Heroin addiction is an undeniable epidemic plaguing our country, but there remains no easy answer to the problem. People are divided about how to use the criminal justice system to stop heroin use while encouraging victims of addiction to obtain the proper help and treatment they need.
These questions often fall on people like the honorable Chris Wilton, a drug treatment court judge from Shakopee, Minnesota, who sees the tragic faces of the opioid crisis on a daily basis.
Judge Wilton is left to make the tough decision of what to do with these addicts.
But one person really stood out. It was a young woman named Jennifer Jensen, who was first brought to his bench in 2014. While still in high school, Jensen had several run-ins with the law over her addiction—one that was threatening not only her own life, but the life of her unborn child.
Wilton was stunned—this was one of the worst cases he had seen.
“Eight months pregnant and clearly using drugs,” he told CBS News.
“That’s as bad as it gets. There’s nobody worse than her.”
Despite being a particularly bad case, the judge saw something in the teen, and knew she could recover with the proper guidance.
So, instead of sending Jensen to jail or some other form of punishment, Wilton made the best ruling he could think of.
He sentenced her to continue visiting the court to check in with him.
It was a compassionate sentencing, but Jensen didn’t see it that way at the time.
“At first, it was annoying,” she recalled thinking. “Like, ‘I have to see this guy this much, all the time?'”
She agreed to revisit the courtroom every few weeks. Over the next few months, she met with Judge Wilton 27 times.
But as time went on, something miraculous happened: With the judge’s support and encouragement, Jensen slowly began to recovery from her addiction. She successfully gave birth to a healthy baby boy, and started a new life as a young mother.
Jensen’s own mother, Carrie Martin, was emotional at seeing her daughter’s recovery—and she says that Wilton became more than her court-appointed judge.
“Every time I see him I’m like, ‘You saved my daughter’s life,'” Martin told CBS. “And he’s like, ‘No, I was just a judge.'”
“And I’m like, ‘No, she looks at you like a father.'”
Three years later, Jensen is now 24 years old … and 36 months clean. With her addiction in the past, she’s fully devoted to raising her young son.
But she’s never forgotten the judge who likely saved her life.
Jensen told CBS that if it wasn’t for their scheduled appointments, she likely “would not be here at all.”
So she decided to thank Judge Wilton … by giving him a very important honor.
After kicking her heroin addiction, Jensen experienced another major milestone. She got married. And not only did she invite Wilton to the ceremony, she went one step further.
“She walked up and asked me if I would perform her marriage,” Wilton said.
Wilton gladly agreed, and he proudly showed up on her big day to officiate the ceremony.
A life saved, and a lifelong friendship made, all thanks to some good judgement!