"I found love in a Cuban drug dealer. We had lots of money and lots of cocaine," said Teri Spurill, guest speaker at last Wednesday's Dawson County Treatment Court graduation.
Six graduated from the program that, as part of the Superior Court of the Northeastern Judicial Circuit, helps those who have been charged with drug related crimes avoid jail time, get sober and potentially have their charges dropped.
Spurill was invited to share her story of redemption and recovery, and said the trouble started when she was growing up an only child with parents who showed their affection through gifts and money.
A series of rocky marriages, pregnancies and multiple stints in rehab brought Spurill to a place where she stayed sober for nearly six years. Spurill said that despite being sober, she was miserable and thought she was crazy, defective despite having "normal" parents.
When she relapsed that last time, she knew something needed to change.
"My drug use started out pretty glamorous but my drug use ended in a shack in the woods, with no running water and no toilet," Spurill said. "But I knew that my life was meant for more than than that, I just didn't know how to get out of it."
Eventually Spurill came to the Perry location of Abba House, a women's Christian residential program for abuse and addiction recovery.
Spurill graduated from the Abba House program in 2013 after 15 months and now works as an assistant public relations director, caseworker and volunteer coordinator at the Cumming location.
"I never really knew what I wanted to do... I didn't know who I was supposed to be. But God gives everyone a gift...and when you're not walking in that and you're not acting on that, it's like you missed the whole thing. That's what I was so miserable about," Spurill said. "To be able to work with these girls every day, to see them when they come in and when they leave, see their families restored and their hope restored, that's what it's all about."
Spurill's story was heard by a packed room of District Attorney's office staff, drug court facilitators, graduates and their friends and families, current drug court participants and current inmates.
Though everyone's circumstances differed greatly, the six graduates also had much in common with Spurill's journey. All had addiction issues from a young age, and all found a second, and sometimes third, chance to change their lives around through the program.
Superior Court Judge Jason Deal described one of the graduates, Shane, as "hardheaded and stubborn and rebellious."
Shane said he first tried drugs when he was 16, and started the program when he was 47. But for a few bouts of sobriety, he was addicted for over half his life.
"I had accepted that that was the way my life was going to be, that's the way I was going to end up, that's how I was going to die," he said. "I was happy living the same groundhog day every day. When I got arrested I was offered drug court, and had people in jail tell me not to do it....that I was set up to fail."
Shane said he started treatment court with a lot of reluctance, and that it took him three or four months to relinquish control and let others help.
"Once I hit phase two everything clicked and I realized what I had to do," Shane said. "I didn't receive a sanction since then, and it's been two years."
"I want to thank Judge Deal," Shane said. "I couldn't imagine a better person for this job. I believe he truly understands what all we have to go through...but he will also throw you in jail real quick."
Another graduate, Janette, was arrested in September 2013 and subsequently started her journey with treatment court.
"Before I got with my husband I was not an addict, but my husband was," Janette said. "In the 10 years we've been together we went through addiction together, got arrested together, but he went to prison and I came to drug court. Drug court in the beginning was hard for me because I was living with an addict. But when he went to prison, my recovery began."
Deal said that Janette had to learn to fend for herself at a young age, and said Janette was in the ninth grade when she met her husband and started using.
"She left school, had a child and lived that lifestyle for a while," Deal said. "But man what a change. She's got her kids back living with her now, she's been sober for over 27 months. She went back and got her GED. She got her driver's license back. She doesn't have just one car, she has two cars.
"If Janette can do it, anybody can, it just takes determination."
The treatment court program was started in 2006 under Deal's direction. Those with felony possession and felony with intent charges can be considered for the voluntary program. If the program is completed successfully after a minimum of 24 months, charges will be dropped.