29th Judicial District Recovery Program holds commencement for successful graduates

Tuesday, July 2, 2024
(l-r) Judge Mark Hayes, Jonathan Smith, Zach Presley, Lauren Bell, and Public Defender Sean Day
State Gazette photo/William Northcutt



Judge Mark Hayes welcomed staff and former graduates of the 29th Judicial District Recovery Court program for a graduation ceremony on June 28, at the Dyer County Courthouse.

The celebration was attended by Hayes, present and past graduates of the program and their families and friends. Attending as well were program case workers, attorneys, and law enforcement officials.

Hayes began by congratulating each graduate: Jonathan Smith, clean for 1,073 days; Zach Presley, clean for 996 days; Lauren Bell, clean for 764 days.

“We talk about 1,073 days like it’s just that, but it’s one day at a time,” Hayes said. “You have my respect and admiration for the work that you’ve done.”

State Gazette photo/William Northcutt

Continuing, Hayes told the three graduates, “You’ve completed every assignment, passed drug screens, performed every minute of community service…attended endless hours of individual and group counseling and therapy, wore out those workbooks, and faithfully reported to court every time.”

He added, “More importantly, you’ve put your heart and soul into the changes that you’ve made to live your very best life…You set an example for all the others in our recovery court.”

He expressed confidence that they will succeed, wished them well, and said, “We’re proud to call you our graduates, and I’m proud to call you a friend.”

The graduates spoke. Smith said, “I’m glad to have my family back.” He expressed love for his children and thanked those who’ve helped. He also credited his co-graduates for their support.

Presley stated, “I’d like to thank the court. The court gave me a choice.” He said,

When you’re a drug addict, you don’t think anybody loves you, but we still have family. I cherish having family, having people who support me.” He thanked his co-graduates and said, “We’ve supported each other. We’ve made sure each one woke up for the meetings.”

Bell, thanked her partner and her children for their support, and she said, “To my recovery court team who showed me a life different from the one I was living…Thank you for doing everything y’all have done for me.” She told her recovery class, “I’ll only be a phone call away if y’all ever need anything.”

Hayes told Bell that he looked forward to seeing the different t-shirts she created every week, and she unveiled this one during the ceremony
State Gazette photo/William Northcutt

Bell made a t-shirt depicting the judge, attorneys, and case workers, and other members of the Recovery Court staff. On the back, it read, “The best accountability partners you can have.”

29th District Public Defender Sean Day congratulated the graduates and noted their hard work and will to recover. He said, “One of the hardest parts of my job is seeing people who can’t break the cycle of addiction.” He credited the graduates for breaking that cycle, and he closed the celebration, saying, “I’m so proud of all of you.”

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