Drug Court Celebrates 20 Years Of Changing Lives

  • Friday, September 30, 2022
  • Mitch Talley, Whitfield County Director of Communications

When Destiny entered the Conasauga Drug Court program in 2020, she had lost everything that ever meant anything to her, including custody of her seven-year-old daughter, Presleigh. 

“If you watch the news, you know we are in a national health crisis,” Drug Court Judge Jim Wilbanks said. “We are being inundated with illegal drugs; specifically fentanyl is killing us. We lost two 16-year-old girls in this circuit in the last month. Did you hear about that? I want you to understand the enemy we fight is here to take our children’s lives, it’s here to destroy our families, it’s here to destroy our communities. We will not let that happen.” 

To prove his point, Wilbanks had only to look toward Destiny and her little girl, who was on hand for her mom’s graduation from Drug Court and bravely grabbed the microphone to tell the audience: “Honestly, I’m just grateful for her. I’m really, really proud of her and what she’s done. Whenever I saw that [booking photo], I was like, who is that? That’s not my mom! But the person that she is right now, she is the best mom that anybody could ever have.” 

During the 86th Graduation Ceremony on Sept. 21, Destiny and three other graduates – Annette, Christina and Timothy – shared their uplifting stories of overcoming drug addiction with the help of Drug Court, which was also celebrating its 20th anniversary during the special program at Rock Bridge Community Church’s Stage 123 in downtown Dalton. 

The program also featured the Pledge of Allegiance led by some of the children of Drug Court participants (Hayden, Gavin, Richard, Presleigh, Logan, Grace, and Alyssa),  singing of the national anthem by Jennifer Smith,  and inspirational music throughout the night by Soul Talk, a contemporary praise and worship band from Salem Baptist Church that includes Scott McAllister, John Buckner, Randy Parker, Sandy Hankins, Mickey “Moose” Hall, and Paxton Bennett.   

“Twenty years of changing lives is a big deal,” said Pastor Scott Young, who led an opening prayer after relating that he had struggled for 13 years himself in addiction. “I want to tell you that if my life can change - because I was awful - anybody in here’s life can change. These four people that have graduated, I am super proud of you and the effort that you have put forward in trying to change your life. This is a big moment for you. I want you to let it all go and bask in this moment.” 

Timothy, for one, was basking in the moment because he admits when he entered the program on Aug. 13, 2020, he was “lost and defeated” after a drug addiction of more than 25 years “had taken its toll on me.” 

Completing the program wasn’t without its struggles, he says, but it’s a “good process, a process that works.” 

“Today is a big accomplishment for me,” he said in his letter to Judge Wilbanks. “Probably the biggest in my life, but leaving the program is not important to me like it once was. Today my whole life has changed – it’s an open book. I have nothing to hide or no one to hide from. I’m a law-abiding person, I contribute positively to society, my community, on my job, and with my family and peers. I can’t imagine going back to the way I lived, and thanks to God and this program, I’m more prepared than I’ve ever been to keep that from happening.” 

Christina, meanwhile, says she entered the program in March 2019 “with a chip on my shoulder the size of Mount Everest.” 

 “I was broken, battered, and hopeless, knowing that I needed to change but not willing to make an honest effort towards anything,” she said.  “Although I grew to play the victim and ‘poor me’ card throughout my life, let me set the record straight: I am not a victim but I am a survivor.” 

More than three years later, she completed the program – “it takes what it takes,” she says – and has even been sharing her story with other organizations like Camp Aim, a trauma camp for young ladies, and the Courageous Group of Narcotics Anonymous. 

Drug Court, she knows now,  is “all about building and rebuilding ourselves, and I am proud to say I am the best version of myself to date.” 

Likewise, Annette can point to several achievements of her own during the Drug Court program, saying, “I learned to set boundaries, I learned to say no to my family, I learned to put myself first, I learned about the importance of recovery in my life, I learned not to take life for granted, I learned my health is very important, I learned to stay away from certain people, places, things, I learned to love myself, I learned how to pay my bills on time, and I learned how to be responsible.” 

Destiny, meanwhile, admits she was “the definition of reckless” when she entered the program after having used methamphetamines daily for three years, though she says she didn’t ever limit herself to that drug alone. “Whatever I could find, I used,” she says. 

The addiction was so bad that when she finally entered Drug Court, she was close to losing her daughter forever. “My life was of no value to me after I lost my daughter, so my mindset was, ‘Why live, especially the right way?’ I never thought I was going to get her back, not ever. She was very close to being adopted when I entered Drug Court.” 

Despite her belief that she was “unfixable,” the Drug Court team stood by her through it all, “and I started putting every tool I was learning into action in my life.” 

Unfortunately, not every participant is as fortunate to make it through the program successfully.

“Photos have been scrolling all night long (on large screens), and I will tell you some of those people are not here anymore because they left recovery and overdosed,” Judge Wilbanks said as the program neared an end. “So I’m back to where I started – this is war … this is war, put your armor on, get your swords out, we’re here to fight. Now I want you to fight with us – you’ve shown your leadership in this community tonight by showing up.  

“Our participants are living recovery out loud – I love that. Drug Court is teaching and supporting recovery hour by hour. Continue to work with us, and we will continue to work with you. I promise you for the next 20 years we’ll continue to turn out and fight for this community and fight for the children and families and communities and our participants.” 

Judge Wilbanks thanked all his team members, along with retired Judge Jack Partain, who started organizing Drug Court in 2001, and the many community partners who have helped with the program over the past 20 years.

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