Four people began a new chapter in their lives Friday night as they graduated from Forsyth County Drug Court, joining nearly 250 others who have successfully completed the program during its 10-year history.
The milestone anniversary was also celebrated during the event at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.
Superior Court Jeffrey Bagley outlined the history of the program, which gives drug offenders an opportunity to complete an intensive, judicially-supervised regimen of treatment and case management rather than returning to jail.
Bagley said the program started in 2004 under his leadership after the death of Judge Stan Gault, who had laid the groundwork.
That year, Bagley brought on Jennifer Johnston as drug court coordinator, a position in which she remains. Bagley said the program has had its ups and downs, but overall has been a success.
“We’ve struggled with the different approach of drug court versus regular court,” he said. “… We’ve struggled with due process issues, we’ve struggled with other legal concerns.”
Bagley said he wrote a recent article to help other judges deal with some those challenges.
“I wanted to try to help other judges avoid some of the pitfalls and struggles … in trying to walk this tightrope,” he said. “… That we can help these people out without compromising our ethics and our oaths,” he said.
The program has helped Bagley to “see defendants in a different light.”
“No longer are they just a statistic or someone who comes before the bench for 15 or 20 minutes for a plea,” he said. “They’re real people who’ve fallen into the abyss of drug and alcohol addiction and need help.”
One of those individuals, former Atlanta TV news anchor Warren Savage, shared with graduates how his experience in the local drug court “saved his life.”
“If I had not been arrested that early morning, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I would not be standing before you tonight,” he said. “I would be dead or I would be in prison.”
He advised the 80 or so who are in the program to embrace it as an opportunity.
“It’s not just about stopping the behavior, it’s about changing your attitude,” he said. “Do not give up. Do not listen to anyone, including yourself, tell you that you can’t do this.”
That message continued with comedian Mark Lundholm, a recovered addict who addresses groups with his unique blend of hope and humor.