JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – Several Region 8 residents Tuesday night celebrated the beginning of a new era, as seven people graduated from Craighead County Drug Court before Judge David Laser. Laser said all seven individuals who graduated Tuesday night have incredible stories. He said his hope is that each of them finds a path away from drugs and criminal activity.
"Everybody who comes in here has had a plea offer that consists of penitentiary time," said Laser. "I see them every Tuesday evening. I do this drug court on my own time so as not to interfere with their employment."
Laser said Tuesday night's graduation ceremony was the largest since drug court began in Craighead County. Since November of 2003, Laser said several people have found a new way of life. However, he said struggles remain for graduates.
"We take those that are penitentiary bound. These are people who have literally repeatedly been involved in the court system, whether it be forgeries, hot checks, breaking and entering of vehicles or buildings and whatever, to steal, to sell and to use drugs," said Laser. "They've got to maintain that priority of their sobriety after they get out of here. You can lose everything you've gained in addiction in a heartbeat."
Every graduate had a story. Throughout the graduation ceremony, family members were smiling, crying and hugging each other as their loved ones shared their personal story.
"I had trouble dealing with just everyday life. I thought I needed alcohol or some kind of drug to help me cope when things didn't go my way," said Steven Hooks, who said he was addicted to drugs for nearly 35 years. "Since I was 21, alcohol before and then it escalated. I smoked marijuana in school and it just escalated into something more and more, another step up."
Hooks said after marijuana, he turned to harder drugs such as cocaine. He said his drug problem eventually made him searching for a place to stay at night.
"Everything that could possibly lose, everything. Money, friends, family, a place to live and just everything. You lose your whole life," said Hooks. "There for a while I could bounce off people's couches, just friends and acquaintances, and then before too long you run out of that."
After his arrest, Hooks said drug court was difficult at first. He said he slid into the same drug problem again. He had to start over the first of five phases in drug court.
"It tests your will, your willpower. It was hard for me. It really was," said Hooks, who said his daughter was present to witness his story. After his testimony, his daughter applauded.
"The guilt is the worst thing. After you do this, you're stuck with what you've done if you stole or no matter what you did. I had guilt just for doing the drug," said Hooks. "I'm elated. I didn't think I could do it. I figured I'd get sent to prison. I'm happy. I'll be sad. I'll miss the drug court staff."
There were other stories at the graduation ceremony as well, such as the story of one woman who was on drugs and alcohol. She nearly lost her life in a car accident. Sitting in her wheelchair Tuesday night before friends and family, she smiled as she accepted her plaque and shredded her former drug charges. She said her daughter wouldn't let her in her life because of her drug choices. Tuesday night, her daughter watched with a smile as she told her story with a tear in her eye.
Hooks said Tuesday night was a celebration of sobriety.