WOODSTOCK – The last time Ronnie Bianchi’s name occupied this space, it was after police surrounded his Wonder Lake home as part of an early morning drug raid.
Authorities led Bianchi off in handcuffs, and charged him with felony possession of a controlled substance.
This time Bianchi’s name makes it on the front page, it’s because he was celebrating a victory over drug addiction.
Bianchi, who is not related to the McHenry County state’s attorney, was one of six men who graduated Tuesday from the county’s Drug Court program. Together, the six, all recovering heroin addicts, marked 2,102 days of sobriety.
Had they been typically prosecuted, they were facing 13 years in prison – at a minimum. They were instead recommended for Drug Court as an alternative to traditional prosecution.
Participation in the drug court program means drug treatment, frequently checking in with program officials, appearing in court and submitting to drug screens. Some may also be required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Another requirement for graduation is a full year of sobriety.
“You guys know better than anybody – this is not an easy program to complete,” said Scott Block, director of the program.
The goal is to reduce recidivism and substance abuse among the program’s nonviolent offenders, and at the same time, save money on costly prosecutions and incarceration.
Ninety-one people have participated in the drug court, including 16 who have graduated, since the program started in 2011. At least 80 of those were heroin addicts.
Combining the criminal history of the current participants and alumni, there were 782 prior misdemeanors, felonies and DUIs within McHenry County alone, Block said.
State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi read off a laundry list of prior offenses for Tuesday’s graduates: aggravated assault, possession of a controlled substance, DUI, disorderly conduct, theft, residential burglary, trespassing, domestic battery. The list goes on.
“You guys covered every charge in the criminal code,” the state’s attorney said. “But you made it. Congratulations.”
Ronnie Bianchi’s intake photo from the day he started the drug court program was on display behind him as he accepted his certificate for completing the program. In the photo he had pale skin, deep dark circles under his eyes, unkempt hair, scraggly facial hair.
On Tuesday, wearing a suit and tie, Ronnie Bianchi beamed when he thanked his drug court team that included probation officers, treatment providers, a judge and members of the state’s attorney’s and sheriff’s offices.
“I was a slave to my own addiction,” said Ronnie, 221 days sober. “I knew if I went to the Department of Corrections, all that would come from it is I would be a better criminal when I came out.”
Also graduating were Edward Marrs, Michael Reichley, Randy Roewer, Kurt Sahlberg and Daniel White. The county’s Drug Court program is presided over by Judge Charles Weech.