Some had been in and out of jail for years; others decided to get some help before they reached that point.
Some are finally sober enough to start families; others are rebuilding relationships destroyed through years of drug abuse.
All eight were unanimous, however, in their praise for the 2-year program that held them accountable for their choices and taught them the reasons behind their addictions.
Lawrence Martin told the large crowd assembled at Beulah Grove Baptist Church he reached rock bottom after going to jail for the sixth time. He was desperate to start his life over with the woman waiting for him on the outside.
“Drug court gave me that chance,” said Martin, who through hard work gained a new family, a house, a full-time job and reconnected with his two grown daughters.
Drug court is a collaborative effort between Superior Court Judge James Blanchard and several other agencies, including the District Attorney’s Office and Jones Behavioral Health. Participants must submit to weekly drug screens, a curfew, frequent counseling sessions and fulfill other obligations. The more effort they make, the sooner it’s completed and their criminal charges are dropped. Failure to meet criteria equals jail time and eventually they are dropped out of the program.
As Blanchard said: “They have discovered new strengths and confronted old weaknesses.”
All of the drug court graduates shared their success stories and the lessons learned during the program. Donnie Campbell now owns his own computer repair business, which started on a folding table in his bedroom. A four-time convicted felon, Campbell said graduates have to take initiative and make opportunities happen. Drug court allowed Brandon Burgess to repair broken relationships with his brother, father and mother. “I was a lost soul,” he said.
Family members chimed in throughout ceremony, testifying to the change in their loved one’s life through drug court. Graduate Nikki Wright’s daughter, Nicquea Wright, called her mother a “beautiful soul.”
“We’re just happy to have you happy,” she said.
Glenda Smith said she practically begged the courts to have her son, Kevin Smith, enrolled into the program because nothing else had worked up until that point.
“Since he has been home he is like a different person. I depend on him a lot,” Smith said.
Graduate Larry Thomas reserved most of his remarks for praise of Blanchard. He joked that he still gets nervous around a judge, but praised Blanchard for his straightforward, honest manner.
“He talks to you like another individual. He lets you know your worth and that you are meaningful,” Thomas said.
Terri Edwards said before she entered drug court she thought she was lacking in some way, but that drug court showed her the strength she had inside.
Graduate Willa Barnes summed up her feelings this way:
“I can’t describe in words my gratefulness,” she said.