The Cullman County drug court program has produced many success stories, much like the one of 44-year-old Cullman native and graduate of the program, Ross McGraw, who now shares with inmates his story of past addiction.
While addicted to methamphetamine for 16 years, McGraw said he considered himself a menace to everyone he encountered, and was a ticking time bomb because of his addiction to what he called a lethal drug.
“Meth is death and if it wasn’t for me getting caught and arrested by CNET and drug court taking a chance on me, I’d be dead,” McGraw said. “When I was on it, I did whatever I had to do to get it. I got people to buy it for me if I wasn’t stealing it myself. I cheated, manipulated, and conned people. I made it, sold it, took it, I was going to have it at all costs.”
McGraw said he was married with two children when he started using meth while living in a carport or what he called his “hut.”
“I made the meth there, in the woods, at friends houses, wherever,” McGraw said. “I never slept. When I did it was no time at all. I never ate much either, I got down to around 100 pounds. I would take a bath in the lake, if you’d call it a bath.”
Discussing how people become addicts, McGraw said he initially used meth because of peer pressure, and he was addicted to it thereafter.
“I wanted to be loved and accepted, that was the way I looked at it and I thought the only way to do it was through drugs,” McGraw said. “I knew as long as I had drugs, I had friends. Then I realized after I was arrested and went to jail, they weren’t my true friends. In jail, I had no one to turn to, nobody. Then Judge (Kim) Chaney, I have so much respect for him, took the chance and gave me a shot in the drug court program.”
Judge Kim Chaney presides over the drug court sanctions and McGraw said through the monthly meetings and accountability he received, he began to pull his life together, although it was a struggle.
“These are not bad people, they are people who get caught up in addiction and lose sight of who they are and the addiction steals their personality,” Chaney said. “We currently have 110 participants and the program helps them to get and stay clean. They can rediscover themselves in the program if they commit to it.”
“After getting in drug court, I went back where I was living in the carport,”McGraw said. “I told myself I would be happy and get better. I knew that sitting in that little building would do nothing but pull me back down. So, I went to my classes and did what I was supposed to do while the sin was still next door, and drugs were still coming in and out. It became hard and I thought, ‘Should I commit suicide?’ ‘Can I handle this?’ Then on January first, I gave my life to Jesus Christ, and wow. It made my life a lot better. I went to Wayne (Dunn) and told him about my living situation and asked him for help. He gave me advice and I followed it and got out of there.”
McGraw said he continued going to drug court and built multiple friendships with several people in the program, as well as, a counselor and friend, Wayne Dunn.
“Wayne lit a fire under me to realize that there are people who care about you who don’t do drugs, and who don’t expect anything in return,” McGraw said. “In drug court, I started being around him, talking to him, and after I started changing with Jesus in my life, I got out of Cullman and moved to Hartselle. I had a judge from Morgan County come by my house and asked me if I would be willing to go and sit on their drug court staff in Morgan County and see how they did things. Helping other people makes me grow, but I also remember I am an addict and have to live each day staying away from who I was. In my mind though, as long as I can help someone else, I feel like it pays off.”
Dunn said the drug court program’s value is often questioned, but he has seen many success stories, as well as, taxpayers have saved thousands of dollars by not having to pay the typical $48,000 per incarcerated inmate.
“The drug court program and it’s treatment does have a great value,” Dunn said. “When I was in training 20 years ago I was told, ‘You can lead a horse to water, it does not have to drink, but you can make it thirsty.’ This program offers participants a chance to slow down, forces them to look at their lives and decide to changes. Many graduates leave saying that the program saved them. The program also doesn’t cost the taxpayers a penny, but actually saves them money.”
Removing yourself from temptation and situations that can cause a recovering addict or those looking to be set free from addiction is pivotal, McGraw said.
“For people that are using in Cullman or anywhere, my advice would be to get away from them now, get away from the situation,” McGraw said. “It’s going to hurt now, but there’s a better life ahead if you choose to stop. Meth is nothing but a dead end road. Separate yourself from other users, find a way to get out.”
McGraw said he now communicates with his two sons who are 19 and 11, maintains a job in Cullman, and lives each day with a new perspective.
“I graduated from the drug court program and have been clean nearly two years,” McGraw said. “And I’ve accomplished more in these two years than I have accomplished in my life. I did have to start over, but now I’m now free of a burden I’ve been carrying for 16 years. My life is now Jesus-centered. I made the decision to change though; I decided to stay away from it and place myself around positive people. I take the time now to help people get into rehab and share my story. I look at it like this, I need to give back what was given to me.”
As the old saying goes, McGraw said it all starts after admitting you have a problem, because there are people willing to help.
* Lauren Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-734-2131, ext. 137.