15th Judicial Drug Court Hosts Graduation in Picayune
It was all smiles last Friday as Judge Prentiss Harrell and the rest of the 15th Judicial Court welcomed families, local officials, and Drug Court graduates to Resurrection Life Church in Picayune. Hundreds of people gathered to see this year’s 35 graduates walk across the stage to receive certificates of completion and the hope of a second chance.
Drug Court is a program that helps drug offenders re-enter the workplace. Participants go through an average of 3 years of detoxification, training, mentorship, and accountability in order to prepare them to return as responsible citizens. While participants are detained at night, the program allows them to work, go to school, or even take care of sick family members while they complete the other aspects of the program. Drug Court began as a solution to the problem of drug offenders being reincarcerated within a year of getting out of prison.
Judge Prentiss Harrell began by recognizing the many officials in attendance and touting the program’s wild success. Harrell is a huge proponent of Drug Court and the people it aims to help.
“Ninety percent of the graduates from our program do not return to prison and go on to live meaningful lives,” Harrell offered. "When we stop having compassion for our fellow man, we’re really in trouble.”
The ceremony opened with a prayer from Pastor Allen Hickman of Resurrection Life, commenting first that, “A few thousand years ago it was foretold that a man named Jesus would set captives free, and I’m so thankful that He’s still doing that.”
A sense of community in the room continued as Crystal Browning, a Drug Court Field Agent, delivered a powerful rendition of the National Anthem.
Justice David Ishee (pictured), the newest member of the Mississippi Supreme Court, gave an impassioned keynote address about new beginnings and second chances.
“Justice isn’t always about locking somebody up. Sometimes it’s about giving somebody an opportunity to take control of their own life,” Ishee stated.
Ishee encouraged this year’s graduates to continue the work they started, to never be a victim, and to give away everything that they’d been given.
It was a glorious moment as each of the 35 graduates walked across the stage to cheers from family and friends. Many of the graduates already have a much brighter road ahead of them than many drug offenders. Some have already finished a degree at PRCC. Some already have jobs as CNA’s and material technicians. Many have already been reconciled to family.
The most heartwarming moments of the ceremony came from the personal testimonies of the Drug Court participants. Many of them described the desperate situations they were in and the impact Drug Court had in their lives.
Jordan Dearman expressed extreme gratitude at being given another chance, “…instead of locking me away, y’all helped me put my life back together and ushered me back into the world.” Jordan is now married and has a job in sales.
“Drug Court not only helped me get clean, it helped me get accountable. I thought when I hit rock bottom, I couldn’t get back. Drug Court showed me differently,” said Leah Gailor. “
Rachel Ladner beamed as she talked about the life change she’s experienced.
“I’ve gotten involved in a church, and now I serve, something I’ve NEVER done. I’m 50 years old and I’m finally living life.”
Misty Trahan offered a powerful testimony.
“Before… I was in a very dark place. I pushed away everyone close to me. I found myself lying in a jail cell, desperate for a new life.”
Through tear-filled eyes, Trahan continued, “Now I have my family back, even my son, who I love more than anything else in the world. I’m so thankful for all the people that made this possible.”
The horrors of drug addiction and abuse were very clear in Destiny Vanderslice’s story.
“My dad gave me drugs and alcohol at the age of ten, because it made it easier for him to abuse me.”
Vanderslice recounted how this abuse drove her to find methods to numb the pain as a teenager, leading her to addiction. After those behaviors led her in a spiral of bad relationships, she was blue-lighted with drugs in the vehicle.
“My attorney said there’s hope; I didn’t believe him,” she said.
The program has helped her heal in more ways than one. “For the first time, I have someone on my team,” she stated. “All the times I should’ve died, I didn’t die because God has bigger plans for my life.”
Regardless of what got them in Drug Court, it’s clear that each of the participants is leaving the program with a new direction than when they began three years prior.