They ranged from ages 26 to 38, two men and a woman, each having struggled and overcome. Up on the second floor of the Dorchester District Courthouse, they became the latest graduates of an aggressive program aimed at helping them deal with addiction and navigate probation.
“They have worked so hard to be here today,” Rosalind Miller, the first justice of the Dorchester District Court, told a crowd of family, friends, court officials and prospective participants of the program who had gathered for a small ceremony earlier this month.
Dorchester Drug Court, as the program as known, started in 1995, becoming the first in Massachusetts and New England. The 18-month program, with strict supervision, requires participants to remain in custody, enter rehabilitation and find a job or attain a degree. Participants usually are already on probation or referred to the program by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. Roughly 8 people graduate from the program each year and 15 to 20 people are in the program at one time.
Judge Ken Desmond, who recently was appointed to the Superior Court, oversaw the program during his tenure at the Dorchester courthouse.
“They have all stayed the course,” he told the three graduates’ friends and families. “Today is not just a perfunctory thing. They made a commitment to change.”
Desmond then looked over the graduates, who were sitting in the jury box. “You have a lot to contribute and this is just the beginning for you.”
Added Judge John McDonald, who now is in charge of the program: “They chose Drug Court instead of a jail sentence.”
Curtis Evans, 28, teared up as he talked about his experience. He had been on probation since 2008, he said.
“My addiction wouldn’t let me finish anything. It was real dark for me.”
Looking into the audience, where his mother and grandmother were, his deep voice broke as he said, “I’m just a little overwhelmed right now.”
He added, “I’ve been in numerous courts, trying to get it right. I think I got it now.”
Daniel Champagne, 26, said that due to the program, he has repaired a strained relationship with his father. They hadn’t spoken in 9 years, he said. “I’m so happy to have so much support and be clean,” he said.
Lawanda Waiters, 38, was among the graduates. She praised Helen Coyne, the parole officer who runs the program, for her relentlessness in keeping her on the straight and narrow path.
District 3 Councillor Frank Baker also attended the ceremony. He praised the program and urged the graduates to tell their younger counterparts to stay away from alcohol and drugs. “
You now become messengers for what you have done,” he said.