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Judge Recognized for Drug Recovery Court Work

The judge who not only brought drug recovery courts to Putnam County but also to the state of Tennessee officially retired his duties in the 13th Judicial District last week.

Nashville Criminal Court Judge Seth Norman presided over his last drug recovery court graduation in the district Thursday night, handing over the leadership role to Putnam Criminal Court Judge Gary McKenzie.

Two new graduates of the drug recovery and veterans treatment courts, along with their families, other successful graduates, law enforcement officials, judges and the Tennessee Supreme Court chief justice gathered at the Putnam County Justice Center to recognize Norman’s work.

“Two people are completing the program tonight,” Norman said. “It’s not an easy program. It’s not unusual for people to ask to go back to jail because it’s easier than this. It takes about 90 days for people to understand that they can do something about their addiction.”

“I did not know what I signed up for,” said Kozzi Cole, who was facing seven years in prison before completing drug recovery court. “But it’s been worth it.”

Christopher Modglin completed the veterans treatment court.

“I was raised into addiction,” Modglin said. “I never thought I would be clean, but I’m clean two years today. I can’t believe I’m clean today. I’m sitting here — a living miracle.”

Norman started the first drug courts in Tennessee in 1995, and brought the program to Putnam’s district in 2011. Statewide, the program has more than 1,600 graduates.

The 13th Judicial District, which includes Putnam, as well as Clay, Cumberland, DeKalb, Overton, Pickett and White counties, has seen 34 graduates from drug recovery and veterans treatment programs.

Julie Chambers, recovery courts director in the 13th Judicial District, said only one of those has been arrested since completing the intensive 24-month-plus program. It includes four phases, with two spent in a residential treatment facility in Nashville.

The third and fourth phases involve outpatient alcohol and drug counseling, personal counseling, obtaining and maintaining employment, community service work, attending drug court twice a month, meetings with a probation officer, attending 90 Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in 90 days and obtaining a sponsor.

The drug recovery and veterans treatment programs have 53 participants right now.

The drug recovery program, which is designed for felony non-violent drug offenders, depends on the support of the state as well as a local team including the judge, Chambers, case manager Amanda Allison and recovery courts probation officer Holly Roysden.

The veterans treatment program is for veterans suffering from mental health problems such as PTSD.

McKenzie seemed eager to carry on Judge Norman’s work.

“Judge Norman created a program that’s been successful,” he said. “I’m smart enough to know that this man and these ladies (who work in the drug court) have set up a program that really works. I hope to continue that and do you proud.”

Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Jeffrey Bivins was among numerous officials who complimented the work of Judge Norman.

“Judge Norman is recognized not only as just a guru in Tennessee,” the chief justice said. “He’s nationally recognized. It’s a privilege to honor him today. I’ve been to 12 to 15 drug court graduations, and seeing Chris and Kozzi still brings a tear to my eye.”

Bivins said the Tennessee Supreme Court is about to look at criminal justice reform.

“Recovery courts didn’t exist 30 years ago,” he said. “They need to be a functioning part of our sentencing scheme. The bottom line of what Judge Norman has done is he’s saved lives.”

Three previous graduates of the drug court recovery program talked about the impact Norman had on their lives Thursday night.

“It’s hard for me to speak about Judge Norman without crying,” said Carol Hamilton of Overton County. “I was looking at 10 years in prison. My last day using, I had every intent of killing myself. I had lost my children, my husband, the trust of my mom and dad. I started using at 12 years old. By the time I made it to DC4 (an inpatient program), I was almost 40. I thought I would die in addiction.”

Hamilton’s life today is drastically different.

“I just bought a new car,” she said. “I never thought I would do that. My son called me tonight and wanted me to come to his ball game. He used to be embarrassed of me.”

Norman modestly accepted the praise and described introducing the drug recovery court to Tennessee as “just something that needs to be done.”

He also restated his long-held belief about those who suffer from addiction and find themselves wading through the court system.

“People who have an addiction are good people with a bad problem,” he said.

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