By DON O'BRIEN
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
In the summer of 2012, Maria Buchanan had no idea where her life was going.
Buchanan had been arrested on a theft charge on May 21, 2012. Her prior criminal history was not good, so she feared that she might be heading back to the Illinois Department of Corrections, a place with which she was all too familiar.
Trying to kick an addiction to cocaine, Buchanan was doing inpatient rehabilitation at Recovery Resources in Quincy when she passed her counselor, Gail Westerhoff, in the hallway. Westerhoff told Buchanan that she had been accepted into the Adams County Drug Court program. Though she didn't react to the news at first, Buchanan said she soon broke down.
"I cried like a baby," the 50-year-old Buchanan said. "To know that out of five times of me going to prison, that I was given the opportunity and the privilege to keep my freedom, that means more to me than anything in this world, knowing where I came from."
Buchanan finished an 18-month stay in the Drug Court program Thursday by graduating. She was one of five graduates in the class. Each graduate had completed an intensive form of probation that included more than 150 drug tests and regular meetings in front of Judge William Mays in Adams County Circuit Court.
Also graduating were Shawn L. Jones, Justin D. Creech, Kevin L. Cookson and Stacy L. Hightower.
This was the 13th graduation ceremony since Adams County started a Drug Court program in September 2006. Thursday's group pushed the grand total of Drug Court graduates to 67.
A past Drug Court graduate had a word of warning for those who were feted in front of friends and family who packed a large courtroom on the second floor of the courthouse.
Kristie Austin, a November 2010 graduate, was the first-ever commencement speaker at a Drug Court ceremony.
"The statistics say that most of you guys won't stay clean after you leave this program," Austin said. "There are just two people out of my graduating class (of six people) who are still clean, me and one other person. Recovery is for people who want it, not for people that need it. You're definitely not going to make it if you're not serious. You need to continue to go to meetings, work with a sponsor and do your steps. Drug Court has given you the tools to change your lives. Whether you take advantage of it or not is up to you."
Each of the graduates was given a chance to speak in front of the crowd. Jones, 38, led off by saying how thankful he was for the program, which was a common theme among the graduates.
"I stand before you a very grateful and honored man to have been blessed to be chosen for the Drug Court program," Jones said. "I stand here not with pride by successfully completing this program. I stand here with humility for I have been immensely humbled by this program and this experience. I wouldn't change a thing if I could."
Creech, 39, thanked his fellow Drug Court participants and his family and friends for helping him through a difficult time in his life.
Cookson, 45, was relieved to complete the program.
"This has been a heck of a road for me," he said. "It was very overwhelming at first. I didn't think I was going to make it."
Hightower, 36, spoke briefly, sobbing as she thanked those for helping her kick a 14-year methamphetamine habit.