Greg Evans has been arrested more times than he can remember, spent time in jail, and been a drug user for 25 years of his life.
At the Effingham Area Drug Court Graduation Friday, he hoped to put all that behind him.
“The only hope we have is here today in this court and with these people,” Evans said during the ceremony. “We need more of this. it’s the only way things work.”
Evans is one of three 2013 graduates of the Drug Court program. The other two are Jeff Gill and Faith Leas. All three opted out of a prison sentence in favor of the program, which is intended to keep non-violent offenders out of jail and help them stay sober, as well as leave behind the lifestyle that can go hand-in-hand with drug abuse. After six years and 30 graduates, the program seems to be working.
“Their transformation over the last few years isn’t something we normally see in the criminal justice system,” said Judge Ericka Sanders. “Except in Drug Court.”
Along with requiring program members to attend support groups and therapy, Drug Court participants are subjected to one, and possibly up to four, random drug tests a week, required to pay the costs of their prior criminal cases, obtain a GED if they do not already have one, and attend drug court between one and four times a month. Sanders said those restrictions have led many people who have been offered a place in the program to instead choose jail time.
The guest speaker for the event, Brianee Martin, is a past graduate of the program who started drinking and smoking marijuana when she was 13 and progressed to muscle relaxers and narcotics before graduating high school. She said the program is the only thing that has allowed her to attend college and become a mother.
”Drug court saved my life,” she said. “It was the intervention I needed. These people opened up their arms and didn’t judge me and that was really important to me. I’ve never felt so cared for by absolute strangers.”
Evans said through the help of the program, he is now able to see his past drug use as a disease that he was able to overcome by his own choices.
“One of the things I learned is that my addiction was an obsessive-compulsive disorder,” he said. “It’s the only disease that can go into remission by choice.”
Sanders praised all the graduates of the program for their hard work to get this far.
”They deserve our praise and are an inspiration to everyone who does use,” she said. “To every day they don’t use, they do more in a day than most of us do in a month. I would call it a miracle if that didn’t devalue the hard work they’ve all put in. Just as you have changed your lives, you have changed our lives too.”