The Forsyth County DUI Court’s most recent graduation was not only a milestone for the graduates but for the program itself.
Officials from around the state were on hand at the Forsyth Conference Center at Lanier Technical College as the Forsyth County DUI Court celebrated this year’s seven graduates and the court’s 15th anniversary on Wednesday, June 2.
“As most of you know, we started the Forsyth County DUI Court in February 2006, and it’s now one of the many courts operating throughout Georgia,” said Forsyth County Chief State Court Judge T. Russell McClelland. “Our mission is to promote community safety, reduce DUI recidivism and to save and transform lives. Certainly, our graduates will talk about that like they do every time. Presiding over the DUI court has been the most rewarding experience that I’ve had in my 30-year-plus career as a lawyer and a judge.”
The DUI court has graduated about 300 graduates over the last 15 years and “serves as a meaningful alternative to jail for the participant who can function in the community with support,” according to the court’s website.
The program takes a minimum of 18 months to complete and is made up of five phases. Participants in the program are eligible if they have multiple DUI charges, a high blood alcohol content at the time of arrest, they must not be taking any addictive or mood-altering medications and must not be involved in the sale or distribution of illegal drugs.
To celebrate the 15th anniversary, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia Harold Melton, a proponent of DUI court and similar programs, served as the keynote speaker of the event and had encouraging words for the graduates.
“When you have overcome and you face challenges and people are kind of looking at you and maybe discount you for whatever reason, I think you are well within your rights to have a smirk on your face because you know your journey, you know what you have overcome,” Melton said. “They don’t, but you do, so you can sit quietly and with confidence and know that you’re going to be okay.”
During the celebration, the graduates also had a chance to share their thoughts on the program and the impact it has had on their lives.
“It’s easy to get caught up in things being negative, ‘why me,’ not loving myself, guilt shame, all those sorts of things, isolation,” one of the graduates said, “but I’ve learned through the program, through counseling and individual counseling that I did that was offered through the program, to turn those into positives in some way, shape or form. It hasn’t been easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight, which is another positive about this being a long-term program, you’ve got a lot of time to work on these things.
“When all of this started, I kind of had in my mind, as I’m sure a lot of us did, that my life was somewhat falling apart as a result of this, but today, I can stand here and tell you, actually, my life is falling into place, and I’m very grateful for that,” one graduate said.