I admit it, I grew up pretty sheltered. Sure, I got into a little trouble as a kid, but nothing major. Once in grammar school, while fulfilling my responsibilities as bathroom monitor, I remember the principal catching me swinging like a monkey on the commode stall door frame. I had to stay after school for that one. But to my credit, all you had to do was tell me once, and I’d fall in line. I was no rebel. My sister, older by three years, was the one always getting in the real trouble. Whatever she did to get herself in a bind, I wanted no part of.
And so except for a few scrapes along the way, I’ve kept my plate pretty clean, staying out of trouble. I always had a safe home and food on the table.
But a lot of kids don’t grow up in a safe home and with the sheltered opportunities I had. Of course, others grow up with every possible advantage, given breaks I would never imagine. But there is one great equalizer, short of death of course, which is my subject today.
Last week I had the opportunity to witness a gathering of folks as I describe, from across the socio-economic spectrum. There were seven in all, mostly younger, but not all. They were graduating from Forsyth County Drug Court. The reason I was there is that my niece was one of the graduates. Our entire family went for support. That was an eye-opening experience, especially for those of us who have never done drugs and wouldn’t know one from another if you put them in front of us.
Among the seven was a young man born in the projects, another a high-achiever type who a few years ago owned a home in Aspen. There was a third young man who grew up locally experiencing a normal, middle-class childhood. There was an older woman of limited means whose husband was a graduate of the program, still clean and sober today, and of course, my niece, born upper-middle class by my estimation, a college graduate and mother of four. But two years ago, regardless of their starting points in life, each of last week’s graduates had lost everything to the great equalizer – drug addiction. They had lost their families, their money, resorted to thievery, been thrown in jail or prison, which as they described is little different than I would imagine Hell to be. Those seven, regardless of background, were each about as low as a person might go and still breathe.
Considering all the offenders in prison for drug-related felonies, the seven who graduated last week might seem an insignificant number. But for those seven, Forsyth County Drug Court and the dedicated legal and medical professionals who work the program no less saved their lives than if they were drowning at the bottom of a river. Seven lives were literally saved by the Forsyth County Drug Court, and all that it entails.
After the ceremony, I met the wonderful guy who heads the program: Judge Jeffrey Bagley. Not only does he care about the individuals who enter the drug court, but I can tell he cares just as much about the ones who cannot qualify for the limited-enrollment program or who cannot live up to its rigid requirements, and who he is forced by law to issue prison sentences.
There are certain libertarian-minded among us who advocate legalizing addictive street drugs. And although I have never thought the war on drugs to be a huge success, I have generally thought legalization a bad idea. And my experience at drug court showed me exactly why that is. You see, were the drugs responsible for breaking the lives of these seven legal, all seven would now be dead. Without a legal system empowered to stop drug abusers from destroying themselves, and then without dedicated professionals to enforce its guidelines on those who are fortunate enough to be accepted to a program such as this, those seven, including my niece, would be dead.
Psychological defenses, I expect, save us from experiencing the full trauma associated with tragedies occurring in the lives of people we simply hear about but don’t really know. With so much tragedy in this world, maybe that is a good thing. But when the tragedy hits close to home, involving friends and loved ones, at times those experiences can border on more than an individual can bear.
And so today, I wanted to pause long enough to inform the citizens of Forsyth County of the life-saving program our community is fortunate to offer. But most of all, our entire family would like to thank Judge Bagley and the caring professionals who work in the Forsyth County Drug Court for all they do. Because I can tell you without reservation, along with the other six from last week, they saved my niece’s life, and saved our entire family the life-altering anguish we would have experienced without their intervention.
Hank Sullivan is a Forsyth County resident, businessman, author and speaker on American history, economics and geopolitics