By KEN LITTLE, The Greeneville Sun
GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Three grateful Greene County Rehabilitation Court graduates walked into the sunshine Thursday in Hardin Park.
More than 70 other Recovery Court attendees, friends, family and members of the Recovery Court team joined them to mark the occasion.
“There are so many people in the community supporting you,” said Cindy Wilhoit, Recovery Court case manager.
Graduates Matt Cutshaw, Whitney Legg and Jerika Shelton stood and thanked those who helped them on what Wilhoit called their ongoing “journey” of recovery.
Shelton said she wanted to quit drugs, but the “revolving door” incarceration process familiar to many people struggling with drug addiction kept her from committing until she got over it. committed to changing his life.
Shelton offered encouragement to fellow Recovery Court members.
“If I can do it, any of you can. You can do it,” she said.
Legg wiped away his tears as he accepted a certificate of completion from Tyler Kelley, director of Recovery Court.
Legg said 18 months ago she was facing legal action and had lost hope, but “with the help of God and my Recovery Court family” she had a much different outlook on Thursday.
“You guys are awesome. I’m so grateful,” Legg said.
Cutshaw gave thanks to God and the members of Recovery Court after receiving his graduation certificate from Kelley.
Cutshaw said he had wanted to quit drugs for a long time. One night he said a prayer asking God for “whatever it takes” for help. He was arrested the next day and began the transformation that led to Thursday’s graduation ceremony.
He had a message for everyone in the recovery court.
“God put you in place to change your life,” Cutshaw said.
Recovery Court isn’t easy, but completing the program has many rewards, he said.
Cutshaw gave this advice: “Find God, seek Him and show yourself, and I believe in my heart that God will make things happen. I’m so grateful.”
Recovery Court currently has 34 members.
Kelley said a grant allowing Wilhoit to be hired last November provided the staff needed to expand the program’s reach.
“We’ve doubled the (registration) over the last year,” Kelley said. “We have secured additional funds for a case manager.”
Wilhoit said several new referrals a month are made to the recovery court.
For some claimants whose charges are pending, recovery court provides an alternative to jail time and offers participants the opportunity to move their lives forward in a positive direction.
Each Greene County Rehabilitation Court participant must complete a 28-day inpatient treatment stay before beginning the rigorous 60-week program.
“It’s a lot of hard work. It’s a lot of dedication. That’s a lot of time at Recovery Court,” Kelley said. ” This is not an easy task. It’s very intensive. »
Wilhoit, a registered nurse and instructor who retired from the state, works with every member of Recovery Court.
“It’s not an easy program. They have to dedicate 24/7 to getting sober and wanting to be a part of their children’s and family’s lives to graduate from the program,” Collins said. “It’s an achievement and they should be proud of it.”
Jennifer Harris-Dugger, a certified peer recovery specialist from Ballad Health who works in Tennessee and Virginia, was the guest speaker.
Harris-Dugger described the harrowing life of addiction she led before successfully completing the Recovery Court program in Bristol, Virginia.
The addiction “brought me to my knees,” said Harris-Dugger, a Johnson City native who works with inmates and others through Ballad Health’s Peer Recovery program.
Harris-Dugger told graduates she understands the challenges and rewards of recovery.
Criminal charges, robberies to support his habit, divorce, having a child in his care, and moving to other states didn’t change Harris-Dugger’s lifestyle until she makes a personal commitment.
“I couldn’t function anymore. I was a junkie,” she said. “I was completely out of control. I was going to do whatever it took to make it happen.
Harris-Dugger now has her “dream job helping other drug addicts.”
“I got my son back and reestablished relations with my family,” she said. “Working with the Peer Recovery program has taken my recovery to the next level.
“Watching that light come back into someone’s eyes is far more rewarding to me than the mighty dollar,” Harris-Dugger said.
“I’m here to congratulate the Recovery Court graduates,” she said. “It’s not the end. It’s from start to finish.”
Wilhoit thanked everyone on the Recovery Court team, including Katina Taylor, supervisor of the Correctional Counseling Institute probation team who supervises Recovery Court participants.
“We really appreciate everyone on the team,” she said.
Wilhoit told Recovery Court attendees that she was proud of their efforts.
“I appreciate you stepping out of your comfort zone. This program is tough (and) I appreciate your inner strength. You could have taken the easy way out and smoothed out your (jail) time, but you chose to engage,” she said.
Wilhoit said the Recovery Court team will continue to help graduates succeed. She repeated advice voiced by several other members of the Recovery Court team.
“Stay connected,” she said.
The Greene County Recovery Court program was founded in 2004 by then General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge Thomas Wright, who retired last year as a 3rd Judicial District Court Judge.
At the time, the program was known as DUI Court. Its main focus was alcohol addiction and the rehabilitation of repeat impaired driving offenders.
Recovery Court has since evolved into a multidisciplinary team. Members serve the needs of non-violent offenders who have co-occurring substance abuse or mental health issues, or who are veterans.
General Sessions and Juvenile Courts Judge Kenneth Bailey Jr. has presided over the Recovery Court since 2006, when the program expanded to encompass its current structure.
Drug addicts now make up the vast majority of participants in the Recovery Court.
The Recovery Court team members are all volunteers.
Several members of the Recovery Court team spoke briefly at the ceremony, including John Toney, an alcohol and drug treatment counselor with Comprehensive Community Services.
He urged graduates to stay in touch.
“There’s something about support groups that creates a sense of belonging. There’s something about the recovery community that helps,” Toney said. “Unfortunately the recovery is not a straight line, (so) stay connected.”
Cindy Tvardy, Clinical Site Director of Frontier Health’s Nolichuckey Mental Health Center, noted that Recovery Court has helped many people turn their lives around.
“I just want to say what a privilege it has been to watch the physical, mental and emotional growth of the three of you,” Tvardy said. “Be well.”
Several Greene County businesses contributed to the success of the event.
Booronie’s Bar & Grill provided burgers and other food. Angeez Catering offered a cake for the occasion, and the Creamy Cup offered ice cream to the guests.
Kelley and Wilhoit shared some memories about each graduate. Laughter mingled with tears at the graduation ceremony.
“I’m super proud of you all. Recovery Court is really hard, and people don’t understand how hard it is. This should not be taken lightly,” Kelley said. “We are always here for you.”
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