June 7, 2013

‘Saving lives’

Drug Court lauds graduates, 11 years of service

By Christopher Smith

— A minimum wage. A driver’s license. Paying bills on time.

Some people probably take these things for granted, said Superior Court Judge Jack Partain. But the five most recent graduates of the Conasauga Drug Court Program said they put a lot of value into those everyday accomplishments.

Those things are hard to get when you’re struggling with a drug addiction.

Perhaps the graduates’ greatest accomplishment came Thursday morning when they received their diplomas from the drug recovery program at a ceremony at the Whitfield County Courthouse. Each made it at least two years without using drugs, Partain said.

The program provides treatment for citizens in Whitfield and Murray counties who plead guilty to drug-related charges, to help them recover from drug addiction. To graduate, participants must undergo random drug tests, attend court regularly and attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings for at least two years.

Angela Mitchum, who began the program in August 2010, said being “clean” for more than two years is a major “accomplishment.”

“I will take pieces of you as I go,” Mitchum told the Drug Court staff at the ceremony. “I will try to give back to Drug Court and the community.”

Partain said Mitchum struggled more than most participants in the program and was someone he didn’t think would graduate.

“We had to send her off for additional treatment and structure,” he said.

Mitchum was sent to the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment Program near Gainesville where she lived on a drug-free campus enforced by program staff.

“She returned to this program as an absolutely different person,” Partain said. “It’s like night and day. She just turned the switch on. I was amazed ... she was and has been a pleasure to have in the program.”

Mitchum wrote a letter as part of the graduation, thanking individual staff members who she said were instrumental in helping her stay off drugs.

“Drug Court brought out the worst in me so the best of me could shine,” she wrote. “I went from being a hard-core drug addict to becoming a lady.”

Catherine Carver, who entered the program in October 2010, said Drug Court helped her become a better mother. She received a “sanction-free” diploma reserved for participants who never need corrective action.

“This program gave me a new life and I’m grateful for it,” Carver said, fighting off tears at the ceremony. “Thank you.”

“Catherine hasn’t had an easy time with things,” Partain said. “Not necessarily from the program’s point of view. Just from juggling so many things in her life.”

Carver said she’s had to manage drug recovery, working and caring for four children — all as a single mother.

Carver’s youngest child was born during her time in the program, Partain said.

“That’s huge because drugs can cause all kinds of issues for children born while the mother is taking drugs,” he said.

At least 18 children have been born from drug-free mothers in the program since it began in 2002, according to information provided by the Drug Court staff.

“That’s something to celebrate,” Partain said. “Time and time again, I see in these letters from graduates how they say we saved their lives. That’s what we’re doing. Saving lives.”