Dawson County's drug treatment court offers first-time felony offenders a chance to get back on their feet and have a second chance at life.
After each round of participants complete the program, a graduation ceremony is held. The ceremony gives graduates a chance to gain support from their friends and family as well as the community. With one of the lowest recidivism rates in the area, the program shares many success stories during the ceremony.
One such story is Phillip Lemley.
Lemley, a three-time convicted felon and addict, had seen his share of the wrong end of the justice system.
"This is a common story, but it never ceases to amaze me," said Jason Deal, presiding judge over Dawson County's Treatment Court. "Phillip had been on probation for a while - three times, I believe. He knew he had a problem and was an addict, but he didn't want to quit. But he knew he needed to change. The next day, some members of [the Dawson County Sheriff's Office] helped him with that change."
According to Lemley, he originally used drugs as an escape, but soon became fearful of where it was taking him and what it was taking from him.
"About 26 months ago, I entered the drug court program scared to death," he said. "Drugs had controlled my life for a considerable amount of years. I lost my wife, my respect and my family."
However, those working with Lemley said he never lost his good-natured attitude as he completed the program.
"He was just the nicest, most respectful fellow all throughout drug court," Deal said. "He immersed himself in the program and he made it work."
Even those acquainted with Lemley as part of his court-ordered work noticed his good attitude.
"I met Phillip when he hadn't been in the program for very long. Even then, he had such a great concept of what he had to do," said Arlene McClure with Friends of Recovery. "We would work together and I would be asking Phillip about his life. He said he had to concentrate on his recovery first and foremost."
After working with and through the program for several years, Lemley was finally able to recover what was lost to him for so long.
"Through this program, I got my respect and my family back," he said. "I'm thankful I had such a great support team. I've got friends again that I can honestly believe in."
One of Lemley's counselors, Jeanette Gurr, said she believes that he will continue to walk the road to recovery and that people like him are the reason these programs exist.
"Phillip is the reason that we do this work that we do. People ask how we can work in the field that we do and Phillip is that reason. He has a heart of gold. I would trust him with my life," she said.
Lemley said he just happy to have made it through.
"I'm grateful to be standing here. They say a grateful addict will not be using drugs again and I'm very grateful," he said.