For drug court graduates, a ‘whole new beautiful feeling’

Mercer County Drug Court Graduation
When city resident Richard Brown was arrested for a rash of burglaries he committed to feed a drug habit in 2006, his public defender asked if he would rather do a five-year prison stretch or enter an intensive rehabilitation program for addicts.Brown chose prison.

But in a twist of fate Brown calls divine intervention, the attorney ignored his choice and entered Brown into Mercer County’s highly acclaimed — and notoriously tough — drug court program.
Yesterday, a clean and sober Brown was among 20 recovering addicts who proudly collected their program diplomas en route to a new life.

“This is the best I’ve felt since I was a child that had never taken a drink or drug,” said Brown during the euphoric aftermath of the drug court graduation ceremony at the county’s criminal courthouse. “It’s a whole new beautiful feeling.”

More than 100 relatives and friends witnessed the emotional service that also was attended by drug court staff, elected officials and members of the judiciary.

Some graduates cried, others shouted in joy, many thanked God and the judges, probation officers, counselors and others who help keep them on the straight and narrow on their march to sobriety.

“As long as that beacon is there and I can follow it, I know I’m not alone,” said graduate Carlin Burford. “Drug court has helped me find a better way to live my life.”

Operated in states across the nation, drug courts divert nonviolent, substance-abusing offenders from prison and jail into treatment. In a blending of justice, treatment and social-service systems, drug court participants undergo an intensive regimen of substance-abuse treatment, case management, drug testing, supervision and monitoring while reporting to regularly scheduled status hearings before a judge. To increase the probability of participants’ success, the program also provides ancillary services such as mental health treatment, trauma and family therapy, and job skills training.


Mercer’s program, implemented in 1999, has graduated 91 participants including yesterday’s crop. An additional 185 are in various phases of the program.

Superior Court Judge Gerald J. Council, who presides over Mercer’s drug court with a mix of paternal wisdom, street banter and judicial authority, called the day a “celebration of life.”
“Today our graduates have made the ultimate transition from despair and desperation to lives filled with hope and meaning,” he said.

Brown recently got a job and is working toward a license as a certified alcohol and drug counselor.

Antoinette Randolph of Trenton has mended her relationship with her 13-year-old daughter. She’s working and has a car. It’s a far cry from the 13 years she spent “running the streets” as a crack addict before getting arrested and landing in the program five years ago.


“I came a long way,” she said yesterday. “Everything is good.”


Eddie Thompson, who spent eight years hustling crack and other drugs on Stuyvesant Avenue, had been on probation for seven years before he entered the drug court program.

He credits Council, the first judge he felt actually cared about him, for helping him choose the right path. Once in drug court, he found himself in the hands of a caring and passionate program staff.

“Thanks for the confidence. Thanks for the push and thanks for not throwing up your hands,” Thompson told them. “Today I am a better person, father, listener, partner and drug and alcohol-free man.”

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