‘Life-changing:’ Drug court graduates grateful for second chance

Published 8:00 am Friday, May 31, 2024

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Eighteen months ago, in 2022, Joshua Coleman of Suffolk stood in an Isle of Wight County courtroom as a defendant facing a choice: spend time in prison for felony possession of controlled substances or go through the Fifth Judicial Circuit’s drug court rehabilitation program.

He chose the latter, and on May 17, again found himself in court, only this time as a program graduate, 507 consecutive days sober.

The Fifth Circuit, which spans Isle of Wight and Southampton counties and the cities of Suffolk and Franklin, reestablished its drug court in 2021 to offer an alternative to incarceration for adults with severe substance abuse disorders convicted of a nonviolent drug-related felony. The program will be renamed “recovery court” starting July 1 per a General Assembly law enacted this year.

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“We have taken them out of incarceration and put them through this program to rehabilitate them,” said Terry Tate, the program’s coordinator.

The Fifth Circuit recovery court’s class of 2024 includes three graduates: Coleman, Lisa Kline of Southampton County and Ronald Arrington, also of Suffolk. In place of a diploma, Circuit Court Judge L. Wayne Farmer handed each a signed copy of his order granting a release from supervised probation.

The recovery court program entails early wake-ups, meetings every day, regular drug tests and a work requirement. Coleman works at a 7-Eleven convenience store and has enrolled in a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning program at Paul D. Camp Community College, while Kline works at McDonalds.

Farmer, in his remarks to the graduates, rejected the notion that the program’s strict requirements are more lenient than incarceration, asserting prison is often the easier choice for addicts.

“What you have demonstrated that you can do over the last two years no one can take away,” Farmer told the graduates.

Arrington, who’s stayed sober for 101 consecutive days, described the program as “life-changing.”

“It’s been a repeating cycle for me for a lot of years,” he said.

Kline, who’s 418 days sober, said a key component of the program is “facing your trauma from your past.”

“It changed my life for the better,” she said.

Kline is now in training to become a peer specialist with the goal of helping other addicts break the cycle.