“I thought back then it was cool, you know, to go around and party with people,” Jones told a crowd packed into the Perry Circuit Courtroom earlier this week. “It destroyed my family.”
He said addiction led to his losing custody of his two children. He stole from his parents to support his habit. “It’s a bad deal what drugs do to you,” he continued.
But that was some time ago, and now Aaron Jones can claim to be drug free, a graduate of the Perry County Drug Court, an intensive program that takes at least 18 months to complete. The program helps addicts charged with certain offenses to stay out of jail and lead productive lives while they kick their addictions.
Jones was one of 10 graduates who shared their stories of triumph over hardship during a ceremony in Hazard on Tuesday, and his story is certainly one of turning things around for the better.
“Because of drug court, I’ve been clean for three years now,” he said. “I’ve got custody of my kids back.”
Former Kentucky Governor Paul Patton, a Pike County native who served as governor from 1995 to 2003, was the guest speaker at Tuesday’s graduation, acknowledging the depth and scope of drug addiction in Kentucky. It’s an issue that has touched everyone in some way, he said.
“This is a major problem, and I don’t know of a family in Kentucky that’s not been affected by it, and that certainly includes my family,” said Patton, who currently serves as president of Pikeville College.
For the graduates, Patton had words of congratulations for the 10 people who are now ready to move on to begin a new stage in their lives.
“I have great admiration for those people that have recognized the problem (of addiction), and committed themselves to conquering this beast,” he said.
Each of the graduates acknowledged that completing the stringent requirements of drug court wasn’t an easy task. James Spencer became a drug court member in Perry County in 2009. He said he hated the program, only going through the motions at first to stay out of jail. It was a few weeks into the program, however, when he realized he had to start his recovery over. He was called in to meet with Circuit Judge Bill Engle, who formed the county’s drug court program in 2005.
“He did all the talking,” Spencer remembered of his meeting with Judge Engle. “Believe me, you could tell by his voice he meant business. He told me ‘straighten up or go to prison,’ and I knew he meant it. That’s the day my life changed.”
In addition to being drug free, graduating from drug court means a great deal, Spencer continued. It means he’s responsible, honest and reliable, and most importantly he has his life back. He’s a parent and a productive member of society, holding a steady job with a local coal company.
Spencer urged those drug court members still working through the program not to waste a month going through the motions like he did, but to get straight from the start, because getting clean is just the beginning of recovery.
“Everything else is just as hard,” he said.
Tuesday’s ceremony marked the eighth drug court graduation in Perry County. A total of 49 people have now completed the program.