15th Judicial District Drug Court Celebrates Graduation - WHLT 22 Connecting the Pine Belt

15th Judicial District Drug Court Celebrates Graduation

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The 26 graduates of Drug Court say their lives are forever changed for the better.

The ceremony took place at Woodlawn Presbyterian Church in Columbia.

Circuit Court Judge Prentiss Harrell said there are currently 217 people in Drug Court, a program he believes in.

"It's very humbling to be a part of this program to see people change their lives," Harrell said.

Country music star, and Mississippi native Jeff Bates was the key-note speaker.

Bates overcame his own addiction with help from a similar program in Tennessee.

He said the Pine Belt is where he grew up, and first drank alcohol and did drugs.

"Then to be able to come back 12 years clean and sober and to be invited to be a part of this drug court is a huge honor," Bates said. 

He explained to the crowd that he was adopted by a family in Bunker Hill, and found out about the adoption when he was only 7-years-old.

"I would lie awake at night and I would wonder why my mother didn't want me," Bates said to the crowd.

After moving to Nashville in an effort to achieve his music dream, Bates began using meth and stealing from his friends to pay for it.  After a 2-year-addiction, he was arrested.

One night in his jail cell, Bates called out to God.  He said He didn't ask God to get him out of jail, instead he asked God to change him.

When he was released from jail, he paid back every dime he owed to his friends.  One year to the day after he left jail, Bates landed a record deal with RCA, and his first single was no. 7 on the billboard charts.  He has had seven in the top 40 since then.

He performed one of those songs for the crowd entitled "Man I Want to Be."

Drug Court grads like Valerie Lee said they can relate to his story.

"I was just so angry, and I just wanted everything to go numb," Lee said.

Her 4-year-old passed away of heart complications in 2007.  A year later she began using meth to fight the anger and depression.

She was arrested three months later and, through drug court, now has found her reason to stop.

"In November, my son will be 12-years-old, so I still have him to live for," Lee said.

Bates gave this advice to anyone currently struggling with an addiction.

"First of all, admit you have an addiction, and find out where you can go get help," he said.

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