Watch Highlights of All Rise America!
Despite the tremendous success of Virginia’s Drug Courts, they must fight tooth and nail each year to secure funding for the programs. Research has shown that Virginia Drug Court participants are significantly less likely to get a new arrest, felony conviction, or misdemeanor conviction than the comparison group during program participation and following program completion. Our final stops before arriving in Washington, DC would bring us to three very different events in Virginia, each a testament to why the state’s Drug Courts have achieved such profound efficacy.
Over the course of the last few weeks we had attended all sorts of Drug Court events. But we had not yet been a part of one of the most important things Drug Courts do: training. One of the reasons Drug Courts are so successful is the commitment to evidence-based practices and the training that ensures they are in place. On our swing through Virginia we were fortunate to attend a training event in Richmond.
We arrived in Richmond around 10 am just as the skies were clearing. We pulled into the parking lot of the Richmond Braves, the local triple-A baseball club. We were met by several members of the Tuskegee Airmen Motorcycle Club, a group that rides to educate people about the legacy of the nation’s first African American military airmen. We were also met by Judge Margaret Spencer, who has presided over the Richmond Drug Court for fourteen years.
The training was free to attend and was being conducted in conjunction with the Virginia Drug Court Association (VDCA). We arrived at the cities incredible World War I memorial, the Carillon at Byrd Park, where the event was being held just as DEA agent was speaking about the latest trends in prescription drug abuse.
Greg Hopkins coordinates the Richmond Juvenile Drug Court and is the president of the VDCA. He had had gone out of his way to put together a tremendous event and we were thrilled to be invited to speak about Drug Courts. Many in the room worked with Drug Courts in some form, but others were public safety professionals working outside of the court. It was a great opportunity to educate them on what Drug Court is all about.
Following the training we packed up and hit the road for Newport News. John Haywood coordinates the Newport News Drug Court. John is a voracious Drug Court advocate who has done a masterful job of promoting the Newport News program and securing widespread community support. We arrived led by a group of riders from the local American Legion Post and were greeted by the Drug Court team, participants and community leaders. We gathered in the parking lot of the courthouse and heard from graduates before handing off the gavel to Captain Chuck Moore with the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office. It was a festive atmosphere and we lingered in the lot for a bit talking and taking pictures.
We shoved off and rode along the water to Norfolk, our last All Rise America! event before heading home to Washington, DC. The Norfolk Drug Court was the second in Virginia and has had a long history of success under presiding Judge Junius Fulton. Our caravan arrived shortly before a graduation ceremony would be taking place. We were met by a law enforcement honor guard who ceremoniously escorted the gavel into the courtroom. The room was packed; Judge Fulton and his team had invited a wide array of elected officials who sat among friends and family and past graduates.
That day, two individuals were graduating. Mr. Adams had come to the program with a long criminal and addiction history. His case manager and treatment provider recounted his transformation from sullen and defiant to a vibrant leader among his fellow participants. “I’m getting to know myself and I love it,” he said. “I am a walking ad for the joy of recovery.”
The other graduate was nicknamed Bobbi. Bobbi lost her fight with cancer only a few months before she was set to graduate and the court wanted to be sure that she was recognized for all of her hard work. Again the team recounted stories of transformation, honoring a woman who became sick physically, but remained strong mentally. Her cancer diagnoses tested her recovery, but she chose not to use. The clean and sober Bobbi is how she would be remembered and on that day, celebrated.
As the event concluded I noticed three sharp dressed individuals sitting in front of me. Chatting afterwards I asked what their connection was to the Drug Court. They were all graduates, one of whom had completed the program thirteen years ago and has never missed a graduation. They were full of joy for Mr. Adams and Bobbi, and full of encouragement for the participants on hand.
Talking with Judge Fulton after the ceremony he reflected on his long tenure as a Drug Court judge. “Despite all the other obligations and responsibilities that I have, this is the most important thing that I do as a judge,” he said. “If we combine resources and change the way we work in the criminal justice system we can make a difference in the lives of people who are chronically addicted.”
We would learn later that a few hours after the graduation concluded, the Norfolk City Council voted to provide funding to increase capacity of the program by 25 individuals.
It was raining and getting dark when we finally began our trek home. But there was one more stop to make. On the outskirts of Norfolk we pulled up alongside the Atlantic Ocean. We had made it coast to coast.