Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Convict to Coach: Drug Court Graduate’s Remarkable Renaissance

A drug court judge and staff may have expertise and passion, but many specialized dockets often lack an element when relating with participants – a shared experience. Akron Municipal Court has a person with that kind of “street cred.”

Marie Burger-Rutter, a 2016 graduate of the municipal court’s Recovery Court, has been helping participants in the specialized docket deal with their substance use disorders as a certified recovery coach for the past two years.

“When I first meet with clients I always say, ‘Look, right there’s my certificate. I graduated from this program. I understand what it’s like to go through this process,’” said Burger-Rutter.

The mother of four sons has experienced every setback imaginable in dealing with the disease that started with alcohol and marijuana as a teen, transitioned to pills, then escalated to methamphetamines and heroin. Amid her 10-year struggle for sobriety, she lost her job, was evicted from her home, had her children taken away by Summit County Childrens Services, went to prison, and overdosed.

“That was the most terrifying experience I ever went through in my life. To be completely consumed by fear, and not know if you’ll live or die, is a feeling I don’t ever want to feel again,” said Burger-Rutter.

Having progressed through one of Ohio’s original drug courts, she’s among more than 1,000 participants to successfully complete the year-long program since its inception in 1995. For Judge Jon Oldham, who’s been in charge of the specialty docket since 2016, Burger-Rutter provides an immeasurable resource and respectability.

“It’s something we can’t even put a value on,” Judge Oldham said. “That would be amazing if every drug court could have such a person.”

Four years sober, Burger-Rutter works for Oriana House, which is a nationally renowned community corrections and chemical dependency treatment agency. Although a large portion of her clients are from Recovery Court, she also assists people in other programs and other stages of their rehabilitation.

“Recovery isn’t perfect. People fall short sometimes,” she said. “For them to know that no matter what they do, somebody’s always going to be there to support them and not judge them for their mistakes. I’m grateful to be able to be that person for them.”

As a reclamation project herself, Burger-Rutter’s office at Oriana House is fittingly inside a renovated church. It’s the same place she found hope, and the setting where she helps people find salvation. 

“I’ve worked really hard in my recovery because I feel like there’s a lot of people I would let down if I didn’t make it. And the longer I stay sober, the list of people gets longer.”