Dirt bags, losers and miracles
I went to drug court a couple of weeks ago. The first time I attended the Coweta County Drug Court was almost two and a half years ago. Someone that I have known for a long time got involved with drugs and, as it almost always does, that choice eventually led to an arrest.
In Coweta County, innovative thinkers decided that, if people who have fallen prey to the dangers and ravages of drugs could be helped and restored to society as responsible individuals, it would be a positive benefit for the individual, the judicial system, and the community.
So, people who were in jail for non-violent, non-trafficking offenses could apply to be accepted into the drug court program. If accepted, the person would have a great deal of work to do. This was no “get out of jail free card.” In fact, mess up — and back to jail you go. Mess up enough — and prison becomes one’s long-term future.
Those accepted into the program would live in the community (not in a rehab center), have drug tests on a regular basis (sometimes three to four times a week), pay fees, attend appropriate classes (such as anger management, résumé writing, job preparation, and the like), would attend group counseling sessions, individual therapy sessions, be under a curfew, be subject to random home inspections, and be kept on a very short leash. They would also meet with the drug court judge frequently.
There were many other requirements and responsibilities, but this was no cake walk. If anything, drug court would be like boot camp. Only the serious who wanted a genuine life change need apply.
Not everyone was sold on the concept of drug court, of course. Some people, including a number in the church and in law enforcement, believe that drug addicts or alcoholics are “dirt bags and losers” who have made their own beds and should be deserving of no second chances and should have to sleep in those same beds.
What is certainly true is that drug addicts and alcoholics put themselves in their situations by the choices they made — poor choices. These choices destroy their lives, their families, and their futures. Part of the drug court goal was to help people make better choices for their lives.
Two and a half years ago, the people that I saw entering the program were sad, hopeless, down and out people. Some were unkempt, all were lacking in self-esteem and self-confidence, and most thought of themselves as “dirt bags and losers.”
What a difference a couple of years makes! The five men, including the one I watched enter the program two-plus years earlier, were not the same men who came into the program (women are also in the program; it’s just that on this day the graduates were all men).
Two had received their GED, one had completed a vocational course, a couple of others had their driver’s licenses restored, and all looked totally different. All had been drug- and alcohol-free for a long time. All were holding down full-time jobs. All looked like successes.
Confident, but not cocky, all were proud of their accomplishments — as were the friends and family who supported them throughout the long ordeal. A drug court spokesman said that the five had paid into the drug court program some $16,000 in fees. If they had remained in jail, the cost to the taxpayers over the past two-plus years would have been $330,000.
Each of the five men had spearheaded a community project to help fund some worthy charitable endeavor as a way to move from being a “taker” to a “giver” and to become a valuable contributor to the community.
The Coweta County Sheriff, Mike Yeager, was the keynote speaker and gave an encouraging message to the grads. As someone close to a graduate, I was asked to speak for a few minutes.
It was with great difficulty that I held back my tears of pride and joy as I shared for a few short moments. As hard as it is to be an addict, it is even more difficult to be in recovery. Here is a portion of what I said about the person that I was watching graduate:
“There have been those very few people that have tried, during these two years, to pull him down, to discourage him, and to make him think that he is a loser and always will be. Today he proves them wrong. He has prevailed, he has overcome, he has emerged from the darkness and despair of addiction, and today is the first day of the rest of his successful life.
”No doubt that there will be times of temptation, issues to face, challenges to meet, and problems to solve. As in the ending scene of the movie, ‘The Hobbit,’ the dragon still lives and waits for a chance to destroy. But, not only do I have hope and expectation that he will succeed, I believe that his very best days are ahead.”
The professionals who work in the Coweta County Drug Court are phenomenal. They are overworked, under-appreciated, and sacrificial. It is a hard and thankless task but it is one that has the possibility to change ruined and destroyed lives and, ultimately, the lives of generations to come.
The graduates of the program will be eternally grateful to them. So will the spouses, parents, and children of those graduating. I am grateful, too. On that day, I saw five miracles with my very own eyes.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]