LAKEVILLE, Minn. – On a picturesque fall afternoon in rural Lakeville, Jen and Bill Jensen's wedding day was more than a vow of tomorrows, because not long ago, the bride faced a vastly different lifetime.
Scott County Judge Chris Wilton married the couple under a tent at the groom’s family home.
“Jennifer, you are one of the strongest human beings I have ever met,” said Judge Wilton during the ceremony.
Jen, 24, first met Judge Wilton in a Scott County courtroom while she was using heroin, at 8 months pregnant.
Jen had battled addiction and arrests since she was a teenager.
Instead of sending her to prison, Judge Wilton used an innovative approach to handle addiction in the legal system, what’s become the norm of a new Scott County drug court, challenging her to tackle treatment, school and employment.
After two years in his intensive program, Jen appeared in court for the last time, discharged from probation, a never before seen victory with a first-of-its-kind request of her own.
“I was wondering if you could marry me and my fiancé next September?” she asked him, approaching the bench.
“I would be honored to,” Judge Wilton replied.
Fast forward 15 months, and the judge stood before them, with Jen still drug-free. She even started the first Heroin Anonymous meeting in Minnesota.
“By the State of Minnesota, I now pronounce you husband and wife,” Judge Wilton announced.
A sacred step forward, all because of sobriety.
“About one month before my wedding, my best man, Daniel Hanson, he overdosed and passed away. I have lost so much and she has lost so much, but I want to spread that hope that it is not just jail or incarceration, there is sobriety and freedom and life beyond your wildest imagination,” said Bill Jensen.
Bill Jensen is also in recovery and helps lead the Heroin Anonymous meetings with his new wife. They continue to help others struggling as they did.
“If you would have told me back then when she was 8 months pregnant using heroin that this is where I would be four years later, I might have put some money on it and bet against it, but she is a fighter, she is successful,” said Judge Wilton.
“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,” he added. “Right now, it’s a fairy tale ending.”
Jen has known an ending, but with help, she escaped to the place her ever after begins. Her son Jaxson is now 3, and the couple hopes to soon grow their family.
Read more about her past addiction here.