DEFENSE ATTORNEY Matthew McKone can be seen congratulating Shiawassee County’s first Drug Court graduate, Joe, in the Honorable Matthew Stewart’s circuit court room on Wednesday, Aug. 2. When Drug Court debuted in April of 2016, it was estimated that patients would be able to complete the program within 18 to 24 months. “Robo-Joe,” as he is known amongst the Drug Court team for his adherence to the program’s guidelines, completed the county’s drug rehabilitation program in an astonishing 15 months.
McKone fought to hold back his emotions while congratulating his client, Joe, in front of the large audience on hand inside Judge Stewart’s circuit courtroom to witness the Aug. 2 graduation.
“When somebody from Shiawassee County goes to prison, they’re coming back here when they get out. And do I want somebody who’s been rehabilitated or somebody who has become a better criminal to be my neighbor? I can’t think of a better person to be the first person to graduate the Shiawassee County Drug Court. I’m going to miss you, Joe.”
(Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)
by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
When the Honorable Matthew Stewart took the bench in 2015, opioid deaths had surpassed traffic and firearm related deaths in the U.S. as the leading cause of death by injury. Inspired to find a better solution to the growing epidemic, Judge Stewart started the Shiawassee County Drug Court in 2016, with the first patients entering the program that April. And now, less than two years later, the Drug Court has celebrated its first graduate.
Joe entered the program on May 18, 2016, and nearly 15 months later he has emerged from Drug Court a new man and is being touted as the county’s Drug Court “poster boy.” Joe faced the strict testing and treatment regimen head on, never missing or being late to an appointment, and accruing no sanctions along the way. He also maintained full time employment throughout his time in the program.
Judge Stewart thanked his Drug Court team for their efforts in helping to make the program a success, he praised Recovery Pathways for partnering in leading the charge in guiding patients down the path to recovery, and he commended the “tremendous support” of the community. He shared that there are more opioid prescriptions written in Michigan annually than there are residents in the state, and that approximately 70 percent of the cases he sees are drug or alcohol related.
He explained that “This is not something that is happening out there. This is happening right in our own back yard. These people are our friends, neighbors, husbands, wives. This touches all of us.”
Judge Stewart then handed the floor over to Shiawassee County Prosecuting Attorney Deanna Finnegan, Joe’s defense attorney Matthew McKone, and Shiawassee County Sergeant Doug Chapman, who all gave inspired, emotional congratulatory speeches. Both Chapman and McKone praised Joe for his commitment to the program, while Finnegan encouraged Joe to “use the tools he has learned today in all of your tomorrows.”
Joe was then presented with a framed certificate of completion and a Narcotics Anonymous book autographed by the Drug Court team members. The graduation ceremony ended with a hearty standing ovation from the audience, which included many county employees, elected officials, current Drug Court patients, and supporters.