Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Meshia Dozier waits to graduate from Clayton County Adult Felony Drug Court. With her is the youngest of her five children.
JONESBORO — Each addict’s turning point to recovery is unique but the goal remains the same — to stay sober.
Or they could fail and suffer the consequences.
In Clayton County Adult Felony Drug Court, the consequences of failure are real and include donning an orange jumpsuit and all the glamour that goes along with being an inmate.
Getting into the program is fairly simple, just commit the right kind of crime and you’re in. Staying in and being successful, well, now that’s harder. The challenge becomes swapping prison orange for the black cap and gown of a Drug Court graduate.
Superior Court Judge Albert Collier, who presides over the program, says he has heard every sob story and excuse that an addict can churn out. Most tragic tales boil down to the blame for an addict’s lot in life falling to those around him or her, no personal responsibility.
Take Ebonecke Ford, for example.
“I got locked up, I thought I knew it all, I wouldn’t listen,” said Ford. “Then help arrived with Drug Court. It offered structure, stability and patience. Lord knows I needed patience.”
Even so, Ford said she was looking for an easy out. Collier told her she wouldn’t make it.
“I tried manipulation like I have my whole life,” she said. “But I found it is not possible to manipulate the Drug Court team.”
Collier had his doubts.
“I told her to prove me wrong,” he said. “And she did.”
Ford was one of three Drug Court graduates to stand tall in front of cheering family and friends Thursday night and share the story of her rocky path to recovery. Troy Patterson and Meshia Dozier also weathered the storm to finish the intensive program.
“Not only have you graduated, you’ve become productive members of society and can live in your communities without the fear of being stopped and searched and wondering what you have in your car or in your house,” said Collier.
To get to the other end of the program, the trio performed at least 336 hours of community service, attended countless weeks of treatment meetings, maintained months of sobriety, lived by a curfew and attended budgeting and parenting classes, among other requirements.
“We keep them very busy,” said Collier. “At any time, two officers could knock at their doors, making sure they were meeting curfew. I know your families have understood the need to maintain very strict supervision. You’ll see how beneficial that is.”
Ford ended up excelling in the program and gave a presentation last year to the Clayton County Board of Commissioners about Drug Court, he said.
“She’s an asset,” said Collier. “She’s a very strong participant and leader.”
Ford’s foray into drug use started with marijuana at age 16. The next year, she was charged with forgery and at 18, she had her first child. While her grandmother battled breast cancer, Ford had a second child. Then an aunt died.
“I got super depressed,” she said. “I used cocaine to not feel anything.”
Four more children later, Ford’s life was barreling toward an uncertain future.
“I was in and out of jail, getting high,” she said. “I was headed for death but didn’t care.”
She was arrested in February 2010 for selling drugs. At that point, Ford could either go to prison or go to Drug Court.
“I had someone praying for me,” she said. “I’m liking this now, I yearned for recovery. I care now.”
Dozier’s story is similar.
“I was selling and using cocaine,” said Dozier. “I started tricking to get drugs and met a guy who did crack. I had a baby with him and stopped using. But I gave my son to relatives and went back to doing the same thing.”
She stayed on crack until her second child was born.
“I did the right thing for four months and then went back to the streets,” she said. “I was tricked into trying heroin and then I did it all. Heroin, crack and cocaine all went up my nose. I ended up in jail.”
After jail, she returned to substance abuse, adding alcohol and prescription pills to her litany. In 2003, she had her third child.
“I’d leave my son with my mother and hit the streets,” said Dozier. “My fourth child, same thing. I was praying to God to remove drugs from my life. He brought Drug Court into my life.”
Collier said he is proud that Dozier is the first participant to give birth to a drug-free baby. Dozier said she has her family back.
“I can pass a drug test, my family trusts me and they are happy to have me around,” she said. “My children are happy to have me back. Drug Court worked for me. Today, I know who Meshia Renotia Dozier is.”
Patterson’s drug of choice was methamphetamine. He fell so far down he didn’t think he could ever recover.
“If I listed all the times I got locked up, we’d be here all night,” he said. “I went back on meth a few years ago, I was broke, homeless, hopeless. I cashed a bad check and got a felony charge. I went into Drug Court to keep from going to jail for two years.”
Patterson thought it would be a cake walk and was at the end of his rope when he failed three drug tests.
“I realized I had a much bigger problem than I realized,” he said. “I was totally hopeless. I asked Judge Collier to just give me the time, to get it over with. That was my turning point. He told me, ‘No, Troy, we’re going to get you some help.’ I put my heart and soul into one short prayer.”
Once he decided to straighten up, he realized that life is good. It wasn’t always that way for Patterson.
“I started doing intravenous drugs at 17,” he said. “I was doing meth, cocaine, dilaudid, heroin. That was a nasty addiction.”
In the middle of it all, he fell in love. Her name was Gretchen.
“We shoplifted together and sold what we stole to buy drugs,” said Patterson. “In 2000, we had a child. She was taken away from us and I went to jail for nine months. Then Gretchen died from drugs. I signed away my rights to my daughter and my parents adopted her. I lived with shame and guilt.”
He thanked Collier and the Drug Court team for helping him improve his life.
“I’ve been clean and sober for two years and one month,” he said. “I am a productive citizen, a good husband, brother and son. The sky’s the limit. Thank you.”
Clayton Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell also spoke to the crowd, sharing the wisdom of his 75 years and benefit of his experience as the father of 13 and a former Atlanta police chief.
“Walk like you’ve got someplace to go, be the example you expect to see in others,” he said. “Let nothing drag you down. Never, never, never stop trying.”