Pubdate: Tue, 22 Jul 2008
Source: State, The (SC)
Copyright: 2008 The State
Author: Gina Smith
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


It gave way like a bad knee.

As Amy Jones jogged off the soccer field of her final college game
last year, she broke with a spartan way of life. The runs and
weightlifting, the soccer drills and hard-earned rivulets of sweat.

Soon her hours were filled with bottled beer, smoldering joints and
morals that stretched like a rubber band in a rented downtown house
where drugs were dealt.

As the police rammed down the door and her face was pushed against the
cool wooden planks of the living-room floor, she knew the party was

At 19 with three felony drug charges dangling over her head, her life
got a new focus: Richland County's Drug Court.

South Carolina's drug courts have proven successful in transforming
lives like Jones', state Attorney General Henry McMaster contends. He
wants to create a new statewide alternative court based on Drug Court.

The idea is to divert nonviolent, first-time offenders - like Jones -
into treatment programs and away from prisons. The result, according
to McMaster, would be more room in prisons for violent offenders,
savings for taxpayers and rehabilitation for nonviolent offenders.

McMaster also wants to abolish parole.


Jones is now 20 years old. She is participating in this story on the
condition that her real name is withheld and she has pinned her hopes
on Drug Court.

"Giving anybody a second chance who's made mistakes in their lives is
a good idea," said Jones, who is attending a local college. "(Drug
court officials) are very specific in what they want you to do and how
to do it. They demand accountability."

Her treatment includes weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, group
therapy, drug tests and monthly court appearances before Judge Walter

On a recent Wednesday, she stood with her hands behind her back,
facing the bench, slightly bouncing nervously on her toes.

A Drug Court counselor detailed her negative drug tests and her steady
attendance at therapy sessions. She is progressing and slated to
graduate from Drug Court in May, the counselor said.

"Your reports are very good," nods Todd, looking like a knowing
father. "You keep it up."

In May, she hopes to stand eye-to-eye with Todd, shake his hand and
receive a navy blue certificate.

For many Drug Court graduates, it's the only diploma they have ever

"Don't lose sight of this," Todd says to three graduates on a recent
Wednesday night as he hands them their certificates. "Remember this.
Let it guide you in whatever you do in the future."

More than 30 people on the wooden benches gave a standing ovation to
the graduates.

In the audience, a mother, sister, niece and best friend applaud and
grin. They've driven from Augusta to see Doug Pyke, 33, graduate.


Two years ago, a battery of tests finally revealed the cause of the
tingling in Pyke's legs. (He allowed the use of his real name in this

Cancer, the doctor said. Chances were he would be dead before the year
was out.

Pyke threw out his road map for a normal life. If he was to die young,
he'd do it on his own terms.

Freed from the chains of day-to-day responsibilities, Pyke salved his
wounds in a mix of drugs, liking each one a little more than the last.
He liked crystal meth the best.

Jacked up on it, Superman energy surged through his veins. In a manic
state, Pyke worked a day job, lay tile on the side and still found the
vigor to dance all night.

On a Florida vacation, he stayed up for nine days, substituting sleep
for smoky clubs, sunbathing and hallucinations that crept into the
corners of his eyes.

The reckless use eventually led to selling crystal meth. Inevitably,
the police busted him, finding a stash in his coat pocket.

"Everything happens for a reason and I'm glad I was caught," said
Pyke, who spent 10 months in the Drug Court program and just graduated.

"It's a good program - but only if you're willing to change your life
around," Pyke says. "To me, it was a way of changing the way I
thought, the way I acted, my friends. I changed all of my friends. If
you're not willing to do that, then Drug Court won't work."

Pyke took the challenge seriously, moving from Aiken to start over in

He has outlived his year-to-live diagnosis, thanks to a risky surgery,
and weekly chemotherapy is helping him, too. Now, hope is growing
faster than the cancer.


Ask any Drug Court graduate and they'll tell you the program is harder
than prison time.

The drug tests come unexpectedly. Priority must be given to not only
staying clean of drugs, but to attending and documenting counseling
sessions. All participants must be employed.

And it requires cash. Some have shelled out more than $2,000 to

Most participants graduate. The Richland County program's recidivism
rates hold constant at 11 to 12 percent.

That compares with a nearly 33 percent three-year recidivism rate for
those incarcerated in S.C. prisons.

For those who miss meetings without an acceptable excuse, Todd assigns
community service or a day or two in prison.

If they fail the program, there is no returning. But if they stick
with it, their criminal records are cleared. More importantly, they
receive the skills to be productive in life.

Jones turns 21 next month, but she won't celebrate at the

"That's not for me anymore," she says as she heads down the steps of
the Richland County Courthouse. "I'm done with it."
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin