By Janie Slaven

Commonwealth Journal

“Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.” — Martin Luther

Six were honored during the Fall Graduation Ceremony for the 28th Judicial Circuit Adult Drug Court on Wednesday, October 16: Mark Calhoun, David Carroll, Stephanie Dye, Ashley Huddleston, Jacob Miller and Jordan Powell.

Operation UNITE President and CEO Nancy Hale as guest speaker offered more than just inspirational words. A teacher for nearly 35 years, Hale got a new calling in life helping her son overcome his addiction.

“These six men and women are changing statistics into success stories,” Hale said of the graduates. In referencing Martin Luther as well as Martin Luther King’s quote about the ultimate measure of a man being where he stands at times of challenge, she continued.

“Here are six examples of why I have hope. The greatest opportunity for hope lies with you… You are our heroes of hope.”

Hale noted that the graduates weren’t alone on their journey, and several family members came up to share their stories as each graduate was recognized. Huddleston brought her daughter with her, the 18th drug-free baby born since the program began. More than one spoke of the gratitude they had for drug court volunteers.

“Thanks for seeing something in me that I couldn’t see in myself,” Powell said. He was joined by Carroll and Dye in saying the program saved their lives.

But the volunteers can only help participants succeed. It’s up to each participant to see it through, as noted by Calhoun. He talked about how others who weren’t strong enough call Drug Court a scam, but added that he was just “spinning his wheels” before entering the program.

“If you spin your wheels enough, you’re going to have a blow out,” Calhoun said. “That’s what happened, but now I have repaired my tires.”

Family Court Judge Marcus Vanover, who has volunteered with the program for three years, praised the participants for their commitment. He congratulated the graduates on their growth and encouraged newer participants to keep up their progress. “We’re looking forward to your graduation,” Judge Vanover said.

Illustrating how difficult it can be to recover from substance use disorder, Circuit Judge David Tapp noted that only a third successfully complete drug court but added that failure doesn’t mean you can’t try again. “Life always offers second chances,” he said.

Graduates of the program, which takes at least 18 months to complete, are recognized twice a year in the spring and fall. Wednesday’s celebration was tempered by news of one individual who’d been lost to the battle of addiction less then two days earlier.

Program Supervisor Ashley Laxton asked for a moment of silence to honor that person plus others who had gone before. She urged the new graduates not to forget the tools and remember “our doors are always open. We genuinely care about you and your life.”

The ceremony also served as a heartfelt tribute to Circuit Judge David Tapp, whose tenure overseeing the drug court program is likely coming to an end as he awaits Senate confirmation to the Court of Federal Claims. Laxton presented Tapp with a plaque as the “first inductee into the nonexistent Drug Court Judges Hall of Fame.”

Since its start in 2004, the 28th Judicial Drug Court has had 180 graduates. The local alternative sentencing program has also been honored with the All Rise Award in 2014 and the Community Transformation Award in 2015.