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NHCo. Drug Court Celebrates County Funding

07-01-11 – Every other Friday morning at 8, the New Hanover drug treatment court program gathers in room 200 of the county courthouse so that Judge James Faison and his team can catch up with their 55 clients.

WHQR's Michelle Bliss attended their most recent gathering as program leaders and participants celebrated the newly approved county funding that will keep drug treatment court alive for another year.

Judge Faison begins the session by delivering a much-awaited update on funding since drug treatment courts across North Carolina have been cut from the state budget, effective today. He tells the group that county commissioners approved their funding just in time, shifting $82,000 from Sheriff Ed McMahon's budget to the program.

"Thankfully, they agreed to give us the additional monies we need to close that gap. So, drug court is remaining operational and functional. So, we're still here and we're going to keep right on going to help make a change and difference in the lives in our community. Let's throw some thanks and appreciation for that."

The money will cover the salaries of two key employees, including Program Coordinator Penny Craver. One of her duties is interviewing candidates referred by defense attorneys, probation officers, family members, or even the addicts, themselves.

The program is voluntary, so Craver is looking for people who genuinely want to change.

"A person who is very, very committed to doing whatever is necessary to change, and they thoroughly understand the program requirements and understand that they can't pick and choose among the requirements. They have to follow our line."

Requirements include attending 12-step groups, meeting with a probation officer, taking three drug tests a week, and standing before Judge Faison twice a month to check in. During the court session, Faison calls each participant to the front, starting with any recent graduates.

"We have two to celebrate today who have completed everything, graduated and, also, aftercare. And that's none other than Edward Ted Glackin and, also, Grover White. Let's give it up for them."

Faison shakes both men's hands, offering certificates of completion and the "roll of honor" a green book in which each graduate's words of wisdom are recorded.

"In the upcoming days and months, even years, you still want to be able to look at that for encouragement and strength, daily. Grover, good job. You made it"

As Faison continues calling out names, some march forward to the bench with pride; others trudge down the center aisle in shackles. He chats with everyone, asking about their family, their job, their recovery. He hands out incentives in the form of gift cards for free Big Macs. Some participants are sanctioned, instead, with volunteer hours or jail time for breaking curfew or relapsing.

"If I'm being sanctioned or punished or if I'm going through turmoil or hardship, there's a lesson to be learned, just as long as I'm doing it sober and without going back to my old ways of handling problems."

That's Don Usevich, a recovering alcoholic and pain pill addict who started the program a year ago, after he was arrested for DUI. Usevich doesn't remember blacking out and stealing a car. The program is a chance for him, and others, whose crimes derive from addiction, to avoid future run-ins with the law.

"I don't want to spend the rest of my life jumping into holes just to crawl out of them. And that's what it's about, the willingness to go ahead and self-preserve and be sick and tired of being sick and tired. It saved my life."

Usevich is finishing up the first, intensive phase of drug treatment court. He plans to graduate from six months of aftercare before county funds run out next year.

In the meantime, program leaders will be applying for federal grants, seeking private donations, and gathering in courtroom 200 twice a month to celebrate the triumphs and overcome the setbacks of fighting addiction.

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? If so, we'd like to hear from you. Please email the WHQR News Team.


After growing up in Woodbridge, Virginia, Michelle attended Virginia Tech before moving to Wilmington to complete her Master in Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina in Wilmington. Her reporting and nonfiction writing have been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, within the pages of Wrightsville Beach Magazine, and in literary journals like River Teeth and Ninth Letter. Before moving to Wilmington, Michelle served as the general manager for WUVT, a community radio station in Blacksburg, Virginia. She lives with her husband Scott and their pups, Katie, Cooper, and Mosey.