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Women getting new lease on life

Program helps them get their kids back

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FARMINGTON — Nicole Henstra wrapped her arms around her children and beamed.

"I feel very lucky to be given this chance to give myself and my kids a new life," she said Tuesday.

Henstra is a proud graduate of the Davis Child Protection Drug Court, a program she completed in eight months. She's also going to regain custody of her children — 12-year-old Kelsey, 11-year-old Kaden and 9-year-old Austin.

"I did it because I love my kids," she said.

Henstra said she started doing methamphetamine at 19 to deal with life's pain. She got into trouble and wound up on the streets for a while.

"I gave custody of my kids to my mother-in-law the first time," she said. "I didn't have anywhere for them to go. I just continued to use and went to jail."

She wound up with some drug convictions but was still hooked on meth and heroin. After another run-in with authorities and facing the possibility of more trouble, she handed her son over to child welfare workers and entered the program. It was either that or eventually they would have been taken and she would have kept using, Henstra said.

"I think there comes a point in your life when you have to grow up and make decisions," the 31-year-old woman said. "I just felt like that's what I needed. They didn't force me to do it. I chose it."

As part of the program, participants had to undergo counseling, attend substance-abuse therapy and 12-step programs, submit to random urine tests and regular court appearances, said Judge Stephen Van Dyke, who oversees the program.

"Participation in the program is voluntary, but relapse and rule violations can be punished in a variety of ways, including jail time," the judge said. "The real motivation for a parent, however, is to see their children returned to them with a more stable lifestyle."

Seandia Gray got hooked on meth after dropping out of high school to take care of her dying mother.

"I started using meth to stay up," she said Tuesday. "After she passed away in 2002, I just went off the chain. I didn't care about life."

Gray said she pushed it to the limit, overdosing as much as she could — even admitting to trying to kill herself with meth.

"In September 2005, I was incarcerated and I found out I was pregnant with my first kid," she said. "I quit using for a good 19 months."

She started using again, and when she was pregnant again, she didn't stop. When her baby was born, her baby had traces of meth in her body and went directly from the hospital to foster care. Her 2-year-old daughter went to live with the girl's father. She entered the Child Protection Drug Court program and graduated Tuesday. Gray has had her children back for a few months now. To applause, she announced she is 312 days clean.

Speaking at their graduation, Rep. Julie Fisher, R-Fruit Heights, urged the women not to give up on themselves.

"Forgive yourselves," she said. "Heal. Continue to show love for those who are here to help you, but most importantly — believe in yourself. You've got what it takes to go forward and make a great life for yourself."

Gray admits she's scared about her future.

"Life begins from here," she said outside of court. "I'm just getting out on my own. I've never been on my own."

She has support from a close-knit group of friends she's made while going through the program. Members of her 12-step group packed the courtroom to celebrate her graduation.

"I'm here for her," said friend Jerina. "She can call me anytime."

Gray's family did not attend her graduation, she said.

Gray said she has called on her sponsor and friends in her 12-step group for support as she's fought drug addiction. She'll call on them again.

"I plan on getting my high school diploma and educating myself," she said Tuesday.

Henstra also faces an uphill battle in life. A convicted felon, she's struggled to get housing for her family and a decent job. She isn't worried, vowing to persist and stay clean.

"I've learned that freaking out only gets you to use," she said, noting that she's now in line to get a more permanent job and was able to get someone to rent her a house despite her history.

Looking at her kids playing in the hallway of the Davis County Courthouse, Henstra said the idea of getting her kids back is "awesome." She has a permanency hearing next month, but the judge said he believes the drug court program's efforts will help her be reunited.

"What really hit me," Henstra said, tearing up, "is when my daughter told me: 'Mom, I like you better sober."'


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com