Drug Court's HART-Felt Graduation
By Csaba Sukosd | June 2, 2021
After a year of medical and social unrest, 12 drug court participants celebrated overcoming their own struggles.
COVID-19 kept members of Franklin County Municipal Court's Helping Achieve Recovery Together program (HART Court) physically apart for months. But the pandemic couldn't prevent a life-altering day for so many on their journey of recovery - their drug court graduation.
"We could not let this time go by without recognizing how special our graduates are and
acknowledge what they've accomplished," said Hart Court Judge Jodi Thomas.
More than 100 people joined the graduates and treatment team for the virtual ceremony.
The event included speeches from the grads, testimonials from HART Court staff past and present about the spotlighted individuals, and special honors for two of the graduates who received the Phoenix award - given to exemplary participants for their recovery progression.
"There was literally 1,000 times where I was done. I didn't want to do it anymore. I'd rather go to jail. But I stuck through it, and it was all worth it," said Marcedez Walton, a graduate and Phoenix Award recipient.
The most revealing portion of the ceremony was seeing the physical transformation of the graduates. A video montage paired participant mug shots at the time from when they were accepted into the program to photos taken before graduation.
Most of the time lapses were more than a year apart. For some, it was years before they completed the program.
"You all are true testaments to how living a life of recovery allows you to grow in leaps and bounds as people," said probation officer Ryan Topping.
On top of the improvements in their health and appearance, the most significant accomplishment for all of the grads was how they were able to reshape and rebuild their lives. Those achievements included locating independent housing, securing new jobs and promotions, and reuniting with families.
"I was able to get my children back - my reason for living, my reason to kick my addiction - and be the person, friend, daughter, and mother I should've been long ago," said graduate Holly Rodriguez.
Undoubtedly, the biggest gain for all is a second chance.
Amid the emotions and gratitude, some grads struggled to speak, fighting through tears to share how HART Court helped them out of darkness.
"I just want to thank everybody," said graduate Barry Rist, who was overcome by the moment.
"This program saved my life.'
While graduation day marks the end of one journey, the path of sober living carries on. Only now, there's a much bigger circle of friends and supports.
"I'm just really glad I had the ability to build relationships with all of you, and I'm really looking forward to continuing those relationships," said graduate and Phoenix Award winner Kyle Meechan.