Woman In Recovery Gives Second-Chance Judge A Special Honor

By Victoria Kim 11/08/17

The judge gave the woman a much-needed second chance, and in return she gave him a starring role in one of the biggest days of her life.

Couple holding a red paper heart with a gavel in the foreground.

A Minnesota judge’s efforts to give a young mother and former heroin user a second chance has come full circle, when he officiated her wedding this past September.

Jennifer Griffith, now 24, was pregnant, using heroin and “nothing short of a nightmare probationer” when Scott County District Court Judge Chris Wilton decided to divert her future away from jail cells. Instead of locking her up, the judge encouraged her to commit to recovery and take on small goals like enrolling in school and finding work.

Two years later, in June 2016, she was discharged from probation. To celebrate her freedom, she asked the judge to officiate her marriage to Bill Jensen, who also previously battled heroin addiction. 

The judge happily obliged this past September. He called Griffith “one of the strongest human beings I have ever met,” a beacon of hope for others like her. 

“In Scott County, it’s still an epidemic, we still have people dying every week, young people, of heroin overdose and Jennifer is a shining example of what you can do and where you can go,” said the judge. “Right now, it’s a fairy tale ending.”

Griffith has come a long way from where she started. According to KARE 11, she spent much of her young life homeless, and in and out of jail for her drug use. She’s struggled with addiction since age 12, and nearly died of alcohol poisoning by the time she was 13 years old. At 16, she began taking OxyContin, which led to heroin.   

After appearing before Judge Wilton while eight months pregnant and still using heroin, her newborn son Jaxson, now three years old, needed methadone because he was going through withdrawal from opioids.

Since her last run-in with the law, Griffith has not only stayed sober, but has served as secretary for Crystal Meth Anonymous and established Minnesota’s first chapter of Heroin Anonymous, with the help of her husband Bill. (Sadly, he lost his best man to a drug overdose just one month before their wedding.)

At the time she was discharged from probation, she was set to graduate from the Minnesota School of Business in December, and had plans to pursue a marketing degree, according to KARE 11.

Wilton admits he would have bet against a future for Griffith before seeing her transformation, but said she’s proved that she’s a “fighter.”

“As a judge, you’ve got to be compassionate,” said Judge Wilton, according to KARE 11. “Somebody like Jennifer Griffith comes in and is screaming for help. Addiction is a disease, it’s baby steps, it’s day by day, week by week.”

“I don’t know what he saw in me,” says Jennifer. “Somehow he saw my determination and that I wasn’t a horrible person, that I was a person who had a problem. And I still always wonder, why didn’t he give up on me?”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr