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Five Lynchburg Drug Court graduates celebrated by local officials and support staff | Crime News

ByJulie J. Helfer

May 28, 2022

Former Lynchburg Circuit Judge R. Edwin Burnette served as a judge in several different courts for over 40 years. But it wasn’t his time on the bench that showed him the true power of addiction.

R. Edwin Burnette, retired judge and founder of the Lynchburg Drug Court, smiles during speeches at Thursday’s graduation ceremony.

Instead, Burnette said, it was when he saw it firsthand with a family member that he realized he had to fix it.

“That’s when I realized that addiction isn’t something anyone does to feel good…addiction takes over, so you do this to not feel bad” , Burnette told a packed Lynchburg City Council chamber Thursday night at Lynchburg City Hall.

It was a Burnette family member’s own addiction struggle that he says led him to help launch the Lynchburg Adult Drug Treatment Court in 2017. And on Thursday night, five drug court graduates were honored for their achievements.

Wesley Brogdon, Jerimiah Brooks, Marvin Hubbard, Kymauni Moore and Jacquawn Carter were celebrated by program support staff, local judges, elected officials and family as they marked a milestone on their journey to recovery.

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Drug Court Judge J. Frederick Watson presents Jerimiah Brooks with his certificate of completion during the Lynchburg Adult Drug Treatment Court graduation ceremony Thursday at City Hall.

Kendall Warner, News and Advance

Brogdon told the crowd gathered at City Hall that he was skeptical of drug court the first time he heard about it. But when it ended, he said the program changed his life for the better.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen in the end,” Brogdon said, “the judge [J. Frederick] Watson said to try; I didn’t want to try at first. I always wanted to hang out in the streets and all that.

When facing certain drug charges, individuals can plead guilty to the offense and opt into the program which requires close monitoring and routine checkups and therapy to treat their addiction. The options most face are incarceration or drug court.

Those accepted into the program work with Horizon Behavioral Health and justice system officials to receive step-by-step rehabilitation that helps them along the way.

Brogdon said he went through the process without telling anyone but his mother, telling people he was going to “school”. And his “teachers” in drug court are the ones he credits with getting him on the right track.

Now that he’s graduated, Brogdon looks forward to attending conferences in Richmond, South Carolina and even Seattle to tell his story of battling addiction to improve his life.

Watson, the current presiding drug court judge, said Brogdon “is not just recovering, he’s running now. He’s a leader in the recovery business,” now that he works with others to bring them down the same path as him.

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Judge J. Frederick Watson speaks during the Lynchburg Adult Drug Treatment Court graduation ceremony at City Hall Thursday, May 26, 2022.

Photo by Kendall Warner, The News & Advance

Brooks, who Watson said came to drug court “determined he was going to get rid of his addiction,” did exactly what he told Watson he intended to do from the start. first day.

Brooks said, “Where I was a few months ago, I’m not that person anymore.”

Watson said often people show up in drug court and have a roller coaster ride. Some weeks things are good, but a bad weekend can make things worse.

Brooks, he said, never had that problem and came in with an upward trajectory from day one.

“I appreciate each and every one of you who helped get me on the right path,” Brooks said, turning to a large group of program support staff.

Marvin Hubbard, Watson said, was not always on the easiest path to recovery.

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Marvin Hubbard is kissed by his fiancee, Sherry Burford, during the Lynchburg Adult Drug Treatment Court graduation ceremony at City Hall on Thursday, May 26, 2022.

Photo by Kendall Warner, The News & Advance

“When we talk about trajectories, Marvin was one of them,” Watson said as he waved his hand up and down, making moves like a roller coaster.

“At first I had real concerns about Marvin…but once it clicked for Marvin, it clicked and his trajectory suddenly became a straight line.”

Hubbard agreed with Watson, saying drug court was the “hard road” and he didn’t think he would go all the way.

“I just turned 65 and for the grace of God I’m here today,” he said.

Hubbard recalled when he first needed the program, and he contacted his lawyer, Lynchburg public defender Aaron Boone, saying, “Going to jail isn’t going to help me. I need help.”

Hubbard said he didn’t wait and immediately reached out to get into a recovery program, which eventually led to him entering drug court.

“I may not be everything I want to be,” Hubbard said, “but I’m better than I was before.”

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Marvin Hubbard arrives to receive his certificate of completion during the Lynchburg Adult Drug Treatment Court graduation ceremony at City Hall on Thursday, May 26, 2022.

Photo by Kendall Warner, The News & Advance

Moore and Carter, the other two graduates, were unable to attend the ceremony on Thursday, but they were still recognized by Watson and other court members for their perseverance through what Burnette said was a longer option. harder than incarceration.

“You took the much harder road,” Burnette said. “It’s a lot easier to take your time, sit in a prison, watch TV and have three squares. But you have chosen a much more difficult path.

Burnette explained that the program is like a GPS.

“It’s much better than a map,” he explained. “I can give someone a map and say, ‘Get it figured out,’ but isn’t it much nicer when you’re in the car and they say, ‘In 500 feet, turn right on Church Street?’ That’s what sets him apart.”

It’s about putting people back on the path they strayed from, according to Burnette.

The two judges present at the ceremony recognize the need for the drug court, which is why they are popping up in several other locations in the region.

In Nelson County, officials have just received approval from the Virginia Supreme Court to launch a drug court. In Bedford County there is a family drug court.

This is all an effort to reduce drug addiction and keep people behind bars for the long term.

“Some people think going to drug court is a way to avoid jail,” Watson said, “but … we have drug court participants through our drug court sanctions, maybe we spent more nights in jail than they would have had they just pleaded guilty, got sentenced and moved on.

Burnette said “we can’t navigate our way through this,” talking about the addiction and substance abuse crisis.

“I have people in front of me [in court] whom I have seen more often than my family, and we call each other by our first names. They couldn’t stay clean.

Rep. Bob Good and Del. Wendell Walker delivered remarks at the ceremony, imploring graduates to rely on faith in God and their support team to stay on the right path to recovery, as graduation is just one another important stage of the journey.

“We are all a reflection of those who have invested in our lives, invested in our lives,” Good told graduates. “Getting your degree has helped give you a new future as you start over. It’s not easy to walk away from addiction, but you’re showing courage and determination by doing what you’re doing tonight. .

Walker added while the program put graduates “on first base, you have to get around the other bases to score here. But you started the right process here.

Debra Jefferson, a worker for Horizon Behavioral Health, the organization that plays a huge role in establishing treatment plans for people in drug court, said during her remarks that addiction is a ‘disease’ and that it “does not discriminate or make a difference where you are from.”

Jefferson, who herself endured a 28-year battle with drug addiction, told the graduates to “keep this gift” and rely on whatever support they would get.

Graduates have also been invited to be part of the Drug Court Alumni Program, which will allow them to connect with past graduates, as well as current students participating in the program.

“It’s a gift, and it can and will remain a gift as long as you treat it that way,” Jefferson told graduates in his remarks.

“And I know you can do it because if a street kid like me can…so can you.”