For some, this is the only graduation ceremony they have ever had. For others, it’s the most important ceremony of their lives: a Bexar County program designed for people with felony convictions related to substance-use disorders.
They marched down the aisle to pomp and circumstance, beaming with pride. They weren’t at a school but in the central jury room at the Cadena-Reeves Justice Center in downtown San Antonio. The 32 people, ranging in age from 21 to 73, graduated from Bexar County Felony drug court.
Drug court Judge Ernie Glenn, who led the ceremony, said he loves being a drug court judge, working so closely with people who — in many cases — have unsuccessfully fought addiction for most of their lives.
The drug court program provides substance abuse and family counseling, mental health services, and help with getting a job, a home, education, and transportation. They then become members of the Drug Court Alumni Association so they have ongoing support.
The students in this class of 32 had a combined total of 218 arrests in Bexar County. Glenn said this is a good alternative for non-violent addicts.
"It’s actually part of probation, and rather than have them may be locked up or going to a long-term treatment facility and back into the community,” Glenn said, “We take these folks and put them through a lot of programming with case managers, probation officers, treatment providers, and just all kinds of things to keep them responsible and help them get their lives back together."
Marisol Cruz said it’s done just that for her.
“I feel amazing, blessed, humble … (and) very very happy,” Cruz said.
Cruz has been in and out of jail more times than she can count for convictions related to her heroin addiction. When facing prison again, she was accepted into and agreed to go through drug court.
“The way I saw it was I’ve already tried prison. Doing time. I did programs in there and they didn’t work, or maybe I wasn’t ready. I’m not too sure, but I realized that I needed something different,” Cruz said. “I needed something that could hold me accountable, something that could push me and encourage me, love me, hold me and embrace me. Just give me new tools and the strength to keep going.”
Cruz will be 18 months clean on Oct. 22, and she said she has a couple of good reasons to stay that way.
“I’m a mom once again to a beautiful little girl; I’m also pregnant and due Jan. 8. I don’t think if I didn’t have this program I would have made it,” Cruz said.
She plans to go back to school and become a licensed chemical dependency counselor so she can help others with substance use disorders.
According to Bexar County, drug court graduates who ended up back in the legal system over the last three years was roughly 26 out of 218 people.
Bonnie Petrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kbonniepetrie