The privilege of riding a three wheeled motorcycle with a Vietnam war veteran was indescribable. It is easy to feel free with the wind whipping around me while zooming away from the Courthouse. The opportunity to free those saddled with addiction through Drug Treatment Courts is well worth stepping onto a motorcycle for a relay ride. – Veterans Treatment Court Judge Rebecca Nightingale
Watch Highlights from All Rise America!
Early Tuesday morning we made our way to the County Courthouse in downtown Tulsa. Rose Ewing, the incredible Program Director of Tulsa’s treatment courts, and her team had put together a fantastic community event the night before. Today it was time to rally for the city’s Drug Court, DUI Court, Mental Health Court and Veterans Treatment Court. Rose and her team had once again pulled out all the stops.
Over the next hour, the plaza filled up with about 200 people and dozens of motorcycles. Tulsa is home to a comprehensive network of treatment court programs, including Drug Court (divided into men’s, women’s and special needs dockets), DUI Court, Mental Health Court and Veterans Treatment Courts. On any given month there are about 750 individuals in these programs. On this day, each judge was to take part in the rally and mingle with court participants past and present.
Commissioner Karen Keith and District Judge Rebecca Nightingale opened the proceedings by introducing all the collaborative, treatment and supervision agency partners who have helped build such a strong coalition in Tulsa. Clifton, James and Chelsey provided stirring testimony to this collaboration, each discussing their experience in Drug Court, Mental Health Court and Veterans Treatment Court respectively. Chelsey joined the U.S. Army at age seventeen. “I wanted to grow up fast,” she said. “I wanted a career and I wanted to serve.” After she got out, Chelsey struggled with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and turned to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. She was arrested in Tulsa County and charged with five felonies. “Veterans Treatment Court was ready to take on the challenge of a crazy 20-year-old,” she said. “The staff saw something in me I thought I had lost forever. I finally felt I was a good person who deserved to have a life, something I could never have achieved without their persistence.” Today, Chelsey is in school and pursuing a career as a nurse. She still gives back to the program and will graduate on July 27.
Following the All Rise America! plaque presentation the gavel was passed to Dr. Mark Kirk, the former Tulsa County Drug Court Coordinator. Dr. Kirk offered the “truncated, PG version” of his story due to “time and decorum.” After becoming addicted at the age of sixteen and living a “double life” as family man and methamphetamine addict, he is now in long-term recovery and just graduated with a Ph.D. in research evaluation and statistics.
The rally ended on a festive note, and we prepared to head out of town to the Arkansas border. But before we left, we had one more surprise. Eight Drug Court judges had agreed to ride out of the rally on the back of motorcycles. Only the persistence of Rose Ewing could have pulled this one off. With slight trepidation the judges climbed aboard, and with a police escort and 15 riders, we rolled out to cheers from the gallery. It was easily one of the most enduring images of All Rise America! (thank you Special Judge Dawn Moody, Mental Health Court; Special Judge Bill Hiddle, DUI Court; District Judge Daman Cantrell, Drug Court; District Judge Mary Fitzgerald, Drug Court Women’s Docket; District Judge Dana Kuehn, Drug Court Men’s Docket; Special Judge Deborrah Ludi-Leitch, Drug Court Special Needs Docket; and District Judge Rebecca Nightingale, Veterans Treatment Court)
With that we were on our way to Fort Smith, Arkansas. Dr. Kirk took the lead behind our escort from the Sheriff’s Department and Oklahoma Highway Patrol, with 15 riders falling in behind him. Gradually the cityscape faded away, and we were soon amidst the rolling green hills of Eastern Oklahoma. At the state line our Oklahoma law enforcement contingent fell off and the Sebastian County Sheriff’s Department swooped in to lead the pack. We never hit the brakes; the transition was perfectly timed and executed.
We arrived in Fort Smith just in time for our next event. Fort Smith is home to the Sebastian County Drug Court which has been in operation just under 10 years and currently has 150 participants. Judge Stephen Tabor was in the midst of a trial but had called a recess to hold a quick ceremony in front of the courthouse. It was a small event, but provided us the opportunity to honor a program that has become a critical part of the local community. The local press had turned out to cover the Gavel Hand-Off, and we were thrilled that they would get some much deserved ink.
We ended with Dr. Kirk handing the All Rise Gavel to Glen Bergstrom, a rider with the Survivors Clean and Sober Motorcycle Club. We said goodbye to our Tulsa riders and hit the road for Russellville, Arkansas.
It was a short, beautiful ride. Glen was joined by three other members of Survivors, and we had the pleasure of welcoming Miley to our ride. Miley’s son is the prosecutor with the Sebastian County Drug Court, and she was riding in part to honor his work. But she had another personal reason to ride: Her good friend is a Drug Court graduate who was celebrating eight years clean that day. Miley was riding for her, and for all of the individuals she has sponsored over the years.
We pulled into the Russellville Courthouse, home to the Pope County Drug Court, late in the afternoon and had a great time talking with our riders. We were greeted by William Titsworth, who had come down to say hello on his day off. William is the probation officer for the Pope County Drug Court and was a huge help in putting together our stop in Russellville. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to attend the next day’s event so we were glad we had the chance to meet him.
Our riders got back on the road to head home, and we made our way to an RV park on Lake Dardanelle.
One of the great things about All Rise America! has been the diversity of events we have attended at each stop. The courts have used All Rise America! as an opportunity to raise awareness for their programs and educate the public and elected officials of their benefit. The Pope County Drug Court put together a fantastic community education breakfast and invited key members of the community. Coordinator Kayla Beck gave a thorough overview of the program and Judge Dennis Sutterfield provided a powerful and persuasive argument for why Drug Court is important. “I was very skeptical,” he told the crowd. “Then I saw how the court pulled together resources we otherwise wouldn’t have. As a judge I found that I could make a difference with Drug Court. I can now say without hesitation that this has been a great success.”
The event garnered local press attention to add to its impact, the perfect outcome to a well-coordinated and smart community outreach effort.
All Rise America! then hit the road to Tennessee.