The best Christmas present anyone can receive doesn’t come wrapped neatly in a package with a bow as participants of the latest drug court graduation discovered during ceremonies held Friday night. Ten graduates completed the rigorous 12-step program that kept them out of a jail cell and with their families, and they will always be grateful for their second chance at freedom.
Honorable Judge Farrell Hatch, founder of the Bryan County program, and the Drug Court team made up of various law enforcement agencies and private citizens, gave participants a second chance after reviewing their circumstances and conducting personal interviews before giving them the gift they received Friday night.
Keynote speaker Dr. Gregory Clay, a Durant optometrist, skillfully used his father’s hardships and obstacles as a motivating tool for the graduates to consider in making choices. His father, born in Louisiana was orphaned when he was seven years old. Born with only one kidney, he overcame adversity to letter in three sports in high school and was named Durant High School Outstanding Athlete in 1946. He married his high school sweetheart who would soon develop a severe health problem and be confined to a wheelchair.
“Dad used his homespun humor to teach his children responsibilities,” he said. “Sayings like ‘Can’t never did do anything’, and when we complained about being hurt he would say ‘I’ve had worst places on my lip and could still whistle’. Those sayings will always be with us and we learned grace through humor.”
Dr. Clay told the graduates three facts they should remember, “You are free to make choices, you are not free to not make choices, and you are not free to not face consequences for your choices. “ He reminded than that sometimes there are hoops they have to jump through as others before them have done and they were better for it and they will be too.
Each graduate stood at the podium to give a brief description on how the drug court has helped them find a new life free of drugs. A record crowd of friends, family, former graduates, current participants and program officials gave standing ovations as each one gave an emotional testimony of their past drug use and how they have become sober and free of drugs.
One graduate fought back tears and had to pause to regain his composure as he told about the death of his wife and best friend before he began a downward spiral into drugs and alcohol. “I was lucky enough to be accepted into this program,” he said. “I have learned a lot about myself and how to live a life without drugs.”
One young lady had never been in trouble until she became involved with meth and was arrested. She lost her small daughter to Child Welfare and was terrified at her arraignment. After an interview with the drug court team, she was given a reprieve from prison. “I had hit bottom and decided to place my life in the hands of God,” she said. “I am now living a normal and happy life and most of all I have my daughter back.”
Other testimonies were just as moving and emotional and left few dry eyes in the audience. Receiving certificates of completion were: Andrew Bishop, Bobby Chapman, Krystal Green, Thomas Henry, Robert Shields, Jimmy Shores, Amber Smith, Lilly Smith, Matt Sutterfield and Misty Williams.
“Drug Court is an earned gift immeasurable in scope,” said Charlene Thomas, coordinator. “The path to recovery is working together so we can do together what we cannot do alone.”