FAIRMONT - The people who took part in Sober Fest 2011 on Saturday at Hand's Park south of Fairmont are learning how to have fun.
That's right. Learning.
"Personally, I am in recovery," says Bev Snow, who oversees the Faribault-Martin-Jackson County drug court program. "Before I sobered up, I thought the only way to have fun was to go to the bar and get high."
Leann Exum, left, of Shakopee has a smiley face painted on her face by Ruth Heather of Edina, Mo., on Saturday at Sober Fest at Hand’s Park south of Fairmont. Sober Fest brings together people associated with the Faribault-Martin-Jackson County drug court program for a day of softball and fun.
Eric Fliszar of New Ulm steps into a pitch during play at Sober Fest.
Recovery taught Snow new social skills and how to communicate without having to rely on alcohol. People lose those skills, or lose the ability to mature and develop them, when they start using drugs and alcohol, she says. Call it a rewiring, or an incomplete wiring, of the brain.
Sober Fest is a culmination and celebration for people who are on the road back, as well as for people associated with them. The drug court program has 32 alumni, who have formed their own group, SOAR. It stands for sobriety, opportunity, achievement and responsibility. The group holds fund-raisers in order to host Sober Fest, which is held the second Saturday in September. (September is National Recovery Month.) This year marked the fourth for Sober Fest.
The bigger milestones are individual. Snow says that of the 32 drug court graduates, five have relapsed and four have committed new crimes. But she says those numbers are far better than would be the case if the 32 people had simply been sent to prison. Drug court diverts people from the grim prospect of serving time and likely recidivism. It attempts to reform people rather than just punish them. It helps keep families together.
Snow says there are two types of criminals: Those who commit crimes and happen to be addicts; and those who are addicts who happen to commit crimes. The latter are reachable and need help, not prison, she believes.
Snow was involved in Dodge County's Sober Fest before getting involved with the local drug court in 2006. The area program saw its first graduates in 2007. The first Sober Fest, which helps keeps drug court alumni in contact with the program after they graduate, involved about 50 people. On Saturday, about 125 participated.
Sober Fest also recognizes the contributions of the community to drug court. This year's honorees included Jackson County Deputy Brandon Haley; Hand's Park; the Jackson County Pilot and Sentinel; Maynard's, a Lakefield grocery store; and Shaun Tungland, a drug court participant.
"The community has really wrapped its arms around the program," said Snow, noting contributions to Sober Fest itself among other measures of support.
But the biggest part of Sober Fest remains just having fun. That sounds simple, but it is simple pleasures that can elude addicts.
In addition to her own experiences, Snow can point to the success of others she has seen grow and mature through sobriety. She described one man who came to his first Sober Fest, sat in a chair and asked every 15 minutes if he could go home.
"The last two years, he has played softball, and now he brings people with him," Snow said. "He learned social skills and he doesn't just sit in a corner anymore."