First grad exits family drug court

Published 8:42 pm Monday, March 1, 2010

By By Kerry Whipple Bean

April Booker has seen the powerful hold addiction can have all of her life.
Her mother, her brother and an aunt lost their lives to the disease — and Booker almost lost her children.
Booker and the Escambia County Family Drug Court met a hurdle together Friday as she became the first graduate of the civil court program, which aims to reunite parents and children in drug-free homes.
The family drug court was developed from an idea from the county’s Children’s Policy Council. Jordan said the group had been meeting annually to develop a needs assessment for the county, but one year they decided they wanted to take the next step.
Settling on the idea of a family drug court, the group traveled to two other drug court programs in the state.
The family drug court is quasi-civil — participants are not charged with any crimes, but they are working toward reunification with their children because of substance abuse problems.
That said, participants go into the program knowing that violations can earn them a trip to jail.
Jordan said he was initially skeptical why anyone would volunteer for a program that could land them in jail even though they had not committed a crime.
The Escambia County Drug Court, launched two years ago this month, was only the fourth such program in the state, Jordan said.
The program is modeled on other family drug courts in the state as well as the county’s successful criminal drug court, helmed by Circuit Judge Bradley Byrne. The drug court partners with Southwest Mental Health for drug counseling, Hope Place for parenting classes, the Department of Human Resources and other resources to provide a support system for participants.
Escambia County’s drug court is staffed totally by volunteers — agency workers are not paid for the time they spend with the drug court, which is overseen by Jordan and by DHR’s Irene Johnson.
Booker shed tears as she expressed her gratitude to those who have helped her toward graduation from the program.
Booker received several tokens as part of her graduation ceremony, including a certificate, a plaque and other gifts. Hope Place employees gave Booker a new camera.
Booker also received a coin inscribed with the saying: “When you come to the edge of all you know, you must believe in one of two things: There will be earth on which to stand, or you will be given wings.”