Drug Court bids farewell to Judge Bryant

OKEECHOBEE — The Dec. 12 Drug Court graduation proceedings were bittersweet as the team not only congratulated the seven who completed the program but also bid farewell to Judge Jerald Bryant, who was instrumental in bringing Drug Court to Okeechobee County.
Judge Bryant said it was a special day for a lot of people including himself. He also welcomed his replacement — Judge elect, Bill Wallace, and said he knew he was leaving things in very capable hands. He introduced Karen Harris, who he said was his secretary many years ago and now will be coming on board as incoming Judge Bill Wallace’s Judicial Assistant.

“Good luck to you both,” he said.

Okeechobee’s Drug Court began in 2007 and consists of a combination of treatment, therapy, 12-step programs, random drug testing and court appearances. Successful completion of Drug Court will result in charges being dropped. Judge Bryant said in the 11 years of Okeechobee’s Drug Court program, 1006 people have been considered for the program. Of that number, 258 either were rejected or transferred to another program, 463 graduated, and 249 were sentenced, but the number that made him the most proud was the number 11. Eleven babies were born drug free — 11 babies did not have to suffer through withdrawal or live with permanent damage because their mothers were addicted to drugs when they were born. These 11 babies were born healthy because of Drug Court, and that is something to be thankful for.

Okeechobee County Judge Jerry Bryant shared this photo of his last Drug Court docket and graduation. “I will miss working with our Drug Court team, but most especially these two great ladies,” he wrote. “They helped us get the program going in Okeechobee and have worked tirelessly for 12 years helping our community. Wendy Parent, our Drug Court Manager for the Circuit, and Katie Alonzo, Assistant Public Defender for all Treatment Courts in the Circuit, are the best.” Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

Judge Bryant hopes the seven graduates are never back in a courtroom again, and told them to please call on one of the team including him if they ever need to talk. “I really mean that,” he said. “I’ve never been addicted to anything but cheesecake, and I’m not working to get over that, but I understand it’s hard.”

Commissioner Terry Burroughs addressed the graduates as well. He told them he understood they have been through a lot, but said they need to change their friends because if they don’t, they will probably be right back in court again.

Sheriff Noel Stephen told them the road is not over yet and to remember the sheriff’s department is there to help, not just put them in jail.

Bob McPartland of the Department of Children and Families told them it’s about people, places and things. “Hang on to the people who have supported you, and avoid those who have avoided you,” he said.

Commissioner Brad Goodbread said, “You’re only as strong as your weakest day. Go forward- not backward.”

Former County Commissioner Frank Irby said, “Life is about choices, and choices have consequences. Your choices got you here. Make different choices when you leave.”

Okeechobee Police Department Major Donald Hagan told them they have been given a second chance to redeem themselves. He hopes they won’t squander it. He reminded them to separate themselves from people who got them there.

There were many more who spoke words of wisdom to the graduates and everyone who spoke thanked Judge Bryant for his years of service in Drug Court. It was clear he will be missed by everyone who participates in this program.

At the conclusion of the words of encouragement, each graduate was presented with a certificate of graduation along with an eagle pendant. The eagle is the symbol used to represent the graduates because just as the eagle was once an endangered species, it is the Drug Court’s goal to take individuals suffering from addiction away from their endangered status and let them once again soar with the eagles.

Drug Court’s goal to take individuals suffering from addiction away from their endangered status and let them once again soar with the eagles.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment