COLUMBIA, MS (WDAM) - Redemption and a second chance, that is what U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker called Friday's Drug Court Graduation in Columbia.
"What we all need to remember is we've all made mistakes, we've all done things we are ashamed of," Wicker said.
Forty graduates participated in the 15th Judicial District Drug Court's Graduation Ceremony at Woodlawn United Pentecostal Church. The participants were from Jefferson Davis, Lamar, Lawrence, Marion and Pearl River counties.
Honorable Prentiss Harrell said the structured, three-year program is tough. Designed for non-violent felony offenders as an alternative to jail, participants go through daily check-ins with a case worker, regular drug checks and addiction treatment. Participants must also hold a job.
But, Harrell said giving offenders the option at drug court instead of going behind bars is a no-brainer.
"It is a simple answer - we should give second chances. Most everybody I know, including myself, has had second chances. And we've ought to be a grateful people, our Lord gives us second chances," Harrell said.
Wicker said, "One approach would be to toss them into jail and toss away the key. Thank goodness that is not the approach we are taking here in Columbia with people who have the ability to be rehabilitated."
Drug Court Graduate Natalia Harrington said she got addicted to methamphetamine the first time she tried it.
"My life went from perfect and just how I wanted it to struggling and worrying about getting my next high," Harrington said.
Harrington said she bought and sold jobs to make money. She was arrested and faced two felony drug charges.
"I had lost not just material things, but everything inside myself. I lost basically my heart and my mind all together," Harrington said. "I lost all my family and life long friends and it just went going down from there."
Harrington said she did go to rehab, but relapsed. She spent seven months behind bars. That is when her mother pushed her to take the option of drug court. On Friday morning, she completed the program and has been sober for 889 days.
Brothers Sen. Briggs Hopson and Southern Miss Head Football Coach Jay Hopson were keynote speakers at the ceremony.
"We understand you can make a mistake. We don't want to see someone's life thrown away because they made a mistake," Briggs Hopson said. "We want to see people have a second chance to better themselves."
Jay Hopson shared experience with the graduates, family and friends. He said sometimes he has to coach football players through drug addictions and rehabilitation.
"Everyone's going to face adversities," Jay Hopson said. "Keep fighting and if you don't give up and you don't give in, keep fighting and you're eventually going to win."
There are 42 drug courts operating in Mississippi, and over 4,000 people participate each year. The State of Mississippi Judiciary said an auditor's report estimated the state could save about $5.4 million a year by putting 500 people in a statewide drug court system instead of the department of corrections.
Harrell said participants who graduate from the program will have their records expunged. He said there are about 250 people currently enrolled in his drug court system.