Watch Highlights of All Rise America!
The Potter and Randall Counties Drug Court held its graduation at the Santa Fe building in downtown Amarillo on May 7. The building dates back to the 1920’s and has just been fully restored. We were early and, while we waited, chatted with some of the graduates and their families who had started to assemble. Just as we were getting set to enter we saw our next gavel bearer: Hunt stands about 6’4” and looks the part of a biker. He graduated Drug Court a few years ago and now rides with the Sober Psychos and operates his own motorcycle shop.
Before graduating eight people, Judge Board held a regular Drug Court session. Individuals were called before him for their regular visit with the judge. Judge Board greeted every one of the them enthusiastically, saying things like “I hear you’re back in school,” “How’s your job?” or “How’s your family doing?” Each person had the opportunity to talk to the judge about what was happening in his/her life, both good and bad, and Judge Board was quick to dispense encouragement and advice. On this day, everyone was doing well, and we progressed quickly into graduation.
The graduates were called one-by-one to stand before the judge and receive their certificates. The judge spoke about each one of them with the familiarity and sincerity of a friend. One graduate spoke about some of the big events that had taken place in his life since he entered Drug Court. His daughter had just graduated college and his son had gotten married the previous weekend. “I was there for the important events,” he said. “That would not have happened before.” Another’s elderly parents were on hand for the event and Judge Board asked if they had anything to say. “Thank you Drug Court for giving me my son back,” the proud mother said and wiped away a tear while her husband nodded stoically.
While everyone enjoyed cupcakes and juice following the graduation, we had a chance to speak more with Judge Board about his program. He is grateful to have become involved in Drug Court: “A lot of what we do as judges is negative,” he said. “The joy of this program is to participate in people’s success.” It was certainly a joyful day in Amarillo. For the next hour, participants, staff and graduates stuck around to chat and mingle, while kids ran around the weathered hardwood of the Santa Fe Playhouse.
We finally said our goodbyes, and headed back to the RV with Hunt to meet the other riders. We were early, so we decided to meet at a nearby diner for coffee. Hunt went on ahead while we put our cameras away in the RV. When we arrived at the diner, Hunt was sitting with a gentleman engrossed in conversation like old friends. It was Mark Faust from Dallas. Mark had ridden his bike up from Dallas where he serves as a probation officer. He had been wandering around the Santa Fe building looking for All Rise America! when he saw Hunt walking down the street carrying the oversized All Rise Gavel. “I had a feeling I was in the right place,” he said. His eyes lit up when he saw us come in and we immediately fell into easy conversation and good natured ribbing. We were joined by Lucas and Benny, two local riders.
Our first stop was in Shamrock, TX, home of Big Vern’s Steak House. Hunt recalled many St. Patrick’s Day celebrations spent in Shamrock and led us into town in just under two hours. While the crew ate, we split off to find an RV park and take care of an unfortunate backup of our sink water tank which had overflowed into the shower. We’ll spare you the details but the situation was resolved and we learned a valuable lesson about RV waste water: Empty it.
In Shamrock we met Kelly Mathews, James and Curtis. Kelly is the court officer with the compliance officer with the Washita/Custer County Drug Court where James and Curtis are participants. They bonded over a love of riding and had made the trip to Shamrock so they could fall in with us and ride to Oklahoma City.
We made it to the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, OK just after 5 pm. We were scheduled to pick up some more riders and hand-off the gavel. We were thrilled to see a larger-than-expected group on hand to welcome us to Oklahoma. State Coordinator Malissa McEntire and Nischa Wilson had gone above and beyond; we were greeted with cookies and drinks and the chance to check out the museum. It was a great introduction to Sooner hospitality.
Wes (2000 Kawasaki Vulcan) is a participant in the Beckham County Drug Court. He had come out to ride with the gavel into Oklahoma City. He was being supported by a big group of court staff and participants. Even the Chief of Police had come to ride with Wes. “Drug Court changed my life,” he told us. “I found a better way of living. And I never thought I’d be so close with cops.” At this Wes’s girlfriend chuckled and she told us that she is a police officer. In the parking lot of the Route 66 Museum, Hunt handed the gavel to Wes and soon we were on our way for the final stop of the day.
Finally we pulled off Route 40 only a mile or so outside of Tulsa. Wes and his group said goodbye and went to have dinner. Mark took off for the long drive back to Dallas. We were sad to see him go but we had the great fortune of catching up with Vanessa Price. Vanessa has spent her life in law enforcement and has been a huge part of the Drug Courts in Oklahoma City. She is also an educator and trains all over the world. On this night she was a friend and we happily joined Vanessa, her husband and Hunt for dinner.
A day after the ride Mark sent us a reflection he had written when he got back. It captures what we were feeling when we finally reached our destination….
The gavel goes, like it can, from one graduate to another, Hunt to Wes, who’s supported by a cop who loves him, and cops who love her: sudden flash on all those gavels out there, laying to one side, because the order of the court has become living, organic, pulsing with hope alongside the law;
Hunt peeling off for gas, staying with him so no one rides alone, catching up in a few minutes of observing the speed limit, once accelerating, once decelerating; sliding in behind the cops riding as one, and us with them, the golden late, late sun picking out bits of chrome…
It had been a long day and night and when we arrived for graduation at the Oklahoma County Drug Court the next morning we were not quite prepared for the display of humanity that we encountered. Almost immediately the first graduate was standing before the packed crowd. Closest to her, at her side were her friends and family, her fiancé, who she was set to marry in a few days, and son, who was born drug-free while she was in Drug Court. She had 925 days clean. “Three years ago I had no family to speak of,” she said. “Thank you for the chance to live my life for the better.” Several friends and family spoke about her transformation, but one caught us by surprise. “We are grateful that she came to work for us,” said her boss.
One-by-one the graduates took the stage to tell their story, thank the court and their supporters, and accept their graduation certificate. The veteran who pledged to go through the program with no sanctions and did it; the elderly man who was sober after a lifetime of drinking and was close to completing his GED; several fathers; several mothers; and a grandmother. Each one had their case dismissed and would depart that day without a record of the arrest that brought them in contact with the court.
It was an emotional and uplifting ceremony. After it was all done we poured out into the parking lot for a group shot by the RV, then back inside for cake. While we waited to depart we chatted with Craig Beavers (Harley Davidson Road King), our next gavel bearer, and his fellow Survivors. Craig runs a drug-treatment program in prison. He rides with the Survivors Motorcycle Club. One of them handed over their card. On the back it read:
If you want to drink or use, that’s your business.
If you want to stop and can’t, maybe we can help.
They were great guys and we enjoyed the company on the easy ride into Tulsa. The main event was to be a massive rally held the next morning at the Tulsa courthouse, but they couldn’t resist putting together an incredible community event for the evening before. We pulled into Chandler Park around 6pm and were directed to park in the middle of a large field. Over the next few hours, hundreds of Drug Court participants, graduates, staff and family members came to be a part of the celebration. Kids decorated cookies and played in the moonbounce, adults did sack races and played cornhole, and everyone ate barbeque. Before we knew it, three hours had gone by and we were on our third snow cone.
It was nice to get out of the RV and run around a bit. Our friends in Tulsa did an incredible job of making us feel welcome and had pulled off a fantastic event for everyone associated with the court. But we weren’t done in Tulsa. The next morning we were going to rally for Drug Courts, and then say goodbye to Oklahoma and hello to Fort Smith, Arkansas.