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Participants graduate, praise Drug Court stint

“If it weren’t for Drug Court, I wouldn’t be where I amtoday.”

That was the common statement among Drug Court participants andgraduates Monday at the yearly ceremony held in honor of all theparticipants in Drug Court, but especially those graduating fromPhase IV, the final stage of the program.

Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Jim Kitchens was the keynotespeaker for the graduation, which was held at the student unionhall at Southwest Mississippi Community College. He told thegraduates and those still in the program that the battle they arefighting is much more trying and more important than almost anyother they’d ever face.

“I’ve seen that struggle up close and personal in my own family,and I understand where you’ve been,” he said. “More than that, Ihope you understand where you can go from here.”

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.

Circuit Judge Mike Taylor told the group that while the rigorsof the program could seem insurmountable at the time, it wasactually for the best.

“I hope y’all realize how fortunate you are, because thesepeople work hard to make it easier on you,” he said. “Can youimagine how much harder it would be if you knew they weren’t goingto test you on the weekends?”

For some participants like Keith Sandifer, of New Orleans, itwas harder because of long commutes or tough schedules, but keepingtheir priorities straight brought them through the process.

“I drove up every week for a year and a half,” he said. “Thatgot tough when gas prices went up. But it was worth it.”

And Kitchens reminded them that the positive points of theprogram go far beyond just beating the drug habit.

“You’re going to live longer now,” he said. “You’re a muchbetter statistic than you were when you started this program.You’re going to make more money, and you can support yourself andyour family better than ever before. On top of that, you’veimproved the lives of everyone around you.”

In addition, Kitchens said, there may never be a struggle theycan’t handle because they have ripped themselves from the clutchesof drug addiction.

“It’s downhill all the way after this,” he said. “Nobody canever do anything worse to you than what you’ve already beenthrough. Your life can be so good from here if you’ll let it.”

And the war on drugs continues, Taylor said.

“The war on drugs has been here as long as I can remember, andit’s still here,” Taylor said. “You walk out these doors still anaddict, and it’s still a bad world out there. Never forget thatyou’re always either working on recovery or relapse.”

Graduate Stephen Petitfils of Tylertown said recovery can dependtotally on just being willing to go through the steps one day at atime.

“If you’re in Drug Court now, the best way to get through it isto stick it out,” he said. “Go to the meetings, and really – justremember what it was like to be in jail.”

Kitchens left them with a final commission, telling them to makeeach day a mission and a tribute to the battle they’ve won.

“Ask God, ‘Why have You let me live this day, and what do Youhave in store for me?'” he said.