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Drug court graduates inspire with their stories

YOUNGSTOWN — Ten new Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Drug Court graduates had inspiring words to share Wednesday with their counselors.

“I just remember who I used to be. I never want to go back to that. I have my kids today. I have a job and have a house in my name,” one woman said in the courtroom of John Durkin, the judge in charge of the program.

Durkin’s felony drug court is where people are referred if their criminal activity is the result of a substance abuse problem. An evaluation is done to determine whether the person is a good candidate for the program. If the person completes the program successfully, they graduate and their criminal conviction is erased.

Another woman said during the graduation she had been in courtrooms many times in her life as an addict. But coming into Durkin’s courtroom flipped the negative notions of going to court on its head.

“It’s so refreshing to walk into courtroom and see a judge come down off of his bench … and hug people like us. Right there, that gave me hope. And I believed this thing was going to work,” she said. “This program has definitely nudged me back on track.”

She thanked all of the people of the drug court “for giving me another second chance.”

Wednesday’s graduation was the first one since the COVID-19 pandemic began in which graduates celebrated together in the courtroom.

Last July, there was a graduation in Boardman Township Park. Last November’s graduation took place using the Zoom platform on the internet.

Another 18 people participated in the graduation Wednesday over the internet — the 18 new people just entering the program. Many of the graduates addressed their remarks to them, offering advice.

One male graduate said that every time he got into trouble because of substance abuse, he had a “me-versus-them attitude. The sooner you can get past that, if you have it, the sooner you can make progress in this program. They are not out to get you. They are out to help you,” he said.

A third female graduate told the incoming class she was the type of person who said that programs like this would not work for her. She learned the opposite.

“It’s doable. These people are awesome,” she said. “They will not give up on you. They will send you to jail 100 times, but they will not give up on you.”

Amy Klumpp, coordinator of the program for the past 16 years, said the average size of the drug court is around 45 to 55, but COVID-19 is keeping the number much lower.

“It’s been a difficult time for people in addiction,” Klumpp said. “It’s a pandemic within a pandemic.”

The Mahoning County Coroner’s Office reports that there have been 32 overdose deaths in Mahoning County through March of this year, which is three more than for the first months of 2020 and the same number as the first three months of 2019.

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