Hinds County Drug Court graduates tell success stories

March 18, 2003

Frenchie Funches of Jackson said the gift of a second chance offered through the Hinds County Drug Court gave her back her life and her children.

A cocaine possession charge landed the 37-year-old Jackson mother in jail. On Tuesday evening, Funches and four others who have completed the Hinds County Drug Court Diversion Program shared their struggles and accomplishments with about 50 people who attended their graduation celebration at the Hinds County Courthouse.

"I never thought I would have another chance in life because when I was out in the streets on drugs, I had given up on myself," said Funches. "Drug Court was a gift to me. I had lost everything I had. I have my kids back in my life. That is a gift to me."

Funches, who works as a waitress, said the gift she can share is the one she received as a child - faith. "Faith is something you can keep, yet give to every man," she said.

Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Edwin L. Pittman told the graduates that drug courts recognize the value of the lives of the participants.

"Inside every human being is real value. It's hard to see value in a person who is controlled by drugs or alcohol," Pittman said.

"What we've begun to realize is if we'll give you a chance to help yourself, and we've got to put some pretty good constraints on you, from within yourself, you can find a way to save yourself," Pittman said. "The program was established to reach out, but you've got to reach back."

Alvin Walker, 39, of Jackson, figures he would be dead by now if not for Drug Court. A cocaine possession charge put him in the program. "They saw something in me, and it paid off," said Walker, who works in a warehouse. At the graduation, he read a poem that he composed. "Trials" is about not giving up.

Pittman praised the graduates' successes in rebuilding and supporting their families and in educating themselves. He said their successes are evidence of the value of the Drug Court program. Pittman wants to see drug court programs set up statewide.

The House and Senate adopted differing versions of drug court legislation. Senate Bill 2605 is headed to a conference committee.

March 17th marked the third anniversary of the Hinds County Drug Court Diversion Program, said Director Brenda Mathis. The first participant was enrolled in the program on March 17, 2000.

The Hinds County Drug Court is one of four operating around the state. Others are in the 4th Circuit Court, which includes Leflore, Sunflower and Washington counties; in the 14th Circuit Court, which includes Lincoln, Pike and Walthall counties; and in the Adams County Youth Court. Several other programs are in the planning stages.

Hinds County Judge Mike Parker, who presides over the Hinds County Drug Court, said the graduation, his first, is one of the most satisfying experiences.

"The focus is on rehabilitation, improvement and prevention, and we have five people who have worked for and accomplished that," Parker said.

It wasn't easy. Participants must complete drug treatment and aftercare. They are subjected to frequent drug screening. They must complete an education and get and keep a job.

Parker noted that he had to write graduate Decarlos Anderson an excuse for missing class so that he could attend the Tuesday evening Drug Court graduation. Anderson, of Jackson, is enrolled in college courses.

Hinds County Drug Court alumnus Nolan McElroy, 44, of Crystal Springs, who came to the graduation to encourage participants to stick with it, recalled earning his General Education Development (GED) degree. "I hadn't been in the classroom in 28 years. I quit in the sixth grade. I had never had algebra."

Seeing the world sober took him from working as a part-time sheet rock hanger to owning his own sheet rock installation business. He recently bought a house, his first.

McElroy and his wife celebrated their 12th wedding anniversary Tuesday. "We went through the good, the bad and the ugly together. We got sober together," McElroy said.

She went to jail on a felony driving under the influence charge in Rankin County, he said. He was arrested on a crystal methamphetamine possession charge in Jackson. But his biggest problem was alcohol.

"I am a true, stone cold alcoholic. I loved to drink," McElroy said. "I'm a grateful, recovering alcoholic."

The lure of alcohol and drugs hangs like a specter over those who fight substance abuse, McElroy said. When the craving comes, talk to someone, he said. "Call me."

Some of the participants have surprised themselves and the judge. Parker, a former Clinton municipal judge, said he had been on a first-name basis with Tuesday graduate Leavon Gray. Gray frequented the Clinton Municipal Court on a variety of charges, most related to drug use.

Gray, 39, of Clinton, said a charge of possession of cocaine landed him in Drug Court. He's now focused on being a parent and earning a living. He builds and repairs swimming pools.

Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter congratulated graduate Karen Beasley after the ceremony. DeLaughter, the sentencing judge for those who fail to complete the drug court program, recalled the last time she appeared before him. "I pretty much told you if I saw you again, it would be to send you to the penitentiary. It makes all the difference in the world to see a success story."

Beasley, 43, of Clinton, had been arrested on a prescription forgery charge. Now the mother of two teenagers works at Friendship Connection, a transitional residential facility for recovering drug addicts.

"I feel like everything happens for a reason," Beasley said.