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Clayton County Drug Court holds first graduation

Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Jaime Iraheta (left) and Joseph Bray waiting to receive official recognition of their completion of Drug Court.

Photo by Kathy Jefcoats Jaime Iraheta (left) and Joseph Bray waiting to receive official recognition of their completion of Drug Court.

By Kathy Jefcoats

kjefcoats@news-daily.com

Jaime Iraheta's arrest record speaks for itself -- another intoxicated night in the Clayton County Jail, another sober morning and another vow to stop the cycle.

He couldn't do it alone, and said his family and friends had given up on him. Not understanding addiction, they told him simply to stop drinking. Iraheta said it's not that simple.

"I tried for five years to quit drinking on my own and always failed," he said. "I tried to get clean and sober and prayed to God to get the help I needed."

The final straw came more than a year ago when he faced two years in prison for yet another DUI arrest.

"When they offered me two years in prison, that was it for me," he said. "I had always swore I would not go to prison. I told myself that I could do better than this, I have to change my life."

Thursday night, Iraheta celebrated his journey toward sobriety and away from prison as one of Clayton County Drug Court's first graduates. Iraheta and Joseph Bray successfully completed an intensive 18-month program of constant community supervision, treatment and 12-step group meetings, 9 p.m. curfew, random drug testing, more than 230 hours of community service, financial class and holding a job.

Superior Court Judge Al Collier oversees Drug Court and presided over Thursday's ceremony. Clayton State University donated caps and gowns.

"These are two very busy men," said Collier. "We guide participants into sobriety so that they have no mental desire to participate in the drug culture."

About 25 fellow participants watched the ceremony. As each completes the program, similar graduations will follow. Collier said to be eligible for Drug Court, a participant must have a minimum of two non-violent felonies, a confirmed and identified drug or alcohol addiction and be facing charges on a non-violent felony.

Gene Hall, director of the Clayton Center, which treats addictions, also spoke at the ceremony. Hall read the inspirational poem, "Don't Quit," which includes the lines:

"When things go wrong as they sometimes will,

When the road you're trudging seems all up hill,

When the funds are low and the debts are high

And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,

When care is pressing you down a bit,

Rest if you must, but don't you quit."

Substance abuse counselor Thedodus Crane shared his story of being an addict for many years before turning around his life.

"That was 18 years ago and from that day to this, I don't smoke, drink or do anything mind-altering to mess up my life," he said. "I used to pay $5 for a drink. Today, a drink would cost me my life and that's too high a price to pay."

In accepting his certificate of completion, Joseph Bray said the program changed his life. He recalled his life before Drug Court, when he would dread approaching a police sobriety road check.

"You can't put a price on the life I live now," he said. "I went through a road block the other night. I made it through. It felt so good, I went on to the store, turned around and came back through."

His wife of 21 years, Sandra, said he is a changed man.

"I am so happy," she said after the ceremony. "This program has worked wonderfully and has changed our lives. If you pay attention to it, it can change your life."

Now that he is clean and sober, Iraheta said he again has the support of his family.

"I am very proud of myself," he said. "And I can see the change in my family around me. They trust and support me again. It makes me feel very valuable again."

Drug Court started in October 2009. Partners include the District Attorney's Office, State Court, Superior Court, Public Defender's Office, probation officials and Clayton Center.