Several drug and DUI offenders gathered at the Dawson County Courthouse last Thursday to celebrate reaching a new phase in their life.
With tears, smiles and anticipation, eight participants in Dawson County Treatment Court's DUI and drug tracks received plaques recognizing their program completion.
As families and friends watched, the graduates stood at the podium and shared their stories.
Amy Swisher, 43, who graduated from the drug track, spoke near the end of the ceremony. She brought both tears and laughter as she shared her testimony.
"For 28 years I used methamphetamine, I used diet pills, I drank every day, smoked cigarettes, did weed, acid, ecstasy... I did it all and I never was arrested," she said.
"I was really good at pretending and hiding things. My family knew something was messed up but they didn't know what."
Swisher, who had been awake for seven days when she was arrested, was brought to court two years ago on her birthday.
"I knew right then and there that that was the best birthday present I had ever given myself," she said.
She said she was "so grateful" for drug court and for being arrested that day. Now, 24 months later, she testified to a full transformation.
"Here lately I have noticed some things about myself that I am starting to like," she said.
DUI track graduate Katherine Dietzel, 34, said she has experienced a transformation, too. As a single mother to a 4-year-old son, she said it is important for her to be a good role model.
"I am thankful that this happened to me because I have learned a lot this year," she said. "I found a fabulous [Alcoholics Anonymous] group who accepted me for who I was and didn't judge me ... It has really changed me."
She later added: "This was a blessing in disguise for me."
Fellow DUI track graduate Michael Brasington said alcoholism and drug addiction is not only destructive to the offender, but also their friends and families.
"I drank a lot and I set a bad example for my kids a lot of times," he recalled.
And the destructive habits also hurt the general public, Brasington pointed out.
"You talk about drinking and driving and a good example is what happened to the little Prince boys out there on the lake ... There is too much pain inflicted because of drinking," he said.
The last drug track graduate to receive his certificate from Superior Court Judge Jason Deal was Gordon "G.P." Pirkle Jr., the son of Gordon Pirkle, owner of the Pool Room.
Pirkle Jr., 45, who had previously served federal time for drugs, was arrested again in November 2009 for methamphetamine possession.
He was then faced with a choice: Nine months in a residential substance abuse treatment center or a two-year commitment in the Dawson County Treatment Court.
Although it claimed 11 more months of his life, Pirkle Jr. chose treatment court.
"First of all, I need to thank God. God is what has brought me to where I am today," he said with a shaky, emotional voice on Thursday.
"I used drugs for 30 years and to tell you how bad it was, I was incarcerated 12 years ago and it didn't help me. When I got out I went right back."
Pirkle Jr. said he experienced a change of heart through the treatment program and his numerous friends and relatives confirmed this as they stepped up to congratulate him.
"I knew him before, when he got out of prison, and his outlook on life is completely different now. I am thankful for that and for the Lord putting him through this," said his nephew Michael Garrett, 18.
In addition to his plaque, Pirkle Jr. was also happy to show off his new smile. Before a dental nonprofit stepped in to pay for dental work he had extensive tooth decay from years of using methamphetamine.
"Now G.P. has a great smile and he can show it," Deal said.
Created in 2006, the Dawson County Treatment Court focuses on creating positive life choices and increasing family relations, employment and fiscal responsibility.
It also works to lower criminal behavior, substance abuse and health risks with the goal of helping participants become productive members of their community.
Following last week's graduation, 54 offenders have graduated from the drug track and 76 from the DUI track. There are 72 participants presently in the program.
Through the treatment center, 21 babies have been born to drug-free parents, two from the last set of graduates.