Lives changed in Drug Court, graduates say

October 6, 2003

Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Kay Cobb told Drug Court graduates in Brookhaven Monday that their achievements are cause for thanks giving.

"I'm seeing something real, something that has changed people's lives. There is hope," Justice Cobb told a standing room only crowd at the Lincoln County Courthouse.

"Each of you thought at least once or twice, 'I can't make it,' but you didn't give up."

Justice Cobb said, "I thank you for the Supreme Court of the state of Mississippi. We see too many cases before us that have their genesis in drug and alcohol addiction."

Twenty-two people from Lincoln, Pike and Walthall counties were recognized for completing all four phases of the Drug Court program of the 14th Circuit Court District. Their efforts took three or more years.

Drug Court graduate Michael Daley, 31, of Brookhaven, who works as a construction supervisor, said, "I can't quote Greek or make much of a speech, but I can quote Toby Keith. How do you like us now, for those who thought we couldn't do it?"

Daley said he struggled with multiple substance abuses after a back injury in a manufacturing plant in 1994 left him dependent on drugs to control the pain. An arrest in a domestic dispute in 2000 landed him in Drug Court.

Daley said, "The hardest thing to swallow is pride, and I've had to swallow a lot of it."

"I was sitting in jail and I realized there had to be a better way of life. This couldn't be it," Daley said.

Daley re-injured his back earlier this year. He came to Drug Court meetings in a wheelchair for a while. He had a family member keep track of his pain medicine so that he wouldn't slip back into addiction.

In addition to the graduates, 21 Drug Court participants were recognized Monday for completing Phase 3, which includes at least a year of probation supervision and periodic drug testing. Eighteen people have completed Phase 2, which includes one to two years of twice weekly drug testing and weekly reporting to Circuit Judge Keith Starrett.

Pike County Judge John Price also recognized the efforts of three people who have been sober for a year and a half under the supervision of the DUI Court, an offshoot of the Drug Court.

Judge Price said, "We've had some rough times." He said he learned Monday that two other participants in the program were locked up for violations, and he sent a third to the penitentiary last week.

But when a participant succeeds, the results are felt among family and the community.

Judge Price said, "You cannot change a person's life without changing the lives of their families, their children, the people around them."

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Judge Starrett asked family and friends to speak.

Linda Morgan of Hazlehurst, whose daughter is a Drug Court participant, told Judge Starrett, "You have done something that we couldn't do. I'm her mother. We took her to rehab three times and she walked away. You have saved our daughter."

Morgan's daughter, Sherry Driscoll, 36, of Union Church, said she forged a check to get money to buy crack cocaine. She spent two months in a county jail, a month in a women's prison and six months in the Regimented Inmate Discipline Program (RID). After her release from confinement, she came under the supervision of the Drug Court program.

Driscoll said, "I was ready to go back out and use (crack) again."

"Judge Starrett believed in me when no one else did," said Driscoll, who is entering Phase 3 of the Drug Court program. "He saved my life."

Dorothy Pittman after the ceremony recalled a time when she was ashamed to admit to herself or anyone else that she was caught in the grip of crack cocaine addiction. Things began to change for Pittman, 40, of Franklinton, La., when she was arrested on food stamp fraud charges. Pittman, who lives a few miles south of the state line, collected food stamp benefits in Mississippi and Louisiana at the same time. She was charged with food stamp fraud in Mississippi. She was sent to Drug Court to address the drug addiction at the root of her problems.

"Once I stopped being in denial, I was OK," Pittman said. In Drug Court, "They made me feel like I was somebody. They understood me when my own family didn't." She said of Judge Starrett, "I pray every night that he can touch more lives like he did mine. They saw hope for me when I didn't. It just brought me back to reality."

Pittman, who works as a cook and store cashier, said she isn't ashamed to tell customers that she is a recovering addict. She wants others who battle addiction to see that there is hope. She also works full-time in a school cafeteria and has a custodial contract with the school. She pays part of her earnings in restitution.

Pittman has paid back more than $22,000 in restitution, Judge Starrett said. "I can't tell you how proud I am of you, Dorothy," he said.

Monday's graduates paid more than $70,000 in fines and fees, and those starting Phase 4 have paid more than $100,000, Judge Starrett said. "Drug Court is not a free ride," he said.