Veterans in drug court note successes, failures

A common denominator was found among the men standing in front of Special Judge Sarah Day Smith.
All were veterans recovering from drug and alcohol addictions. They would be in prison if it were not for the Drug Court.
There was a third commonality also was found. Only one man was sanctioned. The others had advanced successfully in their treatment programs.
Army veteran Altoree Stokes was the only person scheduled to speak during the court session.
He was praised by the judge who noted that the veteran had suffered serious heart issues and had fought his way back from a hospital’s intensive care unit.
Stokes apologized to the judge and court for ‘‘the frog in his throat and butterflies in his stomach’’ as he told his story about his fall into drug addiction.
‘‘My watch ended in Vietnam on Dec. 10, 1972 after two duty tours,’’ he said. ‘‘There was no way at that time that I could have seen what was ahead.’’
After his tour of service, Stokes became a counselor, working with young people dealing with drugs and alcohol issues.
He confided that he did drink alcohol, but felt that he didn’t have a problem.
It was in 2002 when two young people he was mentoring to were killed in a violent crime related to drugs. One of the victims was his great nephew.
‘‘I can’t begin to explain that part of my life,’’ he said. ‘‘I was in pain. To avoid going back into that heartache I turned to drugs. I wanted to find out what had trapped these young people by experiencing it myself.’’
Stokes migrated to Tulsa homeless, and a drug addict. He felt helpless.
It was in 2005 when he was arrested for possession of drugs, his first felony.
‘‘That was when I met Judge Clancy Smith,’’ he said, ‘‘and received a prison sentence that could have meant 10 to 40 years of life behind bars.’’
A newspaper article about the Drug Court introduced Stokes to the Drug Court program and Judge Sarah Day Smith who saw no acceptable reason for Stokes to be in prison.
Judge Sara Day Smith told prosecutors that she wanted Stokes in the Drug Court program and after a review of the case, they agreed.
‘‘God answered my prayers because I didn’t go to prison,’’ Stokes said. ‘‘I have you to thank, Judge Smith, and I thank God for my life. This is an opportunity for me to get straight and help others.’’
Another Vietnam Army Veteran, John Wayne Cloud, the Veteran’s Department service officer, said he has been working with veterans for 35 years, since he returned from that combat zone.
‘‘I just want everyone to know that during my work with the department, I have never turned someone away regardless of whether or not they had good or bad records,’’ he said. ‘‘When Matt Stiner called me a year and a half ago asking me to be involved with the Drug Court, I was happy to do it.’’
Helping veterans is not a job, it is a calling, Cloud said. These men really have come a long way and deserve sincere congratulations from everyone.
Because Tulsa’s Drug Court started on Dec. 8, 2008, many other towns have come here to see how it is done, he said. ‘‘We are proud to show them that we are doing it right.”
The court’s motto is ‘‘Leave No Veteran Behind and Honor Their Service,’’ said Judge Sarah Day Smith. The slogan was coined by Rose Ewing, program director.
Since the program started a year ago, there have been eight graduates and 44 veterans are in some phase of the program, Smith said.
She praised the men for their success, noting previous difficulties in treatment and how they had been overcome.
A few took candy from one of several jars on the courtroom counter and were asked if they needed any of the materials that were available.
Judge Smith did not tolerate excuses from the one man sanctioned for failing the regularly required urine analysis test.
That veteran claimed the test was wrong. He received 16 hours of community service along with a promise that the test results would be reviewed by the court.
However, she also recognized the family pressures the veteran currently was experiencing, but warned not to back to drug use because of these problems.
As the men, one by one, stood before the bench, they told the court about some of their successes and difficulties. During their comments, each received constant praise from the judge. They also were reminded that the upcoming holidays would be a difficult time for them and they should be careful to separate themselves from the possibility of temptation.
‘‘When you return in January, 2010, those who are successful will be rewarded,’’ Judge Smith said. ‘‘Sanctions will be severe for those who fail.’’

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