Officials, participants mark Drug Court graduation

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, May 16, 2006

About 300 people gathered on the campus of Southwest MississippiCommunity College Monday afternoon to witness the graduation of the14th Circuit Court Drug Court.

In his keynote address, District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak spokefrankly and encouraged the 21 graduates to count theirblessings.

“If you were going to get arrested, it was a good thing you gotarrested here,” said Moak, explaining that few judicial districtsexpend the energy the rehabilitative program requires.

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Drug court began in 1999 when Keith Starrett, then 14th CircuitCourt Judge, sought to create a program that would keep first-timedrug offenders out of jail while also helping them to becomeproductive members of society.

Since inception, over 100 people have graduated. The programholds participants under intense accountability and carries themthrough a four-phase program of structured guidance, courtappearances and therapy.

“It’s really a good program,” Moak said. “We have a lot of youngfolks that get another chance. They get another bite at theapple.”

Moak explained to graduates just how fortunate they reallyare.

“A lot of judges didn’t want to do Drug Court,” Moak said,explaining that the effort is time-intensive and challenging forprogram administrators.

Fifteen other drug courts were created after Starrett initiatedthe 14th Circuit Drug Court. Those who run the program aremotivated by a deeper sense of compassion and concern, Moaksaid.

“These judges care about you. And that’s what justice should beabout,” Moak said.

After Starrett was appointed to the federal bench, he passed theprogram along to current Fourteenth Circuit Court District JudgeMike Taylor. Like his predecessor, Taylor is enthusiastic andpassionate about the success of Drug Court.

“This is the best part of my job,” Taylor said. “Lives have beenchanged, families have been restored and mountains have beenmoved.”

One such success story is 26-year-old Ruby Russell, of NewHebron. Now entering her third phase of Drug Court, Russell ishalfway through and credits the program for her new lease onlife.

“Drug Court has given me a new life with a new perspective,”Russell said.

The program requires Russell to make weekly visits to McComb andBrookhaven to see Mahundis Brice, Drug Court parole officer inLincoln County.

“My job is to ensure they pass the program, whatever thatentails,” Brice said. “We do drug screens. We ensure they get theirtreatment, whether in-patient or out-patient.”

The long drive is taxing, but Russell keeps the effort inperspective.

“It’s a struggle, but when you look at the alternative of whereI’d be, the drive isn’t so bad,” Russell said. “At one point, myperspective was to stay sedated. In Drug Court, I have a new lifewith a new perspective.”

Russell credits her faith and believes God will help her remainon the right course.

“It all boils down to God giving us a second chance,” Russellsaid. “If I keep God first, then I’ll be headed in the rightdirection.”

Taylor struck a similar chord as he closed the ceremony. Heparaphrased a passage from the 15th chapter of Luke. The parable ofthe prodigal son tells of a young man who took his inheritance andsquandered it on riotous living.

“I’m sure we all know what is meant by riotous living,” Taylorsaid. “What is really important is that the son came home.”

Taylor made application to the graduates of the program who havemade it home from a metaphorical distant land. He challenged manyon their way back to stay the course.