A First-Timer’s Experience at a Drug Court Graduation
Every month for nearly 8 years since working at PSA, I’ve seen the invitations for the Drug Court graduations. I’ve always thought, “I’m going this time,” but the daily work would begin, that email would get pushed further down in my inbox, and before I knew it, I’d missed another graduation. Then I got a personal invitation to attend the May 2013 graduation and I finally took the time to go.
As I walked into Courtroom C-10 and sat down, it appeared to be an average day in Court. The same individuals that I see in the drug testing lines or checking into C-301, family members and friends waiting in the hallway for their loved ones, it was all so familiar. But I began paying attention to something that wasn’t so familiar to me. I watched the interactions among the PSA Treatment Program staff, the defendants and Court officials; and I started to see things falling into place – how the personal relationships among these individuals, all formulated throughout the course of this treatment program – make Drug Court the success that it is. In my eyes, this was an added benefit of being a part of this program regardless if you are the defendant, PSA staff or Court official.
The program began with the opening remarks and two past graduates were introduced, who are a part of the Drug Court Alumni Association and were the guest speakers at this graduation. A fellow Pretrial Services Officer who welcomed everyone was deeply passionate about the relationships that he had built with these two individuals. One of the main messages that the speakers conveyed was that even though they had graduated from Drug Court, they still participate in some type of group sessions for substance abuse, including periodically sitting in at PSA groups. Both relayed the message that the battle is never over, but through Drug Court, they have learned ways to have a “different kind of high.” Whether it be through spending time with their families, regaining the trust of friends and family or maintaining employment, those are the things that they live for now.
For the new graduates, each got to say a few words after receiving his/her certificate. One young man indicated that this was his first time since being in the Court system that he could walk into a Courthouse and not have anxiety and actually feel good about being there. Another individual discussed how good this felt because she knew she made her sisters proud. I looked out into the audience of the Courtroom and could see her sisters crying. Everyone could feel the emotion of how proud they were of their sister completing this program. There were many more family members and friends in the audience who came out to support the graduates and they all showed just as much support for every graduate.
One of the most heart wrenching moments for me was when the prosecutor dismissed the charges of the graduates right there in the Courtroom and Judge Jackson actually embraced each graduate. I had to hold my composure because I was so happy for everyone having another chance at living the life that they deserve, having a fresh start. Some of the graduates I have seen in the hallways on a regular basis reporting to PSA, but I never realized the accomplishments that these individuals were embarking upon with their lives.
Attending the Drug Court graduation reminded me that we are all human beings, no matter the differences that we hold. We all struggle with something in our lives and we should never lose sight of that reality. It is very easy for us as law enforcement officers to get caught up in our everyday business processes and forget that the defendants we work with are humans too, just as we are. We always should take that extra step to have compassion and lend a helping hand.
I was deeply moved by each individual’s story and the support system that each stakeholder has with this process. I wish I had attended a graduation long ago and I recommend that every employee here at PSA attend these graduation ceremonies. It is an opportunity that will give you much insight and inspiration. It helped me see the humanity in our work as law enforcement officers.
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