18 Graduate from Drug Court

December 17, 2001

BROOKHAVEN - Perry Magee told a packed audience at the Lincoln County Courthouse that Drug Court gave him and his wife, Sandra Magee, a chance to put their lives back together.

The Magees were among 18 people from Lincoln, Pike and Walthall counties who graduated from the 14th Circuit District Drug Court program on Monday. Sixteen attended the ceremony. Two others completed program requirements but were unable to attend.

"We were at the bottom of the barrel," said Perry Magee, 42, of Tyler town. "It has made all the difference in the world."

The Magees were charged with possession of crystal methamphetamine, said Circuit Judge Keith Starrett. They were addicted.

Supreme Court Justice James E. Graves Jr. told the group that what was in their grasps Monday could slip away again if they didn't change their lifestyles.

"I want to admonish you that one of the problems of being in the situation you are in is that there is a tendency to hang out with the same old people in the same old places with the same old habits," Graves said. "You do not need to listen to them or follow them. You don't need to be around them."

Drug Court combines drug treatment, reporting probation, mandatory employment, fines and regular reporting to Starrett, who started the program in February 1999. Local prosecutors send people facing charges to Drug Court. Starrett accepts nonviolent offenders whose crimes are related to drug or alcohol abuse. Drug sellers and house burglars are not eligible.

Participants and their relatives said the formula works.

"I'm getting my husband back - the man I hadn't seen in 23 years," said Shannon Ray, 38, of McComb, after 43-year-old Bruce Ray completed the Drug Court program. Bruce Ray was convicted of third offense driving under the influence of alcohol.

"My husband would be dead today if he hadn't stopped drinking," said Shannon Ray. "He hasn't had a drink in 15 months."

Debbie D. Smith of Foxworth attended an earlier Drug Court graduation that coincided with her son's hearing date on a probation violation.

"I sat in the back of the courtroom as the other ones graduated and I saw him being led off to jail. My heart broke. I went home and cried for three days," the 47-year-old nurse said.

She talked to Starrett about getting her son into the Court Program, and Starrett said he would pray for him, she recalled.

"It gave my son his life back," Smith said after James Smith, 30, of Tylertown completed the Drug Court program Monday." My son is a totally different person."

Catherine Tillman, 45, of Brookhaven, encouraged family members of those still enrolled in the program to be supportive. Her fiancé, Danny Carl Fuller, 43, of Brookhaven, completed the Drug Court program Monday. He was charged with possession of cocaine and marijuana.

"I feel like I'm graduating today because I've been here every Monday, every meeting," Tillman said. "Go with your family if you can and be there and support them."

Starrett said 91 people remain in the program after Monday's graduation.

Monday's graduates paid a total of $32,282 in fines and $12,350 in fees, Starrett said. They pay for their own treatment.

Starrett said, "This is not a draw on the counties. We are putting back into the counties some significant resources."

For more information, contact Beverly Pettigrew Kraft, court public information officer, at the Administrative Office of Courts at 601-354-7452.