Hope for addicts

David Epps's picture

One can argue that addiction is not a disease but a self-inflicted condition that one willingly entered into.

While there is truth in that statement, it is equally true that no one ever starts out to intentionally become an alcoholic or a drug addict.

For that matter, no one ever intends to become addicted to nicotine, food, gambling, or pornography. But many do. However one became an addict, the question becomes, “What do we do with them now?”

The Coweta County Drug Court is seeking to be part of the solution. In January, Pam Shepherd, former coordinator of the program, said to the Newnan Rotary Club, “These are our children, our mothers, our fathers, aunts and uncles. They come from all walks of life ... including ex-law enforcement.” Many come from good homes and held responsible jobs.

Shepherd went on to relate that one in four people have used illegal drugs, up from one in seven. For addicts that commit a crime, Shepherd said, it costs $171,990 to house and feed them in the county jail.

The Coweta County Drug Court program helps to get addicts who have been charged with a drug-related, non-violent crime sobered up and back on the job.
When one is admitted from the jail system into drug court, and only about 10 percent of applicants are, the drug court monitors them, counsels them, administers frequent drug tests from their own lab, trains participants to be “job ready,” and requires group and individual therapy sessions. They are also subject to curfews and movement restrictions.

Every two weeks, drug court participants have to go back to court, face the judge, and be re-evaluated. If they “slip” and do drugs or alcohol, they are sent back to jail.

According to Shepherd, the success rate in other counties (Coweta is too new to be evaluated) is above 70 percent. As of the first of the year, 18 were getting their GED and five were in college.

A year ago, I sat in and observed my first drug court session in which participants faced the judge. What I saw then was a collection of people who had destroyed their lives and the lives of their families.

Since that time, I have returned to drug court several times and the results I have observed have been nothing short of miraculous. In fact, the change in some has been so significant, that I have been moved to tears.

You can see the results in their faces: where there was despair, hope; where there was shame, pride; where there was a negative outlook and a beaten down attitude, there is a growing confidence.

There is also the growing realization that, although the road will not be easy, success can be theirs.

Not all of them will make it. Some still try to beat the system and “run their game.” Some will want to continue to do drugs. These will likely go back to jail or prison and serve their sentences.

Last week, drug court celebrated its first graduate. Once known as the “Bubble Gum Bandit,” James McAuliffe had a 25 year cocaine addiction that cost $300 a day. Although he was once in show business working for big names performers and making up to $2,000 a week, McAuliffe was reduced to breaking into vending machines to scrape together money to support his habit.

He entered a plea of guilty to burglary charges and entered the drug court on Dec. 1, 2010. His story is one of triumph. He is clean, sober, and back at work. He credits his family, the drug court, and, most importantly in his eyes, Jesus Christ as the reasons for where he is today.

Judge Jack Kirby was all smiles as he granted McAuliffe’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea, McAuliffe’s reward for successfully completing the program.

“The case against you is dismissed,” Judge Kirby announced. Judge Joseph Wyant, Jr., who was instrumental in starting drug court, was on hand for the event as were the current participants in drug court.

After several people spoke, including McAuliffe’s mother, McAuliffe was allowed to address the other participants in drug court: “Life is about choices ... my addictions and my ignorance cost me everything ... For some reason He (God) has given me a second chance. To say I am sorry would not come close to making up for what I did ... let my achievement show all of you that you can do this.”

It is safe to say that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Permeating the room, along with the tears of joy, was the powerful and palpable emotion of hope.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which includes Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org). He may be contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]