Graduates hold their certificates, from left, Sophia Mathis, John Weaver, Roosevelt Walton, Willie Walton, Edwin Turner (in back row) and Leshawn Mays. Cowen is at right. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)
JONESBORO — Do something remarkable.
Those three words of wisdom could apply to anyone but they were directed to the six graduates of Clayton County’s DUI Court Program. Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner, a former police chief who spent most of his life in law enforcement, was the guest speaker for the graduation.
“Do something remarkable,” he said. “You have a ticket to change the world.”
The six joined 150 others who’ve completed the intensive program since it started in February 2007. It is overseen by State Court Judge Linda S. Cowen and guided by a team that includes Dr. Richard Highland of Associated Counseling and Evaluation Services, who also spoke during the ceremony.
“I know it’s not been easy,” he said. “It’s a frustrating journey but freedom does come at a price. Of course, after today, you won’t be free, none of us are free but you can cherish the more freedom you get from now on.”
Cowen agreed to the difficulty of the program in her address to the graduates and their families.
“You’re much better because you’re not making stupid choices,” she said. “It’s not easy but it’s not meant to be easy. But you don’t get here by being easy.”
The 18-month program, which is paid for by participants, includes one year of alcohol and other drug intensive outpatient treatment that includes group therapy and individual counseling; daily random drug testing; community supervision by probation and law enforcement officers; recurring court appearances before Cowen; incentives and sanctions related to progress and non-compliance; verifiable participation in 12-step meetings; referral to needed community services; progress toward family, work and educational goals; and payment of fees.
The most recent graduates are Sophia Mathis, Leshawn Mays, Edwin Turner, Roosevelt Walton, Willie Walton and John Weaver. As they picked up their certificates of completion, they were given the chance to speak to participants still working through the program.
“Stay focused because otherwise, you are pushing your graduation date farther and farther away,” she said.
This is Mays’ second time graduating from the program.
“Never say never,” he said.
Turner urged participants to “hang in there, take care of yourselves.”
When Cowen introduced Roosevelt Walton, she said he had “double struggles.”
“I worried at one point you’d given up on yourselves but you didn’t,” she said. “Good for you.”
She said she could tell that getting sober has improved his health, too.
“When he first came in here, he looked like he was about to die,” Cowen said. “This is a healthy man.”
Walton told participants to “stay focused” because “it’s all about change.”
Willie Walton, too, was struggling with health issues, Cowen said
“He told me the other day that we saved his life,” she said. “But he did all the work.”
He, too, had words of encouragement. To the graduates, he told them, “We made it.”
“I feel ya,” he said to the participants not yet graduated, who applauded and cheered.
Weaver declined to make a comment so Cowen spoke to him.
“I’m looking forward to getting an invitation to your college graduation,” she said.