It may sound counterintuitive, but one of the best things that's happened to Courtney Meeks and William Welch in years is having to report to court once a week. Why? It's kept them accountable.
"I think that I've told you before - this is like the first time we've both been sober at the same time," Meeks says. "It's exciting."
Meeks and Welch are free but apart. She's in treatment, and he's at a sober house. Baby Eve is with Meeks – though still monitored by Child Protective Services.
Meeks and Welch's situation may not be ideal. But they're lucky to be part of a unique program called Family Drug Court, presided over by Judge Aurora Martinez Jones in Travis County.
"We are working with them to make sure we are giving them additional support in their recovery as well as giving them additional parenting skills so that we can keep their families together while they're going through treatment and working through their CPS case," Jones says.
The program takes up to 18 months and is available in courtrooms all over Texas.
Even with only 25 participants a year and a budget of $185,000, Travis County is among the largest providers in Texas. Some counties' budgets are not even one-fourth of Travis County's. That's why Meeks feels lucky – since she signed up for drug court, the state's been paying for her rehabilitation services, her counseling, and her parenting classes. Soon she will also get help finding a job and paying for her housing.
During the 10 phases of the program, Jones chastises the clients who are falling short. Some say it's the toughest thing they've done and compare it to boot camp. At the same time, the judge praises those who are meeting their goals. Meeks still has 9 phases before graduation.
On the opposite side of the courtroom, a pregnant woman massages her belly. Her name is Heather. She's soon to give birth and looks like she's in physical pain – but today's her graduation and she wouldn't miss it for the world. Jones brought her balloons and a cookie cake. Heather says there are no traces left of the meth addict she used to be.
"There's so much positive going on for me now," she says. "And it doesn't happen like that to everybody, but things have come to play for me that I never thought it could've happened back when I signed."
Drug court is not a success for everyone – an investigation last year by the Austin American-Statesman revealed the court is failing in signing up defendants of color – even though that was part of its original mission.
For those who are recruited, there's hope. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals estimates that 75 percent of people nationwide who complete drug courts are never arrested again. That's the hope Meeks and Welch are banking on – the hope for a new beginning.