All four are graduates of the 29th Judicial District's drug court. Two graduated Tuesday and two graduated on Sept. 30. They celebrated Tuesday afternoon with an early Thanksgiving dinner at Here's Hope Counseling Center.
Among those celebrating graduates were Martha Ballard and Frankie McCorkle, the first two drug court participants. They kicked off the program Dec. 12, 2006, and have worked their way through three phases of counseling, court appearances and house arrest. They gradually earned freedom and responsibilities, ultimately becoming productive citizens.
Ballard and McCorkle stumbled a few times but eventually became drug court's third and fourth graduates.
Ballard, 34, of Dyersburg, described her drug court experience as "a big accomplishment. It's given me my life back, my family back. My family didn't want anything to do with me," she said, recalling the days when she wanted little more than methamphetamines.
Today, she enjoys time with her immediate family and her family of supporters. "I adopted a big family in this program," she said, referring to the friends she'd made in drug court.
Completing drug court was not easy for Ballard. She said she was sanctioned three times for improper behavior and served additional time in jail as a result.
"The first year was really a struggle for me living life on life's terms -- basically trying to figure out how to live without drugs," she said. Ballard said her boyfriend introduced her to methamphetamines and she was addicted for three years.
Prescription medications were a problem for Frankie McCorkle, 36, of Dyersburg. He said he became addicted to hydrocodone, Lortab and Percocet after a wreck in 2003 and graduated to morphine after a second, more serious wreck in 2005 that left him with a back injury and a crushed ankle. Initially, he had prescriptions for all of his medications. But, as he became more and more addicted, he began seeking prescriptions from multiple doctors and eventually began buying prescription medicine from street vendors.
"I didn't think I had a problem because I was getting a prescription. It was from a doctor," he said.
McCorkle said he took the morphine as prescribed for about three months and then found out that he could break it down and administer it as an intravenous drug. He said he began doing that "because I knew it would get me high. At that point, it was about getting high."
McCorkle said he overdosed three times on morphine. He became ill and felt his heart rate sink but he didn't seek medical treatment. Still, he continued using morphine.
"I wanted to get high to escape from all my problems," he said.
By the time he was arrested June 26, 2006, for burglarizing pharmacies, McCorkle knew that if he didn't get off drugs, he would eventually kill himself.
"Drug court has taught me how to live life on life's terms without any chemicals," he said.
To bolster his chances for success, McCorkle said he has changed his "people, places and things," a drug court saying that reminds participants to avoid the people, places and things that associate with getting high. Recovering addicts must seek new environments where they won't be tempted to use drugs again.
Todd Thrasher, 42, of Dyersburg, graduated Tuesday, completing drug court in just over a year. That's a fairly quick trip through drug court since two of the three primary phases last a minimum of six months each. Thrasher attributes his short tenure to the fact that he was addicted to marijuana, rather than harder drugs.
Thrasher said he'd been using marijuana since he was 12 or 13. Initially, he used marijuana recreationally. Eventually, he was addicted, craving and using it the way a heavy smoker goes through cigarettes.
Thrasher said he "was sinking further and further into drug use." He couldn't keep a job and couldn't face his problems. He decided to run away, driving out of state in a car that a company was actively trying to repossess. He was arrested for hindering a secured creditor.
Thrasher said he began attending counseling sessions with some of the drug court participants before he was accepted into the program. He believes that gave him an opportunity to witness some of their mistakes and to avoid them when he eventually joined.
The fourth graduate, a 45-year-old RoEllen woman who preferred not to give her name, said she'd been using drugs since she was 13 years old. She was addicted to hydrocodone, morphine and crack cocaine. She'd been in and out of treatment centers and always relapsed within a couple of months. She believes this time will be different.
"This program taught me how to live in this community with the drugs (being available) and to turn drugs down," she said. The difference, she said, is her relationship with God. "I'd never gotten that before."
"I know that I'm done this time," she said, noting that she prays several times each day that she may stay sober. She also talks to a sponsor, who gives her support and advice every day.
"I have a life now. My life has been given back to me," she said. "I just hope to be an inspiration to someone else."