Monday, October 12, 2020 - by Mitch Talley, Whitfield County Director of Communications
For Paul, living a life of addiction came with a high price.
“I was homeless, broke, fearful, estranged from my family,” he admits. “I spiraled so out of control I could not find my way out. I kept playing at a game that has no winners, but I would not own up to defeat.”
Finally, Paul says he became willing to do whatever it would take to gain his freedom from the hold that addiction had on him for 20 years. That’s when he accepted an invitation into the Conasauga Circuit Drug Court program and embarked on an arduous journey that eventually led to a fresh start on life for him.
Paul and four other graduates shared their stories of struggles and eventual triumphs as they received their diplomas during the Drug Court program’s 81st ceremony Sept. 24 during a socially distanced ceremony at Edwards Park Community Center that was also aired via Zoom to dozens of well-wishers
“I was a slave to the drug world and the people in it, with its danger and chaos,” Paul recounted, “and at the same time I feared the change that was necessary to break away.”
He realizes now all “the valuable time” with his family that he threw away, “yet,” he adds, “it is never too late to make the most out of what is left.”
“Today, family is more important to me than ever,” Paul says. “I cannot make up for the time I lost in the past, but I can make the most out of the time ahead. I am a proud son, brother and uncle now to my family. I express my love and communicate with them freely now. They know my story, accept and love me for who I am. I never have to hide from them in shame again.”
The new graduate says he’s taking steps toward building a marketing business producing commercial videos for other small businesses as he pursues his dream of working in film. He’s also investing time with local theater and hopes to get into directing local productions soon.
Sometimes the journey back from addiction can be a very long one. That’s the story for another graduate named Storey, who was accepted into the program in May 2016 and candidly admits now he had never followed rules in his life and had no plans to start in Drug Court.
“I started using drugs at 10 years old,” he recalls, “and I used marijuana every day for 11 years. I used other drugs five to seven days a week for 10 years. When I came into Drug Court, I didn’t live in the same reality as a normal person. I was basically a 10-year-old boy lost in this adult world.”
Those years of wanton defiance frequently put him at odds with the strict guidelines of Drug Court, resulting in numerous sanctions handed down by Drug Court Judge Jim Wilbanks, and it took Storey more than double the usual amount of time to graduate.
Thank you Judge Wilbanks for seeing in me the things that I couldn’t,” Storey wrote in a letter to the judge that each participant pens after completing the program.
Like the other graduates, Storey listed his personal achievements made during Drug Court, including getting a job at Mohawk, buying two cars with cash, raising two boys, renting a three-bedroom home, signing up for college, remaining sober for more than a year, and making plans for an October wedding.
“The best advice I can give to anyone in this program,” he says, “is follow the rules and see how your life changes.”
Another graduate, Dickie, agrees with that advice, saying “I’ve learned just how rewarding it truly is to do the right thing.”
When he entered the program, he admits his addiction remained out of control, and he soon relapsed and ran.
“I would like to say I turned myself in,” he says, “but I wasn’t man enough to do that. I got arrested in Dalton. I was glad the running was over. What I didn’t expect was the feelings I would have when (Drug Court staff members) Marshall (Lynch) and Rosafay (Lawson) came to see me.”
Dickie says he knew he had let them down. “I knew [Rosafay] would be disappointed in me, even angry, but she wasn’t angry at all. She was concerned … wow … I was ready for anything (so I thought), but not that. That made it even worse. It had been forever since I felt like anyone really cared, so for me, it was a new kind of pain. That’s when something inside me broke. I couldn’t even look at her or Marshall. After they left and I went back to my cell, I sat there thinking that there was no way all that had just happened, but it did.”
Dickie was allowed to resume the program and says he made a promise to the staff that he was now “all in, no more would you have to worry if I was doing the right thing.”
Now, his immediate family is happy to have him around, and Dickie says he also has gained a whole new family, “a real group of friends that Drug Court has given me. People who care and are sober. People that want the same things out of life that I want.”
The program, he says, saved his life and “gave me a life that I never had. It’s taught me things about myself, my traumas, my self-worth. I deserve to be happy, to be loved.”
Brandon, meanwhile, was in a similar situation with low self-esteem and no self-worth, with core issues and a criminal mind that made it hard to trust others. He admits now his addiction and his life had been out of control “since as far back as I can remember.”
“I was in and out of prison since I was 18,” he says, “never holding a job and had long ago lost any trust from my family.”
Nearly two years later, he credits the program with turning his life around. “I have true friends that I trust, I have the trust of my family back and have worked through core issues and morals, self-worth, and a bright and promising future and I am truly forever grateful for Drug Court.”