Five graduate from Hinds County Drug Court; Legislation approved to fund drug courts statewide

May 5, 2004

Charles Wiggins marveled at the world through sober eyes Tuesday and rejoiced at having the opportunity to find a better life.

Wiggins, 59, of 722 Hillmont Drive in Jackson, was one of five people who cleaned up their lives and completed the demanding requirements of the Hinds County Drug Court. He and four others were recognized at a graduation ceremony Tuesday evening at the Hinds County Courthouse.

Drug Court programs could soon be expanding.

The Mississippi Legislature on Tuesday approved a bill which, if signed by the Governor, would provide a stable source of funding for the existing drug courts as well as some new drug courts. Senate Bill 2892 would add a $10 special assessment for drug court operations to fines for felony crimes, traffic offenses, driving under the influence of alcohol, game and fish law violations and litter law violations, and an $8 special assessment to other misdemeanors.

Eleven drug courts operate in Mississippi, and five are in the planning stages. The Hinds County Drug Court has been in operation since March 2000. It is the only drug court in the state which has previously been funded by the Legislature. The other programs are operated with a combination of local government funding, federal grants and private contributions.

Hinds County Court Judge Mike Parker, who presides over Drug Court, applauded legislative action which will, if approved by the Governor, allow drug court programs to expand into other districts. He said the funds spent on drug courts show very visible results. People's lives are changed, and people who would otherwise be a tax burden in jail become productive, taxpaying citizens, many of them supporting families.

"This translates to real people in a huge way," Judge Parker said. "To me, this is the best money I've ever seen spent in the court system, because I've seen the results."

Attorney General Jim Hood, guest speaker for the Drug Court graduation, said, "What I enjoy most is people getting better."

Hood said drug courts are a cost-effective way of addressing crime.

"If you don't care from your heart about people getting better, you ought to at least care through your pocket book," Hood said.

Hood told the graduates that his duties as a former prosecutor included sending hundreds of people to jail, and some to death row. Drug Court graduates avoid a jail sentence if they complete the program requirements and maintain good behavior. Hood urged them to seize the opportunities offered to them through Drug Court and to change their lifestyles and associations so that they will remain clean and sober. He urged family members and friends to be supportive of those grappling with addiction. And he encouraged them to have faith.

"It's taken religion in my life to help me work through tough times," Hood said.

Hood told graduates, "There are a lot of people out there who have helped you to get off the street. Y'all take advantage of it....A lot of people have their reputations on the line because they are gambling on you. You will be an example in the community that this program works."

Wiggins opened his remarks with an introduction familiar to many Drug Court participants. "Hello, my name is Charles Wiggins, and I'm an alcoholic and drug addict."

Wiggins told a life story of alcohol and drug abuse since childhood. "I've been drinking since I was about nine years old. We used to make the moonshine."

Jackson police arrested Wiggins June 4, 2002, on a charge of possession of crack cocaine. Wiggins said he had a $3 rock of crack and a pipe when he was taken into custody.

"This seems like a dream, me being sober for almost two years," said Wiggins, who does soil testing for residential construction.

Judge Parker said, "I don't know how I can better prove this program is working."

Other Jackson graduates who accepted diplomas Tuesday were David Clark, 23, of 4814 S. Westhaven; Tommie Ray Lane, 59, who lives at Country Oaks Recovery Center; and Sirwallace Turner, 40, of 750 W. Porter Street.

The Drug Court also issued a diploma posthumously to Brenda Hales, 39, of Clinton, who died of cancer in February.

Judge Parker said Hales was at a Drug Court meeting two weeks before she died. He asked her why she wasn't at home because she was so ill.

"It was important for her to die clean and sober, and she did," Judge Parker said.

Hales' family will be presented her diploma at a time yet to be scheduled. "We want our records to reflect that she earned it," Judge Parker said.

"Her story is really an inspiration to me and other members of the Drug Court team," Judge Parker said. And to Drug Court participants who say "can't" and voice doubts about their ability to stick with the tough program, Judge Parker said, "I've got two words for you: Brenda Hales."