Twenty-two men and women and their family members and friends gathered at the Hillsboro Municipal Court on Monday to celebrate the Highland County Vivitrol program’s sixth graduating class.
When he addressed program graduates, Hillsboro Municipal Court Judge David McKenna remarked that this graduating class was the largest he’d seen since the program began in September 2015. The previous largest graduating class consisted of 11 men and women, McKenna said.
McKenna called program graduates to the front of the courtroom in order from oldest to newest case. Some of the graduates’ cases had been part of the program for around three years, McKenna said.
”Every one of the 22 people who we’re here to recognize today have probably done the hardest thing you’ve ever done over the last year or two years or three years,” McKenna said. “I don’t think we have anyone here with more than four years.”
One by one, graduates were called up to shake McKenna’s hand and select a wristwatch, which McKenna said represents the time they’ve gotten back.
”You’ve taken back your lives and because of that, you’re going to have time to continue to care for your friends and family,” McKenna said. “I know how hard it’s been to get to this point, and you all know people who needed to be here. When you see some of those old friends or old acquaintances who may not be friends anymore, they will listen to you more than they’ll listen to me. Please try to help them save their lives. That’s what this is all about: people staying alive long enough to be the parents, the children, the uncles, the aunts, the cousins who you want in your family.”
Every graduate thanked members of the probation department and the sheriff’s office before returning to their seats.
Following the graduation ceremony, graduates and staff members shared a meal of chicken and other foods. Tonya Sturgill, the director of programming and clinical services in the Highland County Probation Department, said that the judge decided to serve chicken after each graduation ceremony because of the saying “winner winner, chicken dinner.” Sturgill said the watches and the chicken dinner have been part of the graduation ceremony since the beginning.
Sturgill previously told The Times-Gazette that Vivitrol injections are funded through a grant awarded to the probation department. Vivitrol is an injectable drug that blocks cravings and the effects of opiates and alcohol in the human body. Those injected with Vivitrol can’t get intoxicated or high on opiates for 28 days.
In order to graduate from Highland County’s Vivitrol program, program participants are required to successfully complete a treatment program and must be clean for at least a year. In the meantime, participants not enrolled in a residential treatment program report to the court and undergo court reviews, which track their progress. Those who are enrolled in residential treatment programs report to the court once they complete those programs, though the court receives regular reports on their progress during their treatment.
Sarah Cooper, one of Monday’s program graduates, told The Times-Gazette that it’s important to have patience with yourself when you’re starting a program like the Highland County Vivitrol program.
Cooper has been enrolled in a treatment program at New Beginnings, a faith-based nonprofit rehabilitation center located in Pike County, for 15 months. She’s gotten her driver’s license back and is now looking at going back to school. Her goal is to become a mental health counselor for kids. She wants to make sure younger kids have someone who will listen at an early age because people can turn to drugs when they feel no one’s listening to them.
”Give yourself a break. Have patience with yourself,” Cooper said. “It eventually pays out.”
Reach McKenzie Caldwell at 937-402-2570.