Six complete adult drug court

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 8, 2010

NATCHEZ — When getting a second chance at life, moving forward is all about choices.

At the Sixth Judicial District Adult Drug Court Graduation, many of the speakers said they were proud of the six graduates — but stressed that the future is what matters after receiving a diploma.

The stadium seating at the Alcorn State University MBA Building lecture hall was nearly filled for the ceremony Thursday night, as family members, past drug court graduates and other supporters showed up to celebrate.

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While many hugs, prayers, songs and poems were shared at the ceremony, the hard-won accomplishment of the graduates was realized in their candid speeches.

George Reed was sentenced to 18 months in drug court in 2005. Due to relapses and other setbacks, Reed graduated after five years in the program.

“I made some bad decisions, but I can honestly say I have learned to use forward thought, and I have matured in a lot of areas of my life I needed to mature in,” Reed said.

“I’ll use (what I learned in drug court program) and never have to deal with the criminal justice system again,” Reed said.

Antonio Pinder thanked the drug court program staff for riding him to change his ways.

“Thank y’all for staying on my back and giving me a chance,” Pinder said.

Pinder also said since joining the drug court program, he has earned his GED, registered to vote and obtained a driver’s license.

He thanked Circuit Court Judge Lillie Blackmon Sanders, who sat on stage behind the microphone where Pinder spoke, and gave her a hug before exiting stage.

Sanders, who started the program in 2004, said the men and women who enter the program are often “good kids” that have fallen down the wrong path. The wrong paths usually involve bad influences and alcohol or drug addiction.

Sanders said Reed, who she has known in the program for five years, is a very humble person who worked hard to complete the program and graduate, even though his completion of a rehabilitation program in Baton Rouge did not require him to graduate.

“They worked hard to get here,” Sanders said.

After the six graduates received their diplomas, they lined up and shouted in unison, “We’re gonna clean up what we messed up and start our life over again.”

When Judge Forest “Al” Johnson spoke to the graduates, he said the choice to change their ways without the surveillance of the drug court staff was not a choice they should put off for another day.

“If you hesitate and put it off, sometimes you don’t have tomorrow,” Johnson said.

Johnson said saving good intentions for another day is indulgent, because those who procrastinate their lifestyle change assume tomorrow will always arrive.

“If you feel guaranteed there is a tomorrow, you are acting as if you are immortal. And you’re not.”

Johnson said keeping a grasp on the idea that humans are on earth for a short time should be a reminder for living ones life every day in a way in which they would like to like to be remembered.

“Just remember that fleeting shadow over your shoulder. Let it be your advisor, and do not let your last act on early be something bad,” Johnson said.

Graduate Jason Turner said the drug court program gave him a new respect for the law.

Turner, who said he is now a licensed minister, offered his ear to any of the graduates who might need someone to talk to in the future when facing old demons.

“I know I (ended up) in drug court by God, and all of the people in drug court were picked by Him,” Turner said.

Turner said after going through the program, he operates in a different mindset.

Sanders said the drug court program has a 70 percent success rate from the 43 previous graduates. The new graduates makes a total of 49.