April 27, 2013

‘Anything worth doing doesn’t come easy’

Rachel Brown

— Crystal Hembree felt deeply ashamed of herself when she entered the Northwest Day Reporting Center program for individuals who had been arrested on felony substance abuse charges nearly a year ago, she said.

“I have been struggling with addiction since I was 11 years old,” the 29-year-old Hembree told an audience of several hundred gathered Tuesday evening at Rock Bridge Community Church’s Stage 123 in downtown Dalton. “... I really believe that if it wasn’t for this program, I could be dead. (God) knew that recovery was the best place for me at that time.”

Hembree was one of 40 people who graduated from the program, part of the Georgia Department of Corrections, that operates under the umbrella of the Dalton Probation Office. Select individuals who commit to getting their lives back on track are allowed to go through the nearly year-long program in lieu of sentencing.

Participants must spend the first month enrolled in all-day classes and are not allowed to hold jobs during that period. After that, they’re allowed, still under supervision, to seek employment but must continue coming to classes where they learn skills to help them overcome addiction as well as address other issues they might have such as lack of a high school diploma — five graduates earned their GEDs — or parenting skills. They also perform community service.

The program began in January 2010 and has graduated six classes since then.

Graduate David Winn said he initially balked at completing the program because he’d heard horror stories about how difficult it was. Now, with a 2-month-old baby and a year of staying clean, he said he’s glad he took the hard road.

“Anything worth doing doesn’t come easy,” he said.

Hembree and Winn were both recognized for their exceptional work during the class — Winn for consistently taking small steps to reach his goal, Hembree for the unusual number of hardships she overcame in the process.

Hembree said she became pregnant, had a child and lost her father, uncle, cousin and sister all within about a year. During that year, she continued through the Day Reporting program. If not for the caring staff who helped her along the way, she said, she might not have made it through.

Now, because of the program, Hembree said she sees herself as a person who made mistakes and bad choices — not as someone who is a bad person. Plus, she added, she’s getting her life back on the right track.

“Not only have I learned the tools to stay clean, but I used them,” she said. “Using drugs is a choice. I don’t have to make that choice. I choose to stay clean.”

State Rep. Bruce Broadrick, R-Dalton, the guest speaker, said he prays that all of the students will stick with the changes they’ve made.

“I know of no greater investment that society can make than to enable our citizens to return to gainful, productive lives,” he said. “We are here tonight because we admire and respect you for what you have done for yourself. Your door of opportunity is a new life, and it opens as you leave this evening.”