• 77°

MDOC’s Epps applauds Drug Court graduates

Gordon Robertson saw Monday’s Drug Court graduation as a newlease on life after 30 years as a slave to drugs and alcohol.

“Drug Court has put discipline and structure in my life,” the46-year-old Magnolia native said. “I kept wanting to do things myway, and my way never worked. I just kept getting worse andworse.”

The graduation, which was held at the student union hall atSouthwest Mississippi Community College Monday was in honor of allthe participants in Drug Court, but especially those graduatingfrom Phase IV, the final stage of the program.

Commissioner Christopher Epps of the Mississippi Department ofCorrections was the keynote speaker. He assured Robertson, who wasone of 22 graduates Monday, and other Drug Court participants thathonesty, integrity, and humility would carry them through thehardships of recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.

“Whatever your situation is, you can make it,” he said. “Nomatter what your problems or what they call you. Have highintegrity and be honest in all circumstances.”

Jack Hays, of Chatawa, stood before his fellow Drug Courtparticipants and graduates to challenge himself as well as hiscomrades not to give up the fight.

“I have a piece of paper that says I don’t have an arrest recordanymore,” he said. “But do you know how I’m going to celebrate? I’mgoing to a meeting tonight.”

Hays said the media’s talk of a war on drugs goes deeper thanthe one being waged on the streets.

“They say there’s a war on drugs and there is,” he said. “It’sbeing fought in my mind.”

Drug Court has four levels, with the first level being mostintensive. Through time, counseling, weekly drug tests andmeetings, felony drug offenders who have pleaded guilty can be notonly rehabilitated, but can be put on the right track to a normallife again.

“The record can be expunged, though it’s not guaranteed,” saidState Drug Court Coordinator Joey Craft. “These are people whoplead guilty in felony court, whether it’s a drug charge or if it’sdeemed that their crime is rooted in their drug addiction. If theymeet certain criteria they are given the option to go to DrugCourt.”

Local and state officials alike tout the merits of the DrugCourt program, saying it offers offenders an important secondchance.

“The war on drugs can be won on a personal level,” said CircuitJudge Mike Taylor. “We’re still a community and we still take careof each other.”

Taylor said watching the progress of members of the program isan encouragement, and affirmation that the weekly drug testing andcounseling is paying off.

“It’s exciting every week to see the changes as they sober up,”said Taylor. “They usually have a lot of problems when they comein. Then they gradually start telling you things are gettingbetter.”

Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing said part of the success ofthe program is based in having a good staff working with theoffenders.

“This is an excellent program for rehabilitating drugoffenders,” he said. “The Department of Corrections does a good jobcovering all the bases of rehabilitation, and the whole Drug Courtstaff really does their job well.”

Epps reminded the graduates, as well as the current members ofthe program, that getting better is an ongoing process.

“The road to success is always under construction,” he said.”You do your best to make yourself the best of the best.”