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Virginia Attorney General witnesses six participants graduate from Montgomery County Drug Court

Graduates of the Montgomery County Adult Drug Treatment Court Program, who were recognized Friday, April 14, 2023 during a ceremony held in Christiansburg. The graduates are (front row, from left) Ed Sigmon, Melissa Sutphin, Ian Akers, Eva Harris, Edward Sparks and Shane Rupe. Pictured with the graduates are (back row, from left) Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares and The Honorable Robert M.D. Turk, Presiding Judge. (Photo – M. Wade/NRVCS)

By Mike Wade  |  NRVCS

Friday afternoon marked the seventh graduation for the Montgomery County Adult Drug Treatment Court Program. It was standing room only as a total of six participants were recognized during a ceremony held at the county’s courthouse in Christiansburg.

The graduates honored were Ed Sigmon, Melissa Sutphin, Ian Akers, Eva Harris, Edward Sparks and Shane Rupe.

Among the dignitaries present for the ceremony were Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, Assistant Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Sonny Daniels, and Jake Petzold, Special Assistant to the Office of Governor Glenn Youngkin.

The Honorable Robert M.D. Turk, Presiding Judge of Montgomery County’s Drug Court program since its inception in 2017, noted that the program currently has 39 participants and now has 25 graduates with the completion of Friday’s ceremony. Turk went on to say the program has saved county taxpayers an estimated $233,805 in jail costs and related expenses over the past six years.

“We’re very proud of each and every one of you [graduates] – and we’re especially proud of the six today,” added Turk. “We’re proud of everybody that’s in the program. We think the program is a big success.”

Miyares, a special guest at the ceremony, applauded the graduates for their willingness to accept help, as well as their commitment to the program.

“We have a misnomer in our society of what bravery looks like, what heroes look like,” Miyares said. “…You’re here today because you’ve done something incredibly brave. You’ve taken that first step on a journey and now you’ve taken many steps.”

“…Asking for help is not a sign of weakness – it’s one of the strongest, bravest things you can ever do,” continued Miyares. “The weak thing is refusing to take that first step. Each one of you have shown incredible courage by taking that first step.”

Leroy Robinson, a graduate of the Pulaski County Drug Court program and current supervisor of the 401 Peer Center – a program operated by New River Valley Community Services (NRVCS) – reminded graduates of the challenges they will likely encounter along their journeys of continued recovery.

“Don’t take the setbacks as minute,” explained Robinson, who noted that he lost his brother to addiction in 2020. “…Instead of saying ‘setbacks’ or ‘stumbles,’ we say we make ‘death decisions’ whenever we relapse or we go back into that life.”

“Don’t hesitate to reach out – if you struggle, don’t hesitate to pick the phone up,” added Robinson. “…Be grateful for these moments…but don’t fall victim to that disease….It’s tricked us before and it will continue to chip away at our sanity if we don’t sustain our recovery.”

Lori Trail, Drug Treatment Court Coordinator for NRVCS, pointed out that this was the first time the Montgomery County program had recognized six graduates in the same ceremony.

“A lot of people think that this is an easy alternative to incarceration and it is not,” Trail remarked. “What they have had to do to get here today is a very long journey.”

She noted that it takes the average participant two years to complete the program, and that one participant had been with the program for nearly four years.

Trail shared that each of the graduates have actively participated in intensive treatment for their substance use disorder, along with judicial oversight and various recovery-based activities. Along with complying with requirements of the program, Trail explained that participants also work to secure full-time employment or re-enter the workforce, regain custody of children, and re-establish family relationships.

“We know that we are not curing anyone’s addiction today,” Trail told the graduates. “We know that this was a process getting to where you were and it’s been a journey to recovery. And you’ve done that and you’ve proven that recovery is possible.”

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