CONWAY — Edward Jenkins had been traveling down the same drug-ridden path over and over, year after year, until an Horry County Drug Court program saved his life.
Jenkins had been sent to prison on drug charges. But that didn’t change him. He came out and back in the drug scene because, as he put it, he “didn’t get the help I needed.” After a second drug arrest, the Horry County Solicitor’s Office said it was time to send Jenkins to Drug Court.
“It changed my life,” Jenkins said. “It gave me a second chance at life. Before I got in this program, I didn’t even think I had a life I was so caught up in my addiction.”
Now in its eighth year, the program is designed to reduce recidivism, or repeat offenders. Between 70 and 85 percent of all crimes in Horry and Georgetown counties are directly or indirectly related to drugs, Candy DeBusk, director of Drug Court for Horry and Georgetown counties, said at a recent public safety meeting. The Drug Court program works with non-violent offenders with pending criminal charges and keeps them out of jail and places them into a program geared toward accountability and responsibility.
There are two levels of the program: those facing less than three years in prison and those facing more. If facing less than three years, the person must go through at least a nine-month treatment program, which includes alcohol and drug tests twice a week. If facing more than three years, the program is at least 18 months with testing three times per week. Both levels include curfew, hair tests for drugs and alcohol, a prison tour, community service and self-help meetings.
Violation of these terms include weekends in jail, community service, home detention or expulsion from the program and a jail sentence.
The program is user-funded, therefore does not cost any taxpayer money. It started in August 2005, and DeBusk said the number of participants has grown from three its first year to about 100 this year. The program has collected more than $50,000 in restitution over the years and 158 participants have graduated.
Jenkins calls the program “something that we’ve been needing around here for a long time.”
“After I got admitted into this program, it changed my life,” he said. “I’m so grateful today for this program because I got second chance. I’m not stuck in that selfish mode no more. I want to help people. I want to give back to the community.”
He now works at the Horry County Animal Care Center and helps with Drug Court as a mentor.
“The same hustle and bustle that I used to go through to get high or to sell drugs or whatever, I used the same hustle and bustle for my sobriety,” Jenkins said. “To stay sober.”
And the program is aimed to do just that. In the 2008 graduating class, 17 percent of participants were convicted of new felonies since their graduation. In 2011, that number dropped to 6 percent. Organizers also claim the program saves taxpayers millions of dollars annually by keeping prisoners out of prison, which saves the S.C. Department of Corrections about $16,000 per prisoner annually.
Jenkins wants people to know that if he could keep himself out of trouble, others can too.
“It’s been seven years since I’ve left the program and I am not looking back. I want to keep striving to do better things,” Jenkins said. “I’m here to help people out and give people hope because it’s a struggle. I couldn’t do it for anybody else – not my wife, not my mother, not my kids. Today, I wake up a different person because of this program. It gave me my life back.”
Hurricane information meetings set
Horry County Emergency Management will host several town hall meetings for residents on the Know Your Zone hurricane campaign:
• North Strand/Little River Areas | 6 p.m. Tuesday at C.B. Berry Community and Historical Center, 2250 Highway 179, Little River
• South Strand Areas | 7 p.m. Aug. 6 at South Strand Recreation, 9650 Scipio Lane, Myrtle Beach
• Bucksport Area | 6 p.m. Aug. 13 at James R. Frazier Community Center, 1370 Bucksport Road, Conway
Changes include three new hurricane evacuation zones, which will incorporate more land mass and will require additional people living in those areas to leave during certain hurricanes based on surge inundation instead of category of storm, according to a press release from the county. To Know Your Zone and to learn more about hurricane planning, visit Horry County Emergency Management at http://emd.horrycounty.org/ or call 915-5150.
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_jrodriguez.