Drug court graduation filled with hope, tears
NORMAN — For Moore resident Al Anderson, graduating from Cleveland County drug court means getting another chance at a life outside of prison after 30 years of drug addiction.
"I cannot definitively say that drug court saved my life, but it definitely saved me from self destruction," Anderson said during a courthouse graduation ceremony Thursday. He was facing up to 15 years in prison for grand larceny as well as drug charges when he first came to drug court.
Special Judge Michael Tupper, who presides over the drug court, dismissed all of the charges Thursday after Anderson successfully completed the drug court program. The program includes substance abuse treatment, regular drug testing and court dates.
With the help of drug court, Anderson said he has been sober for more than 400 days and has earned his commercial driver's license.
Anderson's friends and family filled a bench in the courtroom. They applauded and shouted "amen" as he officially completed the program.
Since its inception in 2000, the Cleveland County Adult Drug Court has graduated more than 400 participants.
At Thursday's ceremony, Tupper delivered words of encouragement to graduates as he dismissed their criminal cases. "I don't want to see you again in this courthouse unless it's to stop by to say hello," the judge told Anderson.
The proceedings are more akin to a church service or group therapy than a court hearing. Standing before the judge, participants reported their number of days of sobriety. The courtroom erupted into applause after each report.
Tupper also likes to show graduates their jail booking photo on a large projection screen. The old photo is often shown next to a more recent picture, in a sort of "before and after" display.
Drug court graduate Deyon Shelly fought back tears as his old jail booking photo flashed on the screen. In the booking photo, Shelly appeared disheveled, clad in a torn T-shirt. In contrast, Shelly attended court on Thursday wearing a suit and a brightly colored tie.
"Don't be embarrassed, you can see the transformation," Tupper told Shelly. "That's not who you are today, but it's where you came from."
With the help of the drug court program, Shelly was able to obtain his driver's license and a car, as well as reconnect with his family after being estranged for seven years, Shelly told the court in an emotional speech.
"I struggled with severe meth addiction for 12 years," Shelly said. "I had lost all hope and didn't care whether I lived or died."
According to Tupper, drug court is one of the most effective ways to reduce recidivism for drug-addicted, nonviolent offenders.
Cleveland County drug court has an 80 percent graduation rate and 98 percent employment rate upon graduation, Tupper said. Three years after graduation, the program's recidivism rate is just 8 percent.
"Simply stated, drug courts work," he said.
Brianna Bailey joined The Oklahoman in January 2013 as a business writer. During her time at The Oklahoman, she has walked across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to-south down Western Avenue, and once east-to-west, tracing the old U.S. Route 66.... Read more ›