‘Leaders in their own way’: 2 graduate from Big Island Drug Court

  • Big Island Drug Court held its 45th graduation ceremony for Elijah Prevetz-Lafayette, 32, (far left), and Antonio Paglinawan, 39, (far right), on Monday at drug court on Halekii Street. The graduates stand with Drug Court Judge Melvin Fujino (center) for a photo after the program. (Tiffany DeMasters/West Hawaii Today)

KEALAKEKUA — Big Island Drug Court is about giving participants the tools to lead a clean and sober life. For Antonio Paglinawan and Elijah Prevetz-Lafayette that’s exactly what they gained after completing the program, ultimately giving them a second chance.

On Monday, fellow drug court participants as well as team members filled the court on Halekii Street to celebrate the graduation of the two men.

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“They’re both leaders in their own way,” said Drug Court Judge Melvin Fujino. “Once they decided they were going to change, they accelerated and did everything they were supposed to do.”

Several members of the drug court team spoke about Paglinawan and Prevetz-Lafayette and their journey to sobriety.

Deputy Prosecutor Mark Disher said while Paglinawan had an early violation within a month of entering the program, after that he remained clean and sober for over two years.

Fujino said the 39-year-old has also shown he has the ability to not only lead, but be successful.

On Monday, Paglinawan’s sons were there to see their father graduate the program.

Paglinawan entered drug court on Sept. 19, 2016. He was arrested on a third-degree promotion drug charge.

After the ceremony, Deputy Public Defender Ann Datta said that when people come into drug court they’ve lost everything — their home, their jobs and sometimes even their peace.

Datta said Paglinawan did the hard work necessary to get his life back on track.

“He now has a home, he has a job and he’s gained custody of his children,” she said.

Paglinawan said his motivation to get clean was so he could get his sons back. After the ceremony, he said, life was good.

“Everything is clear,” Paglinawan said. “I can be there for my kids. I can do things I put my mind to.”

The 39-year-old added the program was good about pushing him to be a better person.

“At first you don’t like it, but it makes you feel like a stronger person,” he said.

Prevetz-Lafayette joined drug court on Nov. 14, 2016. Disher said there were three criminal cases pending against him. The 32-year-old struck out to him because in police investigations, it indicated Prevetz-Lafayette had scaled the wall of one of the local hotels.

“He admitted that he planned to fake his way through (the program),” Disher recalled. “He has come a long way. He has a bright future ahead of him.”

Datta said it’s heartbreaking what happens to “our kids” because of addiction.

“But drug court gave him the tools that maybe there was a better way,” Datta said of Prevetz-Lafayette. “He shared his life is easier and relationships and work are easier and more enjoyable.”

The 32-year-old also went from being a little bit of a troublemaker into someone fellow participants looked up to while at Bridge House, a residential drug treatment program.

Drug court team members described Prevetz-Lafayette as someone who can accomplish anything he puts his mind to. One of those things was building a three-tiered rock wall at Bridge House.

Prevetz-Lafayette spoke at the graduation saying he never thought he’d be in a situation where he’d be grateful for his probation officers and the officers who arrested him.

“I’m living a life that’s so much more rewarding and real,” he said.

In the battle to be clean, he said, “you can’t see those benefits when you’re in addiction.”

“When you’re an addict you don’t think that being sober is an option,” he said.

Over the course of two years, Prevetz-Lafayette said, he started to receive the rewards of a sober life.

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“It feels really good to be part of community where police and probation want me to succeed,” he said. “I feel like a part of a community. I’m really thankful for drug court and Bridge House for giving me a better way of life.”

“I want to thank everyone who brought me my son back,” she said.