The community based and operated program is in its seventh year and the recent graduation brought to 111 the number of those given a chance to begin a new life and avoid a lengthy prison sentence. Six graduates who have made it through a rigorous program of counseling, random drug testing, curfews and other restrictions, told their stories to a group of family and friends at the ceremony.
Dean and Kelly Crawford were among those completing the program. Kelly completed the program over a year ago, but chose to wait for her husband, Dean, to meet the requirements so they could graduate together.
“I thank God we were given a chance to start over,” said Kelly. “We were able to keep our family intact and for that I am forever grateful.”
Getting into the program isn’t an easy task, according to Julie Rorick, drug court coordinator. Those selected for the program must have a non-violent past, undergo a background check and anyone with a drug trafficking offense isn’t accepted.
Rorick, herself a former drug addict has been sober 8,686 days and counting. She knows first hand how drugs can take over someone’s life and how hard it is to fight the battle and win.
“The average rate of failure in the state for drug court programs is 23.6 percent,” said Rorick. “The rate for the program in Bryan County is only 2 percent, which says a lot for the people who make it work.”
Offenders assigned to the program undergo a screening process conducted by a team consisting of the district attorney’s office, police department, sheriff’s office, judge, a defense attorney, two private citizens, drug court coordinator and counselors.
A number of former graduates of the program attended the event to show their support for the second chance they got in life. One by one they stood and told the crowd how many days they have been sober. Days grew into months and months into years as they proudly related their success.
Judge Farrell Hatch, who volunteers his time to the court and is responsible for bringing the program to Bryan County, explained that “druggies” can be your next door neighbor and there are many reasons a person becomes an addict. “Drugs had taken over the lives of those graduating tonight,” said Hatch. “They fought the battle and won.”
The Rev. J.C. Mitchell, host of the event, was also the featured speaker. He assured the graduates and their families that they are no longer “druggies, they are children of God.”
Graduate Don Gilbert, who has spent much of his adult life in prison, told a moving story about his battle with alcohol and drugs.
“There are some things you can’t get back,” said Gilbert. “I was very close to my dad and he died while I was in prison. Prison couldn’t cure me, but this program has worked.”
Gilbert said he has been sober for 638 days. He was given a seven-year prison sentence for his last offense. That sentence was suspended with the successful completion of drug court.
He pointed out into the audience to his wife and small son who were there supporting him and said he couldn’t imagine being in prison for the next seven years of his son’s life.
Following the graduation ceremony a reception was held with District Attorney Emily Redman congratulating the graduates and their families.