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Six people graduated from the program on May 21

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AZTEC — Tow truck operator Ira Ridgley had a busy day as he handled calls while trying to attend his graduation ceremony from the Eleventh Judicial District Court's Adult Drug Court Program.

He finished a call five minutes before he was due to line up in his vehicle as part of a drive-through graduation ceremony on May 21 in the parking lot of Aztec District Court.

Ridgley was one of six people who were graduating from the program.

District Court Judge Daylene Marsh presided over the ceremony.

She told The Daily Times in a phone interview that defendants on probation for a drug-related case can apply to be accepted in drug court.

The goal is to help people who committed criminal acts become sober and productive law-abiding citizens, according to the court program website.

Clients go through multiple phases of individual and group therapy sessions along with community service or work time while in the program.

"It's a very trying time," Judge Marsh said about the coronavirus pandemic. "I wanted to celebrate their accomplishments and show the others that are just starting out, this can be done," Marsh said.

Like numerous ceremonies taking place this month, the coronavirus led to extra precautions for the ceremony.

Staff helped organize about 20 vehicles in a straight line to "attend" the ceremony, and occupants were ordered to stay in their vehicle.

Judge Marsh spoke on a PA system and, after each graduate received their goodie bag and certificate, the cars honked their horns to applaud the graduate.

Former District Court Judge John Dean Jr. fired his "Twinkie cannon" for each graduate, launching American snack cakes into the sky multiple times during the ceremony.

Ridgley and fellow graduate Jared Jackson spoke to The Daily Times about completing drug court, which helped them become sober as they treated their addiction to narcotics and controlled substances.

Jackson described himself as a "hopeless drug addict" who was homeless, unemployed, and who – before committing to the drug court program – was not allowed to visit his children.

He has dealt with an opioid addiction since a doctor prescribed him an opioid for pain. That addiction led him to briefly use methamphetamine.

"My life has changed so much. I think if you can choose to do drug court and give it a shot, it's worth it," Jackson said.

He is working two jobs and is working to complete his GED so he can pursue a career as a fire investigator.

This was Ridgley's second time in drug court, working since November 2018 to graduate. He also struggled with an addiction to meth.

He was "clean" about eight months after graduating the first time. Since then, he lost his house, his vehicle and his career in vehicle collision repair.

"The addiction took everything from me," Ridgley said.

Ridgley now owns his vehicle and is in the process of closing on a house. 

He recommends that anyone eligible for drug court should take part in the program. Ridgley is thankful for the help he received from court staff.

"I want to pursue my career, continue to stay sober, raise my kids and be a good husband," Ridgley said.

Resources

If you or a loved one are experiencing any kind of substance use concerns, you can call the New Mexico Crisis and Access Line 24-7 at 1-855-662-7474.

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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