published Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Seventh year of Hamilton County Drug Court sees largest graduating class

Catrina Shell hugs Judge Rebecca Stern upon receiving her diploma during Drug Court graduation Monday. Drug Court celebrated its seven year anniversary Monday.
Catrina Shell hugs Judge Rebecca Stern upon receiving her diploma during Drug Court graduation Monday. Drug Court celebrated its seven year anniversary Monday.
Photo by Dan Henry.

None wore a cap and gown, but the nine people in drug court Monday received a piece of paper maybe more important than a diploma ā€” a drug court graduation certificate.

The group is the largest graduating class yet for the 7-year-old Hamilton County Drug Court, said Elaine Kelly, program coordinator.

"We function on a shoestring budget every day, and the fact that people keep coming back and doing this work, it's not just a blessing. It's a true privilege," Kelly said. "And seven years, we never thought we'd get here."

The program is funded through grants, renewed each year, she said.

Seventy-six people have graduated from drug court since it began in 2005.

Participants have paid $97,293 in court fees and fines and more than $30,000 in child support payments, according to program data.

Program participants must work or perform community service. Last year they did more than 1,000 hours of community service. They must complete a minimum of 14 months in which they attend group meetings, communicate with a sponsor and are subjected to planned and surprise drug tests.

Catrina Shell explained how far she had come to the packed courtroom.

"I've got a car, a scooter, my own place, an evil cat," she said.

When on drugs and living on the street she wouldn't acquire things, for fear they'd be taken away.

Brittney Land and Corey Gilbert, both 29, met while in drug court. Both graduated Monday. They have a 7-month-old daughter, Alyssa Land.

Mostly, participants are discouraged from starting relationships while in recovery, but Land said that she and Gilbert supported each other and will continue to do so.

Sponsor Tony Lyons, 29, who worked with two of the current graduates, said giving back as a sponsor helps motivate him and remind him about his life before becoming sober.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Toddā€™s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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