By Jean A. Flanagan
“In February 2016, a wonderful thing happened. I was arrested and went to jail. Before that, I was a liar, a thief and a manipulator.”
Brandon Sherman of Hardy County described what he was like and what happened that brought him to the South Branch Valley Drug Court program. Sherman was one of nine people who graduated from the program in ceremonies held Friday, Nov. 3 at the Hampshire County Courthouse. “Today is a wonderful day,” he said.[private]
The SBV Drug Court is a jail diversionary program for nonviolent, drug or alcohol addicted felons. The intensive program combines abstinence, education and therapy with community service and employment as an alternative to incarceration. There is an initial screening process and not everyone who applies is accepted.
The participant must plead guilty to a felony charge and that plea is held in abeyance. If the participant completes the program, they can petition the court to reduce their felony conviction to a misdemeanor.
“You have to qualify for drug court,” said Drug Court Judge John Treadway. “You have to have criminal thinking and you have to have an addiction.
“To graduate, you have to change your thinking. You have to be prepared to fight this addiction for the rest of your life.”
“Change is the most difficult thing one can undertake,” said Drug Court Director and Probation Officer Sarah Royal. “Drug Court is only a structure. You have to put in the time and the work.”
Drug Court is broken into three phases. Phase I involves detox, if warranted, assessment, and screening for other needs. Participants must attend substance abuse treatment, community support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery, and perform community service if unemployed. They must call their case manager twice a day, seven days a week. Participants must be drug-free for 60 days to move to Phase II.
“Phase I taught me accountability and responsibility,” Sherman said. “I began to love being clean.”
Phase II involves continued drug treatment and therapy. Participants must call their case manager once per day, seven days a week and report in person once a week. They must complete community service or be employed. Participants must be drug free for 90 days before moving to Phase III.
Phase III requires the participant to be employed or in some job skill training full time. They must call their case manager once a day, five days a week and report in person twice per month. Participants must be drug-free for 120 days before completing the program.
“In Phase II and III, I learned about the disease of addiction,” Sherman said. “I began to accept that I would not be judged on what I’ve done, but what I do now. I can’t change the past, but I can learn for the future.
“I’ve been in multiple rehabs. I was good at the beginning and the end, but I totally missed everything in between. Thanks to the Drug Court staff for the opportunity to change my life. This does not mark an end, but a beginning.”
Sherman said the best thing he’s received from participating in the Drug Court program was the restoration of his relationship with his Mother and Father. “They stood by me and now I can be the son they can be proud of,” he said.
Wendy Keener of Hampshire County also spoke at the ceremony.
“At first I thought how am I supposed to do all this stuff,” she said. “It took me some time to get a schedule. It was difficult, even though I got straight “A”s and played sports in high school.”
“I have more than I ever thought I would have. If all goes according to plan, I will have my Phlebotomist Certificate in December.”
Royal thanked the treatment team, who meet once a week to discuss the Drug Court participants. The team reviews each case individually, determines if the participant is on the right track and what could and should be done to make sure they are progressing.
The treatment team consists of Judge John Treadway, Royal, Magistrate Shawna Crites, Law Clerk Jamie Ketterman, Day Report Director Cary Ours, Day Report Therapists Tara Combs, Adele Lavigne and Ashley Bailey and Robert Carl from law enforcement.
Royal also thanked the employers who give drug court participants employment, organizations who provide opportunities for community service and community-based support groups, like AA, NA and CR.
Royal acknowledged the support of the County Commissions of Hardy, Hampshire and Pendleton counties and the cooperation and support of law enforcement in those counties as well.
Most important, Royal said, is the support of family and friends. “Without your support, they wouldn’t be here,” she said.
According to SBV Drug Court statistics, there have been 178 participants. Of those, 59 have graduated and 28 are still active. There have been 18 clean babies born to Drug Court mothers.
Current SBV Drug Court participants have contributed 5,062 hours of community service, valued at $40,180.
Fourteen SBV Drug Court participants have earned their GED while in the program and six have gone on to higher education programs.[/private]