GULFPORT -- A South Mississippi woman says a police raid of her home in 2012 was an answer to prayer. She landed in Drug Court, where she says she found help and hope.
Autumn Amey, who graduated Thursday from Drug Court, said her drug problems started in 2003, when she took narcotic medications to ease back pain and found it eased her emotional pain, too.
"It was all about myself," she said. "I didn't care who I hurt."
In 2011, her husband left her, she said, and took their five children with him.
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"I had a hard time dealing with this, so I turned to harder drugs."
Amey said she cried and prayed for help one December night in 2012.
"Two weeks later, a narcotics division kicked in my door and arrested me," she said. "It was so much relief off my shoulders."
She said she went to a three-month faith-based rehab before her court date, and prayed a judge would send her to Drug Court.
She was ordered to Drug Court in 2013. The rigorous program and having to be accountable to others at first overwhelmed her, she said, but she stuck with it and learned coping skills and how to deal with the source of her pain.
"I have hope and peace," she said.
Amey is among 34 people who graduated in ceremonies at the Good Deeds Community Center. The graduates completed three- to five-year programs offered by the 2nd Circuit Drug Court for Harrison, Hancock and Stone counties.
The graduates cheered as Circuit Judge Lisa Dodson said their drug charges will be expunged.
"There's always hope," she said.
Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson, a longtime narcotics officer, said he had once been opposed to Drug Court, but has done a "180-degree turnaround."
"A lot of people we put in jail don't need to be in jail," he said, "but they need help."
Drug Court helps participants and allows graduates a way to give back to the community by educating others, he said, and it saves the taxpayers money.
Several graduates said they entered Drug Court with fear, shame and guilt and now have a new perspective on life.
Warren Everette said he had a bad attitude.
"I felt like giving up," he said.
Everette said he now believes "attitude is the difference."
Drug Court is a team approach led by a judge who meets regularly with participants. The team effort includes counselors, a substance-abuse evaluator, prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers and law enforcement officers.
Participants are required to attend a variety of classes and treatment sessions, submit to random drug tests, avoid a new arrest and work toward a GED or keep a job.
Drug Court is only for nonviolent criminal defendants.