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A courtroom might seem a strange place to hold a celebration, but for Paul Rucker, it was entirely appropriate. For he had come full circle.
Rucker, 57, a former cocaine addict, stood in front of his family and friends in the Shelby County Circuit Courtroom on Friday and made a tearful, yet joyful statement.
"I am so happy today," he said, with tears streaming down his face. "Because I am free at last."
As the crowd, which included judges and court officials, burst into thunderous applause, Rucker smiled through his tears.
"I had to clean out my closet, though," he said. "If you leave a dirty sock back in a corner of your closet, it will start stinking."
As everyone laughed, Circuit Judge Charles Hickman replaced Rucker at the podium to address the first graduating class of the Shelby County Drug Court.
A graduating class of one.
Rucker is the first, and so far, the only graduate of the class that was established in 2006.
He is the first of the program's 28 participants to complete the 18-to-24-month program. Each entered the program at a different time after being offered that option by the court to avoid incarceration.
Not only did the local members of the drug court turn out for Rucker's graduation, but so did state, regional and local officials.
Montell, who was guest speaker in lieu of Chief Justice John Minton, Jr., who couldn't make it, praised both Rucker and the program.
"It not only helps to create a healthy community, but also reunites families and rebuilds lives," he said.
Montell smiled at Rucker, who was sitting in the front row with his family.
"What you have done is no small accomplishment," he said. "It took hard work, accountability, dedication, a lifestyle change -- you've done it all, and everyone in this room is on your side. So keeping on persevering, and fighting the good fight, because this is your new beginning."
Among a long list of local businesses that Hickman commended for sponsoring the drug court, he singled out two for dedication above and beyond the call of duty: Commonwealth Bank and Kentucky Farm Bureau Insurance, and their representatives, Belinda Nichols and Mary Jo Newton, to whom he presented certificates of appreciation.
Hickman reiterated the mission statement of the drug court, which is to empower participants to live substance-free lives by promoting positive changes in behavior that leads to productive citizenship.
"Paul Rucker has met that in every way," he said, adding that Rucker has already begun to serve as a mentor to other participants.
Hickman said the program emphasizes certain components necessary for success, such as creating a new lifestyle and practicing time management.
"The key is to find something you like to do, and also to start associating with different people," he said.
He added that getting and staying high is an addict's main focus, and once that part of their life is taken away, they feel a void.
"Boredom will set in, and they need to find something to do to replace that," he said. "Also, they need to make new friends who don't get high."
At the close of the ceremony, Rucker addressed the crowd from the same place as he had once been addressed by the judge.
"I can't take all the credit, that goes to God and to my wonderful wife, who is an angel," he said. "Without her, I would not be standing here right now; I'd be in the penitentiary at 57 years old. I'm so glad you showed me the way to go. I love you, my family, and my new friends."