treasure Dougan and Lindsey Boley graduated from Lorain County Recovery Court on Tuesday. Recovery Court was created and implemented by Miraldi. The demanding program specializes in helping low-level offenders hooked on opioids break their addiction.
The success rate of Recovery Court is about 50 percent, but for the four graduates, saying goodbye to Miraldi wasn’t easy.
To all of them, Miraldi and the staff of Lorain County Recovery Court — including probation officers, lawyers, drug addiction counselors, recovery coaches and mental health providers — have become like family.
Cuevas’ T-shirt he wore Tuesday, “I Trusted the Process,” showed others that he trusted the judicial system when it came time for him to get clean.
“I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with Recovery Court,” Cuevas said. “I was in jail when I hit rock bottom and said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’”
Cuevas used heroin for two years before getting clean 14 months ago.
“I can now be the man I know I can be,” he said.
Hildebrandt’s story is similar in that they both turned to drugs. The difference is she is in constant pain associated with physical aliments. She has undergone several surgeries and is set to have another one in December. At one point in her life, when she could not manage the pain any longer, she turned to heroin and alcohol.
Hildebrandt, 52, was clean for 18 years before she relapsed in December 2005. It took her another 12 years before she made the decision to rid her life of drugs and alcohol.
Hildebrandt has been sober since Aug. 20, 2017.
“I won’t let this disability keep me from the life I deserve to have,” she said.
Dougan, 39, relied on heroin and cocaine to help her get through her days for 11 years. Sixteen months ago, she said enough.
“I’m not ashamed. … Don’t give up because you get reunited with yourself,” she said.
Boley, 38, has been an addict for 25 years. She chose opioids, cocaine and alcohol over her own happiness. Now, 420 days sober, she’s learning to love herself and wants to be a beacon of light for others.
“Thank God for the justice system and thank you to the treatment team who kept me in line and for providing positive reinforcement,” Boley said.