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The Journal Gazette

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Shermica Thomas, left, cries after receiving her diploma from Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull at the graduation ceremony for Drug Court on Monday. Thomas is one of 39 graduates.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Rev. Donovan Coley, CEO of the Rescue Mission, speaks at the graduation ceremony for Drug Court, Monday.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Drug Court graduate Cynthia Hummel, left, gestures her thanks to Judge Fran Gull, center, and the other staff members of the program, Monday.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015 3:44 am

39 graduate at 40th Drug Court

Frank Gray | The Journal Gazette

Allen Superior Court’s Drug Court held its 40th graduation ceremony Monday, with 39 graduates receiving certificates and also having charges against them dropped.

The various participants, from 21 to 59 years old, some facing first of­fenses and others with lengthy criminal records, spent between nine and 24 months in the program, under­going counseling and testing but getting an opportunity to shed their addictions and change their lives.

The Drug Court was instituted in 1996 as a way of taking addicts who dealt drugs small time or relied on crime to support their habits and giving them a chance to get clean. It was viewed with some skepticism, called by some a "hug a thug" program, Superior Court Judge Fran Gull said before the ceremony.

"It lets them get clean, stay clean, and lots of drug-free babies are born," Gull said.

Since the program was instituted 19 years ago, there have been about 730 graduates, not counting Monday’s class. About one-quarter who start the program quit or are removed from the program.

The ability to have a charge dismissed is a big incentive to stick with the program, Gull said. "If you’re looking at a B felony, that’s 20 years. There’s a huge benefit to finishing the program."

The Rev. Donovan Coley was the keynote speaker in the ceremony in a courtroom at the Courthouse. He told graduates that some might have viewed the program as a mandatory annoyance and not been committed to change. "If you don’t leave with a sense of purpose, passion and commitment, the system will see you again."

The doors at the rear of the courtroom represented a new time and a new freedom, he said, and the doors offered opportunity and significance.

"Be true to yourself," Coley said. Anyone can go to a street corner and buy a joint, he said. Graduates also needed to be transparent and tenacious, and "nothing will prevent you from freedom, opportunity and walking into significance."

Some graduates quietly took their certificates and returned to their seats, often greeted by parents or other family members.

Some, however, spoke.

One man named Keith (the program lists only first names of graduates) said "the struggle was real and it is real."

Keith said that in his life, "Doing the right thing didn’t feel right." Eventually, while in drug court programs, "Doing the right thing begins to feel right. I came in here fighting tooth and nail." Now, he said, "It will let me live my life the way I was supposed to. The journey was real. It was hard."

Another graduate said he arrived a broken man. "I know who I used to be," he said. "It took a long time. I went from a good man to a broken man to a better man."

One graduate named Val said he came into Drug Court "Mad, mad that I got caught, mad that I had to listen to people talk. I’m glad I got arrested and ended up in drug court. Now I’m in college. This was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life."

Another noted he fought the program in the beginning. Now, he said, "I have a job. I didn’t have that before."

Former Drug Court graduate Chandraa Coe cautioned that as graduates, "It’s a whole new ball game when no one is looking. To thine own self be true." Don’t compromise who you are, she said.

Gull recounted for the packed courtroom the ­changes that had taken place among the graduates.

Of the 39, five entered college or vocational programs, two got their GED diplomas, four bought homes, one regained custody of a child, 19 got jobs, 13 were reunited with their families, and one had a baby.

fgray@jg.net