Judge Denise Andre, who started the Williamson County DUI Court program in 2010, speaks during the “Night of Recovery” celebration Tuesday night at the Historic Williamson County Courthouse. // Photo by John McBryde
By JOHN McBRYDE
Ninette Menna of Franklin knows firsthand what it’s like to train for a marathon.
She has finished four of them, doing so well in each that she has qualified for what will be her first Boston Marathon this April and her first New York Marathon later this year. It’s a goal she was able to set for herself through perseverance, self-determination and a deep desire to accomplish something major in her life.
“Training is hard,” she said, “but I love it. … You have ups and downs, you go forward, you go back. Sometimes you get injured. You just deal with it. It’s a huge accomplishment. It gives you confidence.”
She could very well have been speaking about her experience in Williamson County DUI Court, a program that was started by Judge Denise Andre in 2010. It offers treatment, supervision and support for offenders who have been charged with a second or third DUI (or a fourth in some cases) or a DUI probation violation.
Menna was the program’s first participant and graduate, having finished it in September 2011, and Tuesday night she was among several alumni from DUI Court as well as Veterans Court and the 21st District Recovery Court for a “Night of Recovery” celebration at the Historic Williamson County Courthouse. In addition to Menna, seven other graduates from the county’s recovery courts shared their struggles with various addictions and their pathways to recovery.
“This was the first time all three courts came together to do this,” Andre said. “I think it’s really important for the community to know what we are doing and also to have the community embrace recovery, because addiction affects every family.”
Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Tim Easter served as emcee for the event, while Judge Tom Taylor and Judge James Martin III represented Veterans Court and the 21st Recovery Court, respectively.
“Why do we do recovery work? Because it works,” Easter said to open Tuesday night’s program. “And the individuals who we come in contact with are worth it. They’re worth every minute of what we do.”
Andre said it’s not an easy program, but the success stories of those who graduate (98 since the program started) are resounding.
“When you begin to help those that need recovery and you watch the layers of addiction peel away, what is revealed is the most amazing thing,” she said. “You see the people and how great they can be, and the dreams that they have and how they’re able to fulfill those dreams. Are there struggles? Oh yes. Does it take a lot of work and effort? You bet. But tonight we’re going to see why we do what we do.”
Menna, who owns a massage therapy business in Franklin, said as low as she was after her third DUI arrest and time spent in jail, she could sense a ray of hope after meeting with Andre and her team.
“I was really broken, I had lost my humanness,” Menna said. “I was just existing. … The one thing I remember was that I felt Judge Andre’s sincerity. She really meant it when she said we’re here to help you.”
War veterans Patrick Dray and Stephen George, both of whom had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, spoke of how their lives took turns for the worse when they came back home.
“On Feb. 25, 2017, things really started to change,” said Dray, a Brentwood High School graduate. “I was arrested, and by the grace of God, I was able to take part in veteran treatment court. I was given the best gift anyone in this situation could have, and that’s the gift of desperation.”
George said he “saw quite a bit of combat. I didn’t really know it affected me until I got home. Immediately, things were different. Alcohol was my drug of choice. I never admitted that I had a problem.
I was broken, I really didn’t have any hope for the future. I know I needed to change, but I didn’t know how. I was lost.
“It’s a blessing. Every single day that I recognize something that is threatening my happiness, my well being, my peace, I get to work on that, I get to hit the reset button if I’m having a bad day. That’s huge.”
Keynote speaker for the celebration was William “Doc” Holladay, a singer-songwriter who benefited from Williamson County recovery courts and has been free of drugs and alcohol for 12 years.
“I want to say thank you to everyone that’s involved in recovery court, all the people that serve in this,” Holladay said. “Thank you for grace, thank you for mercy and understanding, thank you for wisdom and for kindness. I would not be here without that. I would not be here without you.”