BOONEVILLE – A packed Prentiss County courtroom on Wednesday applauded the end of a two-year journey for 21 graduates of Mississippi’s 1st Judicial District Drug Court.
Of more than 200 offenders referred to the court since it began in April 2008, about 35 did not make the grade, and others are working their way through the program.
Circuit Judge Jim Pounds, who presides over the court, and U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock, who conceived the idea for the 1st District, spoke encouraging words to the men and women who determinedly and courageously completed the program.
But testimonials from fellow participants had the greatest impact.
“This was a journey that changed my life, that saved my life,” said Latwana Griffin, who said Pounds, drug court administrator Jennifer Cummings and drug court field officer Chuck Mullins represented angels in her life.
Being accepted into the program was something she wasn’t sure would happen, said Linda Morgan.
“My mother was trying to get me into drug court, and I thought I wouldn’t qualify because of charges I had,” Morgan said. “I spent 113 days in jail, but Region III saved my life. I learned there’s a better life out there – drugs are not my life. I’m happier than I have ever been.”
The drug court seeks to “reduce the impact of drug-related crime on the community” by helping to rehabilitate substance abuse offenders.
Referrals to the court may come from any of the seven counties in the 1st Judicial District – Alcorn, Tishomingo, Prentiss, Pontotoc, Lee, Itawamba or Monroe – but must come through defense attorneys, prosecutors, department of corrections officers, drug court staff, or individuals may make a request to the drug court.
“At first I had my reservations about drug court,” Pounds said in opening remarks. “Coming from 18 years in the district attorney’s office I believed you put offenders in the penitentiary. But what we were doing was not working, and I was prepared to do something different.”
Not only did the criminal case load increase astronomically in less than 20 years, drug prosecutions were about 80 percent of the cases, and the same offenders were returning again and again.
“I sincerely congratulate you,” said graduation keynote speaker Aycock. “The drug court has already turned out to be even better than we envisioned. Everything that was stressed in our training to prepare for drug court is in place here” – a caring, compassionate team and a judge with the right mix of compassion and tough love.
The 1st District has one of the 14 drug courts out of Mississippi’s 22 judicial districts.
“How fortunate we are to be in court today for a happy experience,” Aycock said. “The 21 of you have a new life, new hope, new promise you didn’t have two years ago. We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge how hard it is to accomplish what you have. It takes dedication and commitment, not only from you, but also from your families and friends. Your family, absent drugs and alcohol, makes the family better.”
Graduate Brittney Jordan knows how true that is. Six months ago she gave birth to a drug-free baby.
The 23-year-old had been a drug user since age 15, but in the drug court she found a group of people who stood by her throughout.
“They really wanted to see us succeed in life, they really cared, providing guidance, stability and honesty,” Jordan said. “Their caring made me a better person. They were proud of me and made me proud of myself. Drug court saved my life and also helped me to dream again.”
Contact Lena Mitchell at (662) 287-9822 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal