Pubdate: Wed, 07 Apr 2004
Source: Advertiser Gleam, The (AL)
Copyright: 2004 The Advertiser Gleam.
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


It's easy to get hooked on drugs. It's hell to get off of them.

Spend a morning watching drug court and you get an idea of the struggles 
people undergo as they try to rid themselves of the demons of addiction. 
Nothing about the drug court program is easy, even for defendants who know 
a judge is watching their every move with a prison sentence waiting in the 

Drug court gives first time offenders a chance to keep a felony off their 
record and help to kick their addictions. The rules are tough; the 
consequences for breaking them swift and sure.

Judge David Evans presides over the Guntersville division of drug court. 
Judge Tim Jolley handles the Albertville division.

Defendants going into the program plead guilty to a felony up front, but 
it's dropped if they can complete the program. Prison waits for those who fail.

The program follows the old adage that an idle mind is the devil's 
workshop. If a person does what he's supposed to, there's not much time to 
get in more trouble.

Defendants must keep full-time employment. If they're not working 
full-time, they must do community service instead.

Even those who work full time are often required to do community service on 
the weekends. Evenings are filled with drug and alcohol counseling and 
group therapy.

Every morning, they must call the Court Referral Office's "color code" 
number. If their color comes up, they've got to submit a urine sample that 
day for drug testing.

The first positive drug test results in 7 days in the county jail and 
upgraded treatment schedules. Second and third offenses bring 30 day jail 
sentences, along with more treatment and more frequent drug testing.

The 4th major rules violation results in the person's prison sentence being 

Bad drug tests and not showing up for appointments at the Court Referral 
Office (CRO) are major violations. Other minor lapses result in less severe 

Defendants are told early what will happen for violating the rules, so 
there's not much wiggle room when it occurs.

The other main players in drug court, besides Judge Evans, are drug court 
coordinator Rhonda Dyar, assistant D.A. Ed Kellett, court appointed defense 
attorney Colette Gulley, Community Corrections director Bill Stricklend and 
court deputies Eddie Talton and James Harp.

There were 40 cases on the docket the day we were there. It's usually 
double that in Albertville.

Drug court typically begins with someone "graduating." They're given a 
certificate and a cake and they typically give a testimonial.

A graduation ceremony fell through at the last minute this day. The 
graduate lacked paying several hundred dollars in court costs and fees. 
Paying court ordered monies is a requirement to be in full compliance, so 
the graduation was postponed.

Defendants who are abiding by the rules are the first to be dismissed at a 
term of drug court. Judge Evans called their names and gave each a "full 
compliance" certificate, a handshake and words of encouragement.

There were about 15 of those, quickly followed up by cases that were mostly 

First up was a county prisoner in a green-striped uniform, leg irons and 
handcuffs. He had broken the rules for the last time.

He tried to explain what had happened to the judge.

"This is not a trial," Judge Evans said. "They say you did not follow the 
program. You've only got 3 years to serve in prison. I understand it's 
going fast these days."

A prisoner in black stripes and chains was next.

"It says here that you're 3 months behind in paying your probation fees and 
you failed to report to Court Referral," Judge Evans said.

"I was stranded in Jasper," the young man replied.

"Did you have a phone?" the judge asked.

"No," the man said.

Judge: "Did you have 37 cents to buy a stamp? It looks like you can get 
started serving 2 years."

Man: "I'd like to get started paying the money."

Judge: "You can serve in the county jail until March 5. Then I'm going to 
set you a $1,000 bond. If someone will get you out, you need to stop 
sucking off society and get to work."

A fairly young girl in stripes, shackles and handcuffs shuffled up next. 
She too had violated the terms of drug court.

The judge said she looked different, like she was not as angry as when he 
first sent her to jail. He joked with her. She smiled.

The judge ordered her to an in-patient rehab center. Then she'll go back on 
probation and back in the drug court program.

"Hopefully, we'll see you in 3 or 4 weeks at the next court date," the 
judge said.

He quizzed her about the conditions in the jail and how crowded the women's 
section was. She related how one of the matrons had told the girls she 
"didn't want to hear no crying in there." A new girl in the jail cried all 
night long, she said.

"I don't like that," she said. "I like it when it's quiet."

Things go better for the next man. He brings up pay stubs to show he's been 
working. He's in compliance with the rules and he's allowed to go.

But it's right back to problems with the next customer.

"Do you know what they're saying about you?" Judge Evans asks.

"It's all bad," said Mr. Kellett, the prosecutor.

The man has failed drug tests for the second and third time since the last 
court date. He gets 30 days in jail and will face more intensive drug 
treatment when he gets out.

There's a hangdog look on his face after the judge pronounces the penalty. 
The man asks if he can turn in at the end of the day, saying he needs time 
to go pick up his paycheck and get his affairs in order. Judge Evans 
refuses to grant the request.

"You have every right to be very concerned," he said. "There are no more 
blanks on your page. If there's a fourth offense, it's bye, bye."

Deputy Talton pulls out a black bag with handcuffs and shackles and the 
young man joins the prisoners in stripes sitting in the jury box.

The next man up is excited because he's just found a job. But he's had some 
problems too and he's ordered to go into IOP (intensive outpatient program).

More names are called. There are some no-shows, some who simply failed to 
show up and others who are in an inpatient program.

One young man opts out of the program, apparently deciding it will be 
easier to serve his time than keep up with the demands of the program.

A diluted urine test is considered a positive test by the CRO staff. One 
man gets in trouble for that. You dilute a specimen by drinking a whole lot 
of water before going in for the test.

His attorney argues that he simply drank a bottle of water en route from 
his job in Birmingham to the CRO office in Guntersville. It doesn't fly 
with the judge.

He's ordered to go to the CRO office 3 times a week instead of one for the 
next month.

"He was told up front of the consequences of a diluted test," Judge Evans said.

The next man up is in trouble because he's not going to self-help every 
night like he's supposed to.

"I've been working 2 jobs, judge," he pleads. "I've just quit one of them 
and I will get to self-help in the future."

"How many total sessions is he supposed to attend?" the judge asks.

Ms. Dyar, the coordinator: "He's got to go to 20 sessions and he's only 
been to 3."

Judge: "Mister, if this were a test in school, your score would be 15. 
That's not passing."

He increases the man's self-help sessions from twice a week to 5 times a 
week. He also orders him to start reporting to Court Referral weekly.

A tall, gaunt young man - cheeks hollowed from confirmed meth use - has 
failed drug tests repeatedly, yet shows up on court day on his own.

"You're driving towards a brick wall at 100 miles per hour," the prosecutor 

He is ordered jailed until CRO can find him an opening in an in-patient 
rehab center.

"You were doing good," Judge Evans said. "What happened to you?"

Man: "I got depressed."

Judge: "We all get depressed sometimes. Now you've got a reason to be 
depressed. If you're going to do meth, you might as well shoot the moon."

The judge said it was as though he came in "waving a white flag, asking for 

The dude just nodded his head before being handcuffed and seated in the 
jury box with the other prisoners. He fell asleep in the jury box, 
prompting a deputy to check on him.

"He's coming down," someone said.

A woman was next. Life seems to be going good for her. She is drug-free and 
has just gotten an important promotion at work.

There's only a slight problem. She's been doing her community service like 
she's supposed to, but simply hasn't been reporting it to Bill Stricklend 
as required.

The judge chastises her that the administrative details are important too.

"I understand that this thing at work is the biggest career advancement of 
your life," the judge said. "We can change your career too if you don't 
report in like you're supposed to. Making license plates is in demand too."

The lady grins and promises that it won't happen again. She had completed 
40 hours of community service, with less than 20 still to go.

The 3-hour session of drug court winds to a close. The next-to-last order 
of business is taking guilty pleas of 3 newcomers to drug court.

This group is something of a cross-section of the drug problem in Marshall 
County. It's made up of a middle aged white woman on crystal meth, a young 
white man on prescription painkillers and a 40-year-old black man who was 
caught with crack cocaine.

The black man has one of the best attitudes the judge has ever seen. He's 
actually smiling as he enters his plea. You can tell that he's dead serious 
about doing good in the program.

He and the judge have a long conversation.

"My mama is a school teacher," the man said. "She raised me better than this."

Judge: "I'll bet you really heard from her when you got arrested."

Man: "I sure did. I'm ready to lead a clean, productive life, sir."

They saved what was perhaps the saddest case for last. A 20-something 
woman, unwed and 6 months pregnant, had not been doing community service or 

Court Referral found a special program for her in Montgomery called 
Kaleidoscope. It's aimed at giving unwed mothers the "life skills" they 
need to be successful.

The girl weeps as the judge tells her she must go into the program. She 
doesn't want to leave her hometown.

"I see a lot of potential in you and I want you to reach that potential," 
Judge Evans said. "Six months from now, I hope you come back to me and tell 
me that going to Montgomery was the best thing that ever happened to you."

The words didn't ease the pain for the young mother-to-be. She left the 
courtroom with tears streaming down her face.
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