This past Monday, a momentous event occurred on the Jackson County courthouse lawn. The first graduation ceremony for the Jackson County Adult Drug Court was conducted.
Graduates, Candice Simmons, and Jimmie Westfall were cheered on by friends, family, members of the judicial system, and treatment team.
Both reflected on the struggles they had to overcome on their path to recovery.
Simmons, now 39, said her addiction started 22 years ago. At various times in her life, she faced both jail time and stints in rehabilitation.
“It was a roller coaster for me,” she said. “Meth was my addiction and when you travel with the wrong crowd, it’s easy to get into that life.”
Simmons acknowledged the pain that her dependence caused her family.
“I never lost my two children to Child Protective Services,” she said. “But they didn’t want to have anything to do with me. I left them with my mom all the time.”
With her last arrest for burglary, Simmons was referred to the drug court program by her attorney. She did not have high hopes.
“I really didn’t think I’d make it through,” she said. “But a couple of things helped, even though I stumbled along the way. I got saved and give God credit for the outcome. And the treatment team members were such a help.”
Simmons, who has been clean for 468 days, also credits her family and friends.
“I’m living with my mom now and doing babysitting,” she said. “Before, when I was on drugs, we couldn’t even be in the same room together. Now there’s peace between us. I appreciate her so much.”
For 21-year-old Jimmie Westfall, personal tragedy led him into addiction. By the time he was 17, he had lost both his mother to a heart attack and his father to a logging accident.
“When I was 15, I started smoking weed pretty heavily. This was after my mom died,” he said. “I was just numb. Eventually, I moved on to meth.”
As with Simmons, a final arrest led Westfall to his chance for drug court. His attorney recommended him to the program when Westfall was caught for possession of stolen property.
“I didn’t have a lot of confidence,” he said. “But I was tired of living the life I was living.”
Even though he had some setback, Westfall is very proud to say, “I was the first one to enter the program. Now I’m one of the first two to graduate.”
With a steady job for almost nine months at Hartley Oil’s railroad building in Ravenswood, Westfall says he owes a lot to the treatment team.
“Every one of them was there to talk anytime I needed them,” he said. “No one knows how much that meant.”
Family support from his grandmother and two sisters helped him too.
“They never gave up on me even when I was on drugs,” he said. “They never turned their back on me.”
Ella Dillon, Adult Drug Court Probation Officer, said the treatment team consists of professionals from different fields including law enforcement, probation, attorneys, substance use and recovery professionals, and pastoral representatives.
“They all provide different insight,” she said. “When our participants hit a roadblock, they help them deal with that, sometimes involving sanctions. Their main goal is to offer a support system that so many of our members just don’t have.”
Dillon is quick to point out that completing drug court is a difficult task. Intensive supervision, including daily check-ins, frequent drug screens, home visits, curfews, and thorough substance use treatment are some of the requirements.
For Westfall, the therapy was the hardest part, saying, “I failed at first. But I kept picking myself up and going back.”
The success of Simmons and Westfall substantiates the importance of West Virginia’s Drug Court Program, according to Nick Leftwich, State Drug Court Coordinator.
Leftwich said that with so many supporting those enrolled in the state-wide program, 2020 is on track to surpass 2019 in total graduations.
“It’s been more of a physical challenge this year,” he said. “But we’re using technology to keep in touch and help our participants.”
For Circuit Judge Lora Dyer, who had to approve Simmons, Westfall, and any other applicants to the program, this first graduation was a monumental event.
“I don’t always get to see people at their best,” she said. “But with Candice and Jimmie, I am seeing inspiration and hope. I’m proud to be part of this process.”
Dyer has one concern that she says hampers many of those with addiction. The lack of housing options is a major obstacle.
“Each graduate must have stable housing,” she said. “And that’s hard to come by. One of my goals is to find a solution, with our local businesses or other entities, to this very troubling problem.”
Both Simmons and Westfall had words of appreciation for the judge.
“We both owe her so many thanks for giving us this opportunity,” Simmons said. “We have a chance now.”
While both graduates have to continue aftercare for the next six months, which includes drug tests, Dillon says, “I have seen the determination of Candice and Jimmie to create better lives for themselves and I feel they will continue on successfully.”
For Angela Westfall, her feelings for her brother are simple.
“I’m so proud of him,” she said. “He’s always owned up to his mistakes. I know mom and dad would be proud of him too.”