“This is a special day,” St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Phil Seay said at the graduation ceremony. “We started the Drug Court in 2007 and had our first graduation in late 2008. Five-plus years later, we have our 100th graduate.”
Seay said he is very happy about the progress the drug courts have made. St. Clair County has an Adult Drug Court, Juvenile Drug Court, Family Drug Court and a Veterans Treatment Court.
“Nationally, drug courts have an 85 percent success rate,” he said. “That rate is far greater than those who don’t have a drug court option. I feel sure that a number of our graduates, had they not been in this program, would have re-offended or worse. And all the graduates are required to pay all court costs and restitution statewide before they can graduate.”
St. Clair County Assistant District Attorney Carol Boone introduced guest speaker Walter Robinson, CWT Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist at the Veterans Health Administration in Birmingham.
“It was not easy to get where he is today, but Walter Robinson is a shining example to all of us about where perseverance and commitment can lead,” she said.
Robinson said his troubles began early. He dropped out of school and joined the military at age 17 in 1975 to help take care of his son.
“I served in the Cold War era, in a cold place in a hot seat for two years,” he said. “In Germany, I was introduced to powdery stuff. I didn’t know it would progress into addiction. I did my time, came home and drank a lot of liquids, then moved to marijuana and crack. After my mom’s death, I used crack heavily for five years.”
Robinson said he went to the University of Alabama at Birmingham to sign papers, he thought, but when they saw the condition he was in he was admitted and spent 34 days in inpatient treatment.
“I was released but relapsed after eight months,” he said. “I used heavily for two years, then went back to treatment in 2003. When I was released, they told me to go to the V.A. hospital.”
Robinson said pain was his greatest motivator.
“I was sick and tired of me,” he said. “I could see myself dying and not being able to stop. I checked in outpatient at the V.A. and my second treatment worked. With my first treatment, I thought recovery meant material possessions.”
Robinson said after the second treatment, he wanted to go back to school to be a social worker for the V.A.
“They told me if I could stay clean for 12 months to ask again then,” he said. “I stayed clean and started working at a Compensated Work Therapy program, which is the program I now run.”
Robinson said he attended a meeting, and a guy sharing told him, “Walter, you can make it.”
“They said I had to change one thing, which I thought I could do,” he said. “Then they said the one thing to change is everything. If you sleep on the left side of the bed, swap to the right. Break the habits you have. I was killing myself and not knowing it. So instead of smoking dope all night, I began to study all night. It was frustrating because I wanted to drink and couldn’t.”
Robinson said he wanted his education like he wanted his drugs.
“I was real good at it,” he said. “I thank God for second chances. I didn’t stop—I got an associate’s degree, then a bachelor’s degree and then received a Master’s in Social Work in May 2012.”
Robinson said his whole life changed.
“I was hired full-time at the V.A. Hospital in May 2010,” he said. “I am grateful I was able to persevere to see my goal of being a social worker at the V.A. Hospital.”
Robinson said he was proud of each graduate at the ceremony.
“You have the green light—so take off,” he said. “Change is everything. I thank God that I changed. The greatest aspiration for me is to serve others.”
Each graduate spoke about their experience going through the drug court and veterans treatment court programs.
St. Clair County District Court Judge Robert Minor said to date, none of the St. Clair County Drug Court graduates have been re-arrested with felony charges.
“Winners find a way, losers find excuses,” he said. “Don’t find excuses. We look at you as real people with incredible potential.”
Contact Elsie Hodnett at email@example.com.