Whitfield County Drug Court Reflects On Life-Changing Mission On Its 15th Anniversary

Monday, November 13, 2017 - by Mitch Talley

Yolanda Washington says she was addicted to crack cocaine.

Alicia Hall admits she was broken and just wanted to stop abusing drugs.

Daniel Miller told himself for decades he would quit using some day but he could never figure out how.

Then these three people heard about the Conasauga Circuit Drug Court, a program organized in 2002 by recently retired Judge Jack Partain, and like 253 other graduates over the past 15 years, their lives were changed for the better.

“Without this program,” said Ms.
Washington, a 2006 graduate of Drug Court, “I wouldn’t be able to be standing here today. In 2016, I lost a daughter and two grandkids to a drunk driver. I wouldn’t be able to live through that today if it wasn’t for this program. Y’all taught me how to live without drugs … and I’m so grateful for that.”

Ms. Hall, meanwhile, graduated from the program in 2010 but candidly admits she relapsed after that and wound up spending time in prison. She credits her time behind bars, when she developed a relationship with Jesus, with turning her life around and says she’ll be clean four years come Jan. 15, 2018.

“I have new goals today,” Ms. Hall says. “I’m engaged to be married (to another Drug Court participant), I have a full-time job, I have my own car, my own place to live … and I paid for all those things myself.”

Mr. Miller, a 2016 Drug Court graduate, credits the program with helping him overcome years of addiction.

“Fresh out of high school,” he says, “I was addicted by drugs, controlled by drugs, getting and using and find ways and means to get more. My life was consumed with that. That’s how I lived. I always wanted to quit using drugs – I just didn’t know how. Those days turned into years, and those years turned into decades, and next thing you know, I’d been using drugs for nearly 30 years. I always kept saying I’m gonna quit sometime. I just couldn’t do it on my own.”

Finally, Mr. Miller got into some trouble with the law. Instead of trying to beat the rap this time, though, he decided to seek help for his addiction after his 12-year-old daughter told him, “Dad, you’ve got a problem.”

“I thought I’d do this thing called Drug Court,” Mr. Miller said. “I decided whatever they said, I was gonna do it. That was the only way I knew – I’d seen other people get in this thing and get off drugs, so I just kinda surrendered and did whatever the judge said to do. I learned how to be honest, which was something I’d never done. I’d always lied my way out of it.”

Washington, Hall, and Miller shared their stories during an inspirational program celebrating the 15th anniversary of Drug Court held at  Rock Bridge Community Church’s Stage 123 in downtown Dalton on Oct. 17.

“Sixteen years ago, (Judge Partain) set off on a mission that would change this community and the people in it that were in addiction,” Judge Jim Wilbanks said. “He worked long and hard to design and implement Drug Court, all the time knowing that it was the right thing to do because he knew that reuniting families and improving our community was his goal.”

Mr. Wilbanks, who succeeded Partain as Drug Court judge after he retired last year, presented him with a plaque from Gov. Nathan Deal, who praised the local Drug Court for its “motivation and commitment” that “inspires all who are striving to better themselves.”

“I would also like to commend Judge Partain for his leadership and his hard work in implementing and starting this program,” the governor said. “I appreciate the many contributions you’ve made to our state, and I believe that we are stronger because of your dedicated efforts.”

Mr. Partain said he wasn’t expecting any recognition for his efforts, instead giving credit for the Drug Court success to the staff and the participants themselves.

“I’m deeply grateful for the honor that y’all have bestowed upon me tonight - I am - but really I’m not sure I’m the one that deserves this honor,” Mr. Partain said. “I’m just the guy that brought Drug Court to Dalton and Murray County; that’s pretty much all that I’ve done. The real honor goes to the staff and the folks that have helped me develop this program and make it into what it is over the years. They’re the ones that have made the program work, number one, and number two, the participants themselves have made it work. There’s no way this program could be successful without hard-working participants who are successes in and of themselves.”

Mr. Partain says he expects the success stories to continue in the future under his successor.

“Judge Wilbanks has been with us from the very beginning,” Mr. Partain said, noting that Wilbanks helped organize Drug Court during his time as a public defender. “I was very fortunate he became a judge and I was able to turn it over to him and I did so with a tremendous amount of confidence that I knew the program was going to survive and do well … and thrive.”

Wilbanks also honored Don Hoffmeyer, coordinator of the Drug Court team, for his contributions, describing him as an “indispensable” part of the program.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today with the program that we have today, maintaining the high bar that Judge Partain has passed to us, if it weren’t for  you,” Wilbanks said to Hoffmeyer.

Hoffmeyer thanked his Drug Court staff, quipping that “I just open the doors and cut the lights on in the morning – they do all the work. And it’s my honor and my privilege to be associated with these participants.”

Wilbanks thanked the hundreds of people who turned out for the anniversary celebration.

“Thank you for your participation in the program if you are a participant or a graduate,” the judge said, “or thank you for your support if you are just someone involved ancillary to the program. I see law enforcement, I see probation, I see community service, I see former treatment providers, I see current treatment providers, sheriff’s deputies, police officers, just people of the community that have always been there when we needed something. They always step forward and help us. Thank you to all of you for that.”

Wilbanks looks forward to more successes for the Drug Court in the coming years.

“But this is a time to celebrate 15 years, to celebrate the people that have made it happen and the people who have supported it – and those who continue to support us,” he said. “We pledge to you to continue to pursue our purpose statement which  is Saving Lives, Preventing Failures, Improving Our Community.”

Helping to set the mood for the night was the heartfelt performance of Soul Talk, a contemporary praise and worship band from Salem Baptist Church made up of Scott McAllister, John Buckner, Randy Parker, Sandy Hankins, Mickey “Moose” Hall, and Paxton Bennett. The band sang several inspiring songs before the celebration as well as between speakers. The words to one song “Redeemed” were particularly appropriate for Drug Court: “I am redeemed. You set me free so I shake off these heavy chains, wipe away every stain, I’m not who I used to be. But I am redeemed. All my life I have been called unworthy. I just don’t have to be, the old man inside of me. I’ve got a brand new name, my old life is not the same.”

The program also included the presentation of colors by the Murray County Sheriff’s Office Color Guard, as well as the Pledge of Allegiance led by some of the children of Drug Court participants. Rev. Pat Gross also led an inspiring benediction.

DRUG COURT TEAM

Judge Jim Wilbanks, Presiding Judge

Don Hoffmeyer, Coordinator

Susan Beck, District Attorney’s Office

Walt Eddy, Public Defender’s Office

Jimmy Davenport, Detective, Murray County Sheriff’s Office

Scott McAllister, Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office

Scott Murray, Detective, Dalton Police Department

Catherine Schueman, CCS, CACII

Anna Smith, Community Supervision

DRUG COURT STAFF

Marshall Lynch, LPC

Rosafay Lawson, MSW

Prudence Byers, CIT

Curtis Howery, M.Ed

Mike Stein, LPC (contracted)


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