Thursday was a day of celebration and the official marking of a new life for five people.
Participations of the Dawson County Treatment Court received diplomas and medallions for completing intensive treatment programs for DUI and drug offenses.
Patty Smith was one of those graduates, who was once a methamphetamine user and entered the program because she wanted to find a way to change.
“I had quit using and then when I got back into it, I knew there had to be a way for me to change my life around,” Smith said. “I made a lot of bad decisions, I wanted to change, and being a part of this program was my chance to do it.”
While the program was intense and hard, Smith is thankful to have had the chance to change her life and completely credited the program for that change.
Members of Smith’s family were present for the ceremony, all expressing thanks to those involved for assisting in bringing their loved one back into their lives.
“You lead us and now you are able to be our mom again,” said Smith’s oldest daughter Megan Welch. “It is a wonderful thing to see how much she has changed. She is so strong and we are all glad to have her back.”
Welch is grateful to have her mother back in her life, because as the oldest child, it is her job to look after and lead her six younger siblings.
But she said she “could not do it without my mom to lead me.”
Fellow graduate Tina Painter echoed Smith’s remarks about the program.
“This program saved and changed my life,” said Painter.
Now in her 27th month of sobriety, Painter says she is glad to be on the other side and is now able to do her part in helping others come out of the same lifestyle she once lived.
As part of the program, Painter spent some time at the Mary Hall Freedom House in Atlanta, a residential treatment facility for women and women with children.
“When Tina came to us, she was in a bad way,” said Superior Court Judge Jason Deal. “We had some struggles which led her to the Mary Hall Freedom House and she has really blossomed there. From being someone who started using methamphetamine in 2004, to becoming a daily user in 2006, to someone who went to Mary Hall Freedom House and accomplished a lot.”
Painter noted an important lesson learned through the drug court program: “Don’t let your past determine the person you want to be or your future, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
Painter is now the secretary of the alumni association of the freedom house, and also chairs four narcotics anonymous meetings each month.
Along with their plaques and medallions noting their graduation, Painter and Smith’s felony charges were dismissed since each successfully completed the treatment program.
William Ellis was one of three to graduate from the DUI track of the treatment court, and also echoed Painter and Smith’s comments about their life being changed through the program
“I didn’t start off on a good note, had a few bumps here and there,” Ellis said. “But with the help of good people (I made it though) and have nothing to complain about.”
Ellis added that the program was not easy, but said he kept his head up and kept going. “It really is a good program, I appreciate what it has done for me, and they don’t come more fairer than Judge Deal.”
Established under Deal’s guidance in 2006, Dawson County’s hybrid drug and DUI court created an innovative alternative to jail time for offenders, who voluntarily enter a guilty plea and accept two years of treatment.
It also works to lower criminal behavior, substance abuse and health risks with the goal of helping participants become productive members of their community.
Since its inception to date, six people have graduated from the drug track of the program and 23 have graduate from the DUI track.
There are currently 86 participants in the program.