Friday, May 15, 2009 | 11:59 p.m.
Beyond the Sun
When Brian Johnson was tossed in Clark County’s Drug Court program for the first time a dozen years ago, he thought it was a joke.
He had no plans on straightening out. If anything, he said, he thought if the program helped him get cleaned up a little bit, it might make him more competent at the check scams he was pulling at the time.
But then something happened that surprised even Johnson. He started caring — about himself and about other people.
“I didn’t want to get out and start helping other people, that was not the point. It was to rip people off even more. But when I got into actually helping people out, it totally changed my whole outlook,” said Johnson, who Friday spoke to nine new graduates of the program.
The ceremony was part of a national commencement day for more than 2,000 drug courts in the United States, marking the 20th anniversary of the first such court in Florida.
Drug courts give judges the option of sending people convicted of nonviolent crimes through a recovery program instead of jail.
“Our goal is to take people who are taking from society and help them become tax-paying citizens who are taking care of their families and their children and not being a threat to the community,” said Darlene Dufault, the executive director of Choices Group, the administrator of Clark County’s Drug Court program.
Johnson actually went through the program twice. The first time, he didn’t take it seriously and ended up back in trouble with the law. He spent two years in prison before he was released to go through the program again.
The second time changed his life. He graduated in 2006 and now visits juveniles in the Drug Court program every week to encourage them and provide a good example. He offers them his phone number and tells them to feel free to call if they ever need someone to talk to.
“It’s really neat being able to be there for somebody because people were there for me,” Johnson said.
After getting out of the program, he helped open a home for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.
“We’ve gotten people that just sit around and they’re waiting to die. They don’t even want to do anything,” he said. “To watch the light come on in their eyes, that there’s something more out there for them, it was amazing.”
Dufault said the local Drug Court holds a graduation almost every month, with more than 400 people completing the program each year.
Clark County has graduated more than 4,500 people since becoming the fifth adult Drug Court in the nation in 1992. The ceremony also featured an introduction of the program’s 500th drug-free baby, who was born in April.
District Court Chief Judge Arthur Ritchie said the program works. “These are folks that are not going to jail, they’re going to work in the community, they’re going to contribute to their families,” he said.