HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Nearly 40 people from Forrest and Perry counties were given a fresh new start after graduating from drug court at the Lake Terrace Convention Center Monday.
The 12th Circuit Drug Court is an alternative to jail time for nonviolent offenders with issues of substance abuse.
The goal is to enhance the health and lives of offenders and their families.
“I was a junkie,” said graduate Janie Sistrunk. “Meth was my drug of choice and I landed in jail because I got busted. August 17, 2016, I got arrested for the last time and I’ve been sober ever since.”
Many others like Sistrunk walked across the stage at the Forrest and Perry counties’ drug court graduation, leaving behind a world of abuse for a world of new beginnings.
“We're all just a mess when we get here,” said graduate Justin Nobles. “We're trying to figure out how to put two sentences together let alone hold a job or start to rebuild relationships.”
Nobles said prior to his arrest, he served overseas in Afghanistan. He said when he returned home, that’s when he went down a hole of alcohol and drug abuse.
“When I first got here, it was a miracle for me to be in a room with 10 people and allow someone to walk behind me,” said Nobles.
Three years later, Justin, Janie and several others who fell on the same path now walk with new confidence.
“Congratulations,” said 12th Circuit Court Judge Bob Helfrich. “They’ve put a lot of hard work in it and we’re just so happy for them.”
The three-year program requires participants to take part in weekly court appearances, substance abuse treatment, random drug screenings and many other activities.
“People scared me with it at first,” said Sistrunk. “Telling me it was a trap and that it was a setup, but in reality, it’s really not. It’s a thing to give you the tools that you need to get sober and stay sober.”
Whether it's spending more time with family or keeping a steady a job, these graduates say a new leaf has turned and today is only the beginning.
“I can't sit here and tell you I'm not going to do anything,” said Nobles. “All I can tell you is that for this 24 hours, I'm not going to do anything. When I wake up in the morning, I'm going to ask God to give me the strength to do and ask Him to give me the strength for the next day.”
Helfrich said the recidivism rate for offenders is at nearly 72%. For drug court graduates, it’s about 20%.