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Standing proud with good reason, Drug Court graduates, Gerald Freeman, left, Grant White, Jody Evans, Baylee Russell, Jim Banta and Troy Jackson, show off their certificates of completion Thursday morning in the Toole County Courthouse. This group of six is the largest group to graduate at once since the program started over a decade ago.

Many milestones in life are celebrated with a graduation ceremony- high school graduation, college graduation, graduating from different levels in the workforce- all graduations celebrate and recognize what is considered a great accomplishment. The same can be said for Drug Court graduation, and maybe “great accomplishment” isn’t quite enough, as the changes and growth that takes place in those who make it through this program are phenomenal and life changing.

On Thursday, Feb. 24, the largest group ever to graduate at once from Treatment Court made their way into the District Courtroom at the Toole County Courthouse. Six people closed one chapter of life, that of addiction, while proudly entering another, one full of hope and opportunities.

“Tomorrow will be the hardest,” said Drug Court graduate, James Banta. “It’s the end of this road and the beginning of a new journey. For the past two-and-a-half years I’ve had people telling me what to do. Tomorrow, I have to think for myself. What I have gotten out of this will be decided tomorrow. I’m very thankful for all the support I’ve had. Once I started putting into the program, well, I got so much out of it.”

Banta ended up in Drug Court after receiving his fourth DUI. He admits when he first started, he was “a real piece of work.”

“I had to move in with my brother,” recalled Banta. “I was sleeping on the bottom bunk of my nephew’s bunk bed, hiding whiskey under my pillow.”

The stories shared by those graduating the program are inspiring. Folks from all walks of life and battling all types of addiction find themselves in Treatment Court and while at first that is the last place they want to be, by the end they couldn’t be more grateful for the change it made in their lives.

“When I started the program, I had lost who I was in my addiction,” said Bailey Russell. “It was terrifying. Through this program I found myself again. Nothing in Drug Court is punishment, it is a chance, a second chance at life.”

This sentiment is shared by many in the program and hearing the stories of where each graduate started and how far they have come serves as encouragement for those still making their way through.

“This is a big deal,” said graduate Grant White. “When I first came my life was unmanageable. I would never have admitted to having a drinking problem. The things I’ve learned here, the changes made in my life, they can’t be taken from me. I owe this program more than I can ever repay. I’m so grateful and I want everyone to know, your life can be better.”

Group sessions, attending AA, NA and other therapies, along with getting and holding a job, reporting for random drug tests, are just a small part of what Drug Court entails. Those who enter the program are on their last leg, the last chance before prison. It’s said over and over again, “you will get out of this what you put in.” The time, effort and energy put in by the participants is something to be admired.

“I was ready for a change and just didn’t know it yet,” said graduate Joe Freeman. “The groups helped me the most, other people helping keep me accountable. It’s one day at a time and the next thing you know, your accomplishing goals and you’re happy.”

Troy Jackson shared that although things for him and Drug Court got off on a rough start, the end result is something he will forever be grateful for.

“I fought it at first,” said Jackson. “But then I finally let go and my sobriety got to be the most important thing in my life. I’m very proud. I’ve gained a lot of family and respect; it means the world to me. I’m kind of sad that I’m leaving, but I’m leaving proud and thankful.”

Many start the program with a chip on their shoulder, or a “I’m just going to fake it until I make it” attitude. It doesn’t take long though, before they realize that faking it just isn’t going to cut it. You’re held accountable, not only by Judge Olson, or the Drug Court coordinator, Brooke Rogers, but by the others in the group. Accountability and support comes in spades in Drug Court.

To read the complete article, pick up a copy of this week’s issue or subscribe to the Shelby Promoter, Cut Bank Pioneer Press,  Browning Glacier Reporter and The Valierian newspapers at http://www.cutbankpioneerpress.com/site/services/

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