ALBION — A packed courtroom usually means someone’s in trouble. On Friday, family and friends sat shoulder-to-shoulder in Circuit Court for a happy occasion — to celebrate their loved ones’ graduation from Noble County Drug Court.
The drug court, established in 2006, is a coordinated approach to drug addiction treatment that uses accountability and responsibility to help addicts get sober and remain that way. To date, 138 drug offenders have graduated from the voluntary program.
Judge Michael Kramer presented a certificate, a bracelet and a special coin given only to graduates as a keepsake of their achievement, to five graduates, Allen, Andrew, Nathan, Mallory and Michael.
The graduates spoke briefly about their drug court journey, thanking their families, friends, sponsors and the drug court team for their support. Guests and sponsors also shared the changes in each graduate that they’d seen during the time in the program.
Graduate Michael Sturdivant said he took 2 ½ years to finish the four phases of the program. He started using drugs at 16, but didn’t land in the court system until his arrest at 39. He said he used whatever substances were available.
“There’s so many drugs out there,” he said. “They are everywhere you go.”
The in-your-face availability of drugs is a constant struggle for the recovering addict, Sturdivant said, but an option like drug court is a real way to sobriety.
“If you want help, it’s out there,” he said. “You have to reach out.”
Sturdivant, like all the graduates, has goals for his future. He is employed, he wants to go on a Florida vacation and he wants to be a good father and husband.
“I want to show my family that I truly have changed,” he said.
Graduate Mallory Dickerson, the only woman in this class, said her goals are to stay sober, travel overseas, and find a job working with animals. She once worked as a dog groomer.
She was 13 when she got hooked on drugs. She was arrested at 15 and locked up at 16.
“I was lonely and I wanted attention,” she said.
Dickerson said her teenage mindset was to wing it through jail and then get out to “go on my way.” As her addiction deepened, though, she realized despair and regret.
“All the misery through all the years,” she said. “My life wasn’t manageable. I lost time with my nieces.”
Dickerson’s goals include building her credit, moving to live in a house in the country and beginning college classes within the next five years.
Graduate Allen Walter said his future goals are to stay sober, to save money to buy a house in the country and to continue to work in the RV industry, where he’s been employed for two years.
Walter started using at age 19 or 20 because “I hung out with the people at a party.” He said his addiction progressed quickly, after only one or two uses. Walter had a job, so he said he didn’t steal to get money for drugs.
Walter said the hardest part of the drug court program was getting honest about his personal life. He kept busy with counseling, attending Alcoholics Anonymous and other meetings, meeting with his probation officers, and doing one-to-one therapy.
“I finally realized that they are here to help,” he said.
Walter said his addiction created a situation that led to a no-contact order with his girlfriend and their son. Participation in drug court allowed him to rebuild his relationships through visits with his son.
“Addicts still love their family,” he said, despite the problems that drug use creates.
Walter said sobriety is a lifelong process but the drug court program has shown him the way to maintain it.
“No matter what, we are going to be an addict,” he said. “But we can use our tools (from drug court). If you have an urge, make a call.”
Judge Kramer said the graduates hold their futures in their own hands.
“There are few times you get a restart in life,” Kramer said. “The restart begins now.”