Grandmother Penny Ivey lived not for her children or grandchildren but for crack cocaine and marijuana.
Ivey, now 40, a Rutherford County resident, spent about $200 per day feeding her crack cocaine habit and addiction, using drugs to escape reality.
"All I thought about was living to get drugs," Ivey said, adding, "I'd steal to get drugs."
She's been clean almost two years.
After being arrested, she was accepted to the 16th Judicial District's Drug Court Program for Rutherford and Cannon county residents. After an 18-month program, she and six other addicts graduated last month.
Circuit Court Judge Don Ash, who presides over the weekly drug court, said the first phase of the program includes weekly group sessions with him and fewer meetings near the end of the program.
Participants undergo regular drug screens and attend group and individual therapy.
The staff helps the participants get jobs and find residences in new neighborhoods away from the temptations of illegal drugs.
"We want new lives, new hope," Ash said. "That's what drug court is — hope."
Director Mary Schneider said 96 people graduated from Drug Court since 2000. Of that number, about 15 percent are re-arrested on crimes other than traffic offenses. Five people have graduated from the Juvenile Drug Court with three more graduates set in June.
Ash said 60 percent of convicts who serve time in the state penitentiary are re-arrested.
Drug Court costs about $5,000 per participant per year paid by grants and taxpayers. In comparison, it costs $25,000 per year to incarcerate drug offenders.
"As a taxpayer, Drug Court saves per person $20,000 a year which is substantial amount of money," Ash said. "This is working."
County Mayor Ernest Burgess gave each graduate a certificate.
"The benefits and rewards are going to be long-lasting in your life," Burgess told the graduates.
Each graduate described how the program changed lives. They thanked Ash, the drug court staff, board and families.
Ivey said she now manages the Tennessee National Guard dining facility in Smyrna.
"It's changed my life," Ivey said. "I owe everything I have to Drug Court."
Chris Thomas, 24, used crack cocaine two years before joining the Drug Court Program, a program he credits for saving his life.
"I had reached the bottom," Thomas said.
That's when he asked for help from people who never gave up on him.
He's changed his life in other ways. He met his fiancée and fathered a child. He encouraged the other participants to "keep fighting the good fight."
Like Ivey and Thomas, Tony Davenport was addicted to crack cocaine, for 14 years. He called Drug Court for help.
"Drug Court turned my life around and showed me there's more to life than drugging and drinking," Davenport said. "It gave me a second chance to live my life."
Without the program and board, Davenport said he would serve his jail sentence and be released still as an addict.
"It really does save lives," Davenport said.
He apologized to his family.
"I'm sorry for the things I've done," Davenport told them. "It's going to be a lot better here on out."
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