"This program is great for making those of us who don't want to grow up, grow up and take responsibility," said Errika Montgomery, one of 15 new graduates on Tuesday. "This program has made me a better person."
Gregory Stanback said the choice was stark: Use the treatment, support and multiple second chances afforded by Drug Court to get clean or do hard time.
"Without this program I would be sitting at the penitentiary for eight years," he said.
Tim Collins said he was cooking meth, stealing and doing anything else he could to support his drug habit.
"I was facing seven felony charges altogether," he said. "They saw fit to give me a second chance. It's a new life."
Court Administrator Brandon Vance reflected the harsh reality of how difficult it is to defeat addiction as he quoted Hebrew 12:11 in a prayer.
"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful," he quoted. "Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
Associate Justice Ann Lamar of the Mississippi Supreme Court was scheduled to be the keynote speaker and also presided over the ceremony.
A former prosecutor and circuit judge, Lamar said she hesitated to take the Supreme Court post because she didn't want to leave the drug court she'd helped start in northwest Mississippi's 17th Judicial District.
"Drug courts represent a new beginning. Sometimes participants in our courts have had their lives just spiral out of control," Lamar told Tuesday's graduates. "It has gotten to the point that they've lost all hope in the future or all hope of ever breaking the cycle of addiction, all hope of ever having a stable home life and a job and security like so many people have.
"It's a new beginning for you; it's a renewed hope in the future that you had lost," she said.
Participants in drug court are typically first offenders who are facing serious jail time for felony offenses. They spend at least three years under its supervision, and if they complete the program, most are eligible to have their records cleared.
Circuit Judge Andy Howorth started the Third District drug court in 2007 and oversaw its first graduation last year.