SHAKOPEE, Minn. -- As a drug treatment court judge in Shakopee, Minnesota, the honorable Chris Wilton has seen some pretty desperate cases.
But he says none have been more desperate than the heroin addict who first appeared before him in the spring of 2014. Her name is Jennifer Jensen.
"Eight months pregnant and clearly using drugs," he said. "That's as bad as it gets. There's nobody worse than her."
And yet woeful as she was, a smile still comes to his face as he thought of her. As of Friday, 24-year-old Jennifer is 33 months clean with a healthy son by her side and a wretched past behind.
Hooked on heroin by high school, Jennifer posed for more mugshots than yearbook photos. When she eventually landed in Judge Wilton's courtroom, he somehow saw potential in Jennifer. He stayed on her and made her appear in court every few weeks -- 27 times in total.
"At first, it was annoying. Like, 'I have to see this guy this much, all the time?'" she asked. "I don't want to see this judge all the time."
But in hindsight, Jennifer says he saved her life.
"Yeah, I would not be here at all probably," she said.
Jennifer's mom, Carrie Martin, says she can't thank that judge enough.
"Every time I see him I'm like, 'You saved my daughter's life.' And he's like, 'No, I was just a judge.' And I'm like, 'No, she looks at you like a father,'" Connie said.
And that's why after her final appearance, Jennifer approached the bench with a very special plea.
"She walked up and asked me if I would perform her marriage, and I was there," Judge Wilton said.
There are no quick fixes to America's heroin epidemic. But if there is a lesson in this happy ending, it's that the solution is rooted in tough love and good judges who know when it's time to go heavier on the tough, and when it's time to go all in with the love.
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