PARKERSBURG - Five more people joined the ranks of graduates from the West Central Drug Court in a ceremony Friday in the Judge Black Annex.
Speaking at the ceremony was West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Justice Brent Benjamin.
Benjamin said since 2005 the drug court has grown from a program in two counties to 30 counties and soon it will be in all 55 counties. Wood County's drug court was established in 2007 and since then more than 60 people have graduated.
Five more people graduated from the West Central Drug Court program on Friday. From left, graduates Whitli Brown, Natosha Patterson and Kristen Spencer, Wood County Drug Court Judge Donna Jackson, West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Justice Brent Benjamin, graduates Thomas Smith and Nick Artherults and Wood County Circuit Court Judge J.D. Beane. (Photo by Jeffrey Saulton)
"The program is so good the Legislature saw fit last month to make it statewide," he said. "That's a wonderful thing, it reflects not just how important it is to turn lives around and gives them a second chance to show what they can do. It's also good for West Virginia."
Benjamin said he attends as many drug court graduations as possible.
"I try to come to as many of the graduations as I can for two reasons," he said. "I'd be lying if I didn't say it is one of the happiest parts of my job to see people graduate, turn their lives around and to congratulate the graduates."
Benjamin said it is not an easy program, since it works after people realize they need to change their lives.
"It's not an easy thing to look in a mirror and realize you need to change your life and then do it," he said. "It is not an easy thing."
Benjamin said many who completed the program said it was difficult but they decided to stay with it.
"They tell me at first they think jail could be better," he said. "Some people do wash out but some see changes two or three months into the program; those mean old judges and magistrates, those mean old probation officer and those mean old counselors become their friends."
Benjamin said those working in the court are volunteers.
"I want to thank everyone involved with drug court for what you do on a volunteer basis to help your fellow West Virginians; it's that important," he said. "Hopefully you will be able to get through, but if you have a problem you now have resources and a support network."
Benjamin said he wanted to ask the graduates to do what they can to help others graduate from the court and to visit the drug court team.
"This day is kind of bitter sweet for them," he said. "Just as you invested a lot of yourself, they have invested a lot and you have gotten to know each other very well and they are going to miss you."
Katherine Boggs, adult drug court coordinator/probation officer, said the graduations are exciting for her.
"I'm like a proud mama," she said. "I know you think we are hard on you but it's because we believe in you and we want to be hard on you so when things get tough in the future you will know how to deal with it and how to handle it and how to handle it with grace.
"Grace under pressure is what I've seen out of every one of you. I'm so proud every single day, but especially today. I love you all," Boggs said.
Whitli Brown was one of the graduates Friday. She said the program changed her life.
"Where do I start, my parents have their daughter back, my sisters have their sister back, my nieces and nephews their aunt and most importantly I got myself back."
Other graduates from the program Friday were Natosha Patterson, Nick Artherhults, Thomas Smith and Kristen Spencer.