City Court Judge Walter Drag has been presiding over drug court since it began 10 years ago. That milestone was celebrated at the recent drug court graduation when three more participants completed the program.
"(Since its beginning) We've had over 500 team meetings. About 200 have entered the program with 75 percent passing," he said.
He congratulated the graduates for "breaking the cycle," but also noted they "have to be constantly vigilant" to guard against slipping back into old patterns.
OBSERVER Photos by Diane R. Chodan
Top: Some of the dignitaries pose at the reception which followed the recent drug court graduation in Dunkirk. Left to right: Captain Patrick Johnson, Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Department, keynote speaker; City Court Judge Walter Drag; Assemblyman Andrew Goodell; Drug Court Case Manager LeeAnn Lazarony; and Chautauqua County District Attorney David Foley.
Above: Captain Patrick Johnson, warden of the Chautauqua County Jail, spoke to the recent drug court graduates about making changes in their lives.
Many dignitaries attended the ceremony, and some spoke briefly. Assemblyman Andrew Goodell congratulated the graduates for their "incredible accomplishment."
Chautauqua County District Attorney smiled and said, "It is a rare occasion when I get to congratulate a defendant."
As is the custom, Drag presented each graduate with a certificate. LeeAnn Lazarony, the case manager, briefly introduced each graduate who then spoke.
Cassandra said, "You changed my life but also the lives of my kids. They now have a full-time mom. ... Thank you."
Kelly thanked the drug court and Judge Drag. Addressing current participants of drug court in the audience, she said, "Keep your head up and like Judge Drag would say keep plugging away."
Shawn credited the program with helping him finally acquire serenity. He then let the Bible speak for him, reading a section of Matthew 6 which counsels people not to worry about things in daily life such as what to eat or drink or wear.
Keynote speaker Captain Patrick Johnson, warden of the Chautauqua County Jail, speaking directly to the graduates, outlined seven steps for making changes in their lives: seeing the window (opportunity), exploration, integration, the plunge, landing, evaluation, and sharing. The graduates as well as others in the audience often nodded as he outlined each step.
Johnson answered the question about what a warden could have to say to drug court graduates. Speaking about the jail he said, "We're in the opportunity business." Jail often brings an awareness that change will or must occur, the first step in the process.
As part of the exploration process, he encouraged the graduates to gather information, to determine the tools needed for change, and to build a strong support network.
"Don't lean on the people that will bring you back to see me," he advised.
During the integration process, goals should be set, in a progression of stages.
"Don't just imagine yourself a little better than you are now, imagine the way you should be," he said.
Noting that he was a teacher at SUNY Fredonia and Jamestown Community College, Johnson gave the graduates an assignment. "Create a vision board," he said, explaining that each could buy poster board and create a visual representation of his/her vision for a personal future.
The plunge, which Johnson said was the hardest step, involved "jumping over the threshold," adjusting, accepting help from others, looking at the vision board, regaining balance, and remembering the goals.
During landing, he advised looking at the vision board and reconnecting with the passion felt when the decision to change was made. During this step, a person is looking forward instead of backward. Freedom from the past is achieved.
"Freedom is being able to walk the streets of Dunkirk without the Dunkirk Police Department looking for you," he said.
The sixth step was the evaluation process during which a person should look at the goals set and what steps are being taken to reach them. During this time, the person should look at what worked and what didn't as well as what needs to change.
The last step was sharing and being accountable. Johnson emphasized that the person must be honest, humble and open. In this last step, change will become accepted.
Johnson advised using the process because "without a proper plan to implement future change you life will certainly continue down a road of "hit or miss" strategies much like throwing darts at a board."
Johnson used a section of "Alice in Wonderland" to illustrate a hit and miss strategy. When Alice meets the Cheshire Cat she asks which way she ought to go from there.
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
Johnson concluded, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there."
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