Nine graduate from drug/veteran court

By ED HOWELL, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 6/17/17

Wiping away tears and pausing repeatedly to regain his composure, a man named Ray told of what he learned by coming to God and getting clean from drugs through the Walker County Drug/Veterans Court.

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Nine graduate from drug/veteran court


Wiping away tears and pausing repeatedly to regain his composure, a man named Ray told of what he learned by coming to God and getting clean from drugs through the Walker County Drug/Veterans Court.

“I never realized how many people loved me,” he said. “That’s the thing with drugs. They isolate you. Your attitude changes and your outlook on life changes. Drugs make you feel like you are useless to everyone and everything. I see so many overdoses of people who didn’t get this opportunity. I thank the Lord everyday for not allowing my life to end that way.” 

Ray was one of nine local people, including he and another veteran, who were graduates Friday of the Walker County Drug/Veterans Court in a ceremony that was held at the Hope House Church in Jasper.

Walker County District Judge Henry Allred presided over the ceremony, marking the fact that the participants have been drug and alcohol free for at least 18 months.

He said 159 have graduated from the program from 2009 through 2016, and 85 percent who have been through the program have not been arrested again. In comparison, statewide, about 83 percent of those who go to prison usually get arrested again within four months.

Allred said the nine participants have had to undergo drug testing 4,000 times. They are also tracked for three more years after graduate, alerting Community Corrections if they violate more laws or buy any prescription drugs.

They can volunteer to sign up and continue to be tested for three more years. If still clean, they can be refunded half their fees after 24 months — and all their fees if they make it for three years, Allred said.

Taxpayers do not pay any cost for the program, while the nine graduating defendants have paid $41,000 in restitution and court costs to taxpayers, he said. They have also had 4,200 hours of counseling by a state certified counselor.

Tana L. Collins, the director of public relations for Bevill State Community College, served as the guest speaker, telling about some of the adversity her own family had dealt with. She encouraged the graduates to think positively in their outlook in life and continue to move forward, adding that people will make repeatedly make mistakes in their lives.

The key, she said, is to not dwell on those mistakes but to move forward in a positive direction.

“You need to know the decisions you make and the choices you make impact other people. It is not just you,” she said. “Most of you may not care what I am saying today, but if one of you hears what I am saying and it makes an impact on just one of you, then I have impacted a lot of people.”

She said all of the people in the room can be a light for others and can make a huge difference in other people’s lives in spite of the past.

Allred said called the program an intense program based on accountability.

“You’ve got to be where you supposed to be, when you are supposed to be and doing what you are supposed to be,” he said.

Defendants are required to see the judge weekly in the first phase, then every other week and finally on a monthly basis, he said. The judge will see about 300 defendants in this process in a month. The defendants are monitored by court staff throughout the process, some having to wear GPS. They are on nightly curfews at home and have to attend organizations such as AA or Celebrate Recovery, as well as attend weekly counseling.

The defendants also perform community service, including picking up trash on county roads, cleaning and mowing cemeteries, doing work for non-profit groups and performing maintenance at the Walker County Courthouse, libraries and schools, he said.

To date, Allred said the amount of money estimated to have saved taxpayers during the life of the program through defendants paying fines, court cost, doing community service and not going to prison is estimated to be $12 million, including $8.4 million for not going to prison. (The latter figure is based on operational cost of $41.94 a day and serving about a third of their sentence.)

He pointed out the program is cost effective, saying some programs charge $10,000 to $20,000. The Walker County program costs $2,700 for 12 months, with no intake fee.

Among past participants, 65 have obtained a GED degree, 22 have enrolled in college while in drug court and 87 have received a driver’s license, he said.

The graduates of the program received a certificate, a pin, a T-shirt and a signed order dismissing their charges, he said.

Two of the nine graduates go through a special Veterans Court, for veterans who are facing some of the same problems due to readjustment to civilian life after dealing with war. One of the graduates, named Ray, was the winner of an essay contest among the graduates.

However, Ray tearily also said that he dealt as a child with the death of his father, drinking alcohol at age 8; by 10 he was selling marijuana to neighborhood children. He became addicted to methamphetamines, married and divorced. He got involved in shoot outs, traded drugs for sex, manufactured drugs, went to prison and saw his son get involved with drugs.

In 2014, his son was killed in a car accident at the age of 26, which greatly affected him. After being arrested again, he re-evaluated his life in a jail cell and became involved with church after his release, surrendering his life to God.

“After I was saved, I was baptized by one of the arresting officers, Paul Anderson, from the 2012 incident where I barricaded myself in my house due to my having a meth lab,” he said. Ray then said he entered drug court to kick his addictions, reconnecting to his children and his work.

He said he worked hard to go drug free and is seeing doors open for him, adding he hopes to help others with addictions. He said most addicts want to die, as the guilt and shame is unbearable.

“The main thing to do is to love yourself,” he said. “That was one of the hardest things for me to do. You can’t expect others to love you unless you love yourself. Once that door opens, love is endless,” he said.

“I did this for myself, which made me better for my family,” Ray said. “Life started with me sober, and it will end with me sober,” Ray said, thanking his family, officials with the court and members of his church. “My life is saved because of all of you.”