Pubdate: Sun, 22 May 2005
Source: Montgomery Advertiser (AL)
Copyright: 2005 The Advertiser Co.
Note: Letters from the newspaper's circulation area receive publishing priority
Author: Crystal Bonvillian
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)
Bookmark: (Drug Test)


Emanuel Courtland rolled his eyes and laughed Saturday morning as he 
thought back to the first time he was handed a needle and thread and told 
to make a quilt.

Little did he know at the time that the order, part of his community 
service through Montgomery County's drug court, would change his life.

"I was like, 'Men quilting?'" said Courtland, 28, shaking his head.

Yes, men quilting.

According to Circuit Court Judge Tracy McCooey, who runs the county's drug 
court, the men in the program are sometimes more skilled at making quilts 
than the women. Despite the rolled eyes and laughter in the beginning, they 
usually come away with a liking for their new-found skill.

"We do an exit interview when they complete drug court, and we ask them 
what their favorite part of drug court was," McCooey said. "They all say it 
was quilting."

Some of the participants, like Courtland, keep coming back after they have 
graduated. One man, who asked not to be identified, returned to finish a 
baby quilt he had begun. He stood hunched over a table Saturday, listening 
to volunteer Mary Ann Weston as she talked him through the steps.

"They come back," Weston said. "They have a good time. And I tell them I'm 
real proud of them. They're facing something I've never had to face."

McCooey said she came up with the idea of quilting because of the 
relaxation it entails.

"A group that quilts together, that's very peaceful," she said. "It's 
therapeutic. They get to know each other and talk things out."

The quilting serves as the participants' 50 hours of community service. 
Their first quilt, which is a requirement, is donated to the Family 
Sunshine Center.

The center distributes the blankets to children of drug addicts and 
HIV-positive parents. After that, the quilters can make as many quilts as 
they want, for themselves or family members.

Courtland said the destination of the quilts is what changed his mind about 
the program.

"It is a chance for me to give back to the community and help these kids," 
he said.

A second quilt he made, he gave to his 6-year-old daughter, he said.

"She liked it, but she said, 'Daddy, why you making quilts? That's for 
women,'" Courtland said while laughing.

The quilting is just one of the demands of drug court. Participants also 
must go through random drug screenings and report to McCooey once a week.

If they have not graduated from high school, they also must study for their 

"It starts out hard," McCooey said. "They have to go to AA and court, but 
it gets easier as they finish their community service and get back on their 

The defendants are in drug court for a year, unless they don't fulfill the 

Then, their time could be extended or, if they miss a meeting or fail a 
drug test, they can be ordered to spend Saturdays on the county's trash detail.

If they do well and graduate, the participants, all first-time, nonviolent 
offenders, have their drug offense cleared from their records.

It gives them a fresh start and a chance at better paying jobs.

Courtland marveled at the progress he made in McCooey's program.

"When I started, I was working at Wendy's," he said. "Now, I work security 
for Baptist (Health), and Judge McCooey is helping me get into the 
Montgomery County Sheriff's Office."

McCooey said Courtland will begin training to become a deputy once he earns 
his GED.

Courtland said the program has had a big influence on him.

"I wanted to change my attitude and change my life," Courtland said. "This 
gives you motivation. I'm a better person now. I have a different attitude, 
a different spirit."

As for McCooey, Courtland said he considers her a friend and a part of his 

"She's just a good damn judge," he said.
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