Drug Court transforms graduates’ lives

Published 8:00 am Friday, July 28, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Seven locals from Butler, Lowndes and Crenshaw counties graduated from the Second Judicial District’s Drug Court program on July 21 after 12 months of meeting strict stipulations under the supervision of District Judge Adrian Johnson. 

Johnson, who presides over the court’s hearings each month said the program is evidence of how lives can be changed with the right effort and encouragement.

“What I like about Drug Court is that it’s a celebration of the power of perseverance,” Johnson said. “Everyone had a different path in life that led them here, but each one has something in common, they persevered. In Drug Court you succeed or fail by your own efforts. We’re all here to try and lift you up and encourage you to push yourself to succeed while holding you accountable. Hopefully with the tools you’ve now been equipped with, you can live drug and alcohol free and be there for your family, friends, loved ones, and encourage others to change their lives.” 

Email newsletter signup

Graduates received a few gifts including a silver keychain engraved with the participant’s name as a reminder they have the ability to overcome obstacles. Each graduate had the opportunity to speak and share their advice to the new program participants that filled the courtroom seats. 

“Be as loud about your recovery as you didn’t know you were about your addiction,” said graduate Kayla Tolbert. “Pray unceasingly. Pray God leads you to people who lead you closer to him.”

Minister Charles Box, a counselor for the program, gave a short sermon on seven points of living a sober and fulfilled life. 

“First, know your value,” Box said. “Addiction takes away the value a person sees in themselves. God made you a valuable person. Second, choose people that care about you. Your drug dealer does not care about you. Third, life is not always easy, but be calm in dealing with life. Fourth, be a person that others can trust and believe in. Fifth, learn to love like Jesus. Drugs take away that desire to love. Sixth, it may not be a better day than yesterday, but today is still a good day. Have gratitude. Seventh and lastly, what we say is important; say please, thank you, and I love you. I love and appreciate you all, and I am so proud of each one of you.”

Judge Johnson explained that every participant of Drug Court has entered a plea and has a court sentence hanging over their head. 

“It may be a year, 18 months, or two years but every single person here has a jail sentence hanging over their head,” Johnson said. “So if they fail to complete Drug Court they’re going to jail, period. You either graduate or you go to prison, there’s no in between.”

The program provides a financial incentive to aid participants in completing monthly requirements. 

“When they do everything they need to do that month, they get a coin,” Johnson said. “When they get three coins, they get $50 cash. It’s just our way of saying ‘good job’. But on the reverse side, if they do not pass a drug screening, they spend 48 hours in jail; the fifth failed test results in termination from the program.”

Along with counseling and recovery support group sessions, Drug Court participants are required to do community service hours each month to help them understand the importance of giving back.

“You have to make this program and your recovery your priority,” graduate Bryan Eddings said. “I don’t want to walk through that courtroom door and stand in front of Judge Johnson knowing there’s something I’ve done wrong, and that I could go to jail. I want to be clear minded and do what I’m supposed to do.”

For some participants the program creates their first experience with sobriety for many years, explained Johnson. The program is designed to help them learn how to deal with the triggers and hardships of life without resorting to patterns of using harmful substances. 

“I never thought I’d be sitting here,” said graduate Daniel Tyler Heartsill. “My plan was to just stay out of jail long enough so I could be high. I want to say thank you for giving me the opportunity to come across people like Rob Patton. I found God.”

Drug Court Coordinator, Elizabeth Pennington, explained that program organizers see participants often outside of the monthly court dates.

“We see our participants a lot and we have a cell number that they’re able to contact me 24 hours a day,” said Pennington. “I’ve been on the phone with people who were having a crisis, and they felt like they weren’t going to make it through the night without using. They’re able to call their therapist, their sponsor, or me and we’ll get them through the night. We work with people on a realistic basis.”

All of the Drug Court workers are volunteers who share a passion for helping those in need transform their lives. Johnson has been volunteering his time for 13 years. 

“They’re the ones that are succeeding or failing based on the decisions they make and how they handle it, it’s their own achievement,” Johnson said. “We take a team approach in providing the guide rails to keep them going in the right direction. If they stay the course they’ll have an opportunity to have their case dismissed, keep their families together and become positive, contributing members of society.”