Drug court celebrates 8 graduates

Published 9:30 am Friday, June 21, 2024

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Charles Box, minister at Walnut Street Church of Christ in Greenville, has been to drug court more times than he can count. For several years, he has given his time leading professional development for participants on Saturdays and has witnessed how successfully completing the program has changed innumerable lives by helping them break the chains of addiction.

“I went into a business here in town, a restaurant,” Box recalled. “One of the ladies working there was a lady who was in our drug court in 2019. And, she’s doing great.”

The Second Judicial District held drug court on June 14. The court conducts drug court once each month and on Friday, the docket included graduation for eight individuals — Nathan Palmer, Carlton Blackmon, Kendell Wilburn, Abigayle Cajen, Vaughn Stokes, Cleophus Elder, Brandon Acker and Heather Strickland — who completed the program requirements.

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Butler County District Judge Nicki McFerrin presided over the hearings and graduation, standing in for Lowndes County District Judge Adrian Johnson. She said graduates were from Butler, Lowndes and Crenshaw counties and described the positive change she witnessed in a Butler County graduate.

“I’ve had the privilege of working with some who came to drug court out of cases that came before me,” McFerrin said. “One gentleman I’m familiar with, I told him [Friday], ‘You are a totally different person in appearance, attitude and communication than you were when we first came in contact with each other two years ago.’ The change is a world of difference. I was so proud of him and he was proud of himself. It was a great day.”

Individuals enter drug court through adjudication. Persons found guilty of a non-violent crime who are found to be involved with substance abuse can elect to enter the program. Successfully meeting all requirements and graduating can mean dismissal of charges, but failure to meet program stipulations can also result in jail time and removal from the program.

“It is set up to be a 12-month program where [participants] meet program stipulations and are under constant supervision through what I call the drug court team,” McFerrin said. “That includes drug and alcohol screening, community service, AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings, employment, going back for a GED and an evaluation for mental health and wellness. They do professional development, pay their monitoring fees and start working on paying down court costs.”

Box was present for the graduation and attends every monthly hearing while working in between court dates to help meet needs participants have for spiritual and professional growth. One earlier graduate he recalls is still doing well and is “paying it forward” to help others battling addiction to change the course of their lives.

“Robert Patton now operates a sober living program,” Box said. “He is a graduate of our drug court and operates a program near Luverne. He had such an interest in helping people. He’s been sober and helping people now for a good while.”

McFerrin describes drug court as something like a reset, which allows people who have made poor choices to return to a place of sobriety, employment and independence. In nearly every case, possessive outcomes of drug court include the impact on families too.

“When moms and dads complete drug court, sometimes it works hand in hand with custody or dependency cases,” McFerrin said. “It impacts whole families and I think a lot of times people think of drug charges as a victimless crime, but they are not. There is a family somewhere that’s impacted. When folks finish drug court they’re equipped, hopefully, to maintain sobriety. They have a sponsor or network they can reach out to and they know how to look for triggers.

“I wouldn’t say it is a new life, but they should be equipped to reenter independent living in society with better skills so they don’t end up back in active addiction or back in jail.”