By Frank Lewis
Thursday was a special day for three people – the first two graduates of the Portsmouth Municipal Court Drug Court and the judge who presides over the panel that oversees a year of hard work and compliance.
Sarah Gee — referred to by Municipal Court Judge Russell D. Kegley as a “rock star” — has seen a year Kegley says has been filled with obstacles and potential setbacks and she has survived.
“I’ve never seen anybody with such great spirit and things have been thrown at her,” Kegley said. “She is remarkable what she’s done. She is a sponsor of folks. She holds her own meetings. And she is always just so upbeat.”
“It lets me know that everything that I’ve put in to every day has not been a waste,” Gee said. “I can actually call myself a good role model and that is what I strive for each day. I’m very happy.”
Kegley beamed as he talked about Ryan Carver.
“Ryan would hardly even talk to us when he got here. You almost had to drag things out of him,” Kegley said. “This guy is working. He’s had a couple of decent jobs and he has a good one now and it’s amazing how much he talks now.”
“I’ve learned a few things,” Carver said. “I’ve learned that I’ve got self control and that I don’t need that stuff (drugs) in my life, My life is so much better without drugs in it.”
Carver talked about regaining a relationship with his children and about his wife’s support.
“I’ve also got my self-respect back and the trust of my family,” Carver said.
Kegley said the Municipal Court Drug Court is not an easy program.
“We’ve had nearly 50 people in this program in this past year and two of them are graduating today and I’d say probably 8 or 10 others still are in line,” Kegley said. “The rest have fallen by the wayside. It’s not easy.”
Kegley said he modeled his court after the Scioto County Common Pleas Drug Court and one in Jackson County.
“The purpose is to try to avoid situations where we are locking folks up. Let’s face it. Some folks eventually do need to be locked up, but we try,” Kegley said. “The idea is to try to get them to be productive citizens.”
Kegley said there is not a protocol that has the court continue to follow the progress of the graduates.
“I don’t think we have an official aftercare. They do,” Kegley said. “They still have an aftercare in their (probation) programs and are still working their programs hard. We just step out of it at this point. I look at us as just another level of accountability for them.”
Kegley credits the court panel as well as the two people who worked closest with the graduates – Levi Morgan who worked with carver and Joanne Whitt who worked with Gee.
Kegley has been asked why he would give up his authority to a collaborative panel.
“For any judge, for me in particular, it is extremely difficult to give up the decision-making authority,” Kegley said. “There are times I disagree with the will of the majority but I can give in to it here without hesitation because this drug court model has prove itself time and time again.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.