Two themes were evident for participants in the Jefferson County Adult Drug Court’s Family Fun Day at Regional Park Saturday.
The first of those is that the program is not easy. The second is that the program has had a profound affect on its participants.
“If a person doesn’t want to change their life, don’t do the program,” said Robert Montana, who has been in the program for more than four years and is due to complete it in April.
“I knew I needed help and the drug court program saved my life,” he said.
The stories are similar for all the participants, arrested, charged with felony offenses, and given the option of participating in the program or being sentenced to the penitentiary.
“Without this program I would probably be dead,” Candace Duke-Hopper, a relative newcomer to the program, said.
She was admitted to drug court in September 2012 after being charged with forgery and theft of property.
“I was addicted to alcohol and prescription pills,” she said. “I was on drugs for 18 years, starting when I was 13.”
For Montana, his crimes were burglary, theft of property and possession of a controlled substance, and for a third participant, Cameron Harper, he was accused of forgery, breaking or entering, theft of property and violating the Arkansas Hot Check law.
Harper has been in the program for about nine months and said he had been on drugs “for seven or eight years,” and “decided to quit and get my life together.”
Michelle White, who became coordinator of the drug court program in January, said the events Saturday were part of the program’s family reunification program, since many of the participants had rocky relationships with family members due to drug addiction.
“Many of our participants are low- to moderate-income and part of this program is to get them back on their feet and become tax paying citizens,” White said.
Since its inception with eight participants, the adult drug court has grown to 239, with 89 having graduated and another 90 in the program now.
The father of five children, Montana said the drug court program has given him the chance to spend time with his kids, time he would not have had if he not entered the program and gone to prison.
“And that’s time I could not have gotten back,” he said.
In addition to weekly court appearances during the early phases of the program, participants are required to attend group therapy sessions, perform community service, get a GED if needed, and go to school or be employed.
Harper operates a lawn service each day. Montana is a part-time carpenter and attends Southeast Arkansas College, studying heating and air-conditioning. Duke-Hopper works for a plant at Rison.
“My job gives me stability I’ve never had before and my family knows there have been great changes in my life,” Duke-Hopper said.
The mother of three children, she said her mother currently has custody of them “until I can prove to the court that I’m capable of taking care of them.
“My kids know the struggles I’ve had but now I can be more of a mom to them than I’ve ever been before,” she said.
Duke-Hopper said that some people who enter the program do so to stay out of jail “but if they don’t take it seriously, they’re sent back and people who want to be here are selected.”
White said a back-to-school event is planned for August that will provide the children of participants with uniforms, school supplies, hair cuts, and health screenings, and the program’s community garden at 3rd Avenue and Walnut Street has been redone.
“We couldn’t do any of this without a lot of help from the community and donations are always welcome,” she said.
The adult drug court meets each Wednesday at 9 a.m. in the First Division Circuit Courtroom of Judge Berlin C. Jones, who has directed the program since its inception.