The largest drug court class in state history will graduate from the state’s largest drug court Tuesday afternoon.
But the biggest accomplishment is that it’s no longer called drug court.
About 80 people will graduate from the newly named Recovery Court in a ceremony at Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing.
Superior Court Judge Mark Sandson — who oversees the court for Atlantic and Cape May counties — got approval to change the name, saying it better reflects what the program is about.|
“What’s in a name?” he asked. “There’s a lot in a name. When you want to tell an employer where you are going, Recovery Court sounds better than Drug Court.”
Afterall, he added, “What we do is recovery. We don’t do drugs.”
Also, some participants struggle with alcohol, not drugs.
The new Recovery Court allows those who complete the program to have their records expunged.
In one recent case, a 62-year-old graduate was able to have 72 convictions — including 12 felonies — cleared from his record, Sandson recently told a group applying for the court.
Sandson, who lost a daughter to addiction, is firm but understanding when he gives his regular speech to those eligible for the court. He speaks with an understanding of addiction, and the life that comes with it.
“Your brain is wired the way your brain is wired,” he told a recent group of 10.
Nine chose to have a task evaluation to see if they met the requirements for entry. One decided against it.
“You have to have guts,” he told them. “It’s not easy to recover.”
Sandson deals with the losses in his court as well.
In one week, two were lost to overdoses: a 23-year-old in the first phase of the program and a 51-year-old who was readying for graduation.
“I hope they’re now at peace,” he said in an interview with BreakingAC.
Assignment Judge Julio Mendez has been extremely supportive, Sandson says.
From the court itself to the name change to helping Sandson through those tough losses.
“It only works, as Judge Mendez reminds me, person by person,” Sandson said.
There are only two ways out of addiction, he noted: “One is through recovery and the other is through death.”
Added Sandons: “I stress recovery, obviously.”
The graduation follows a morning Opioid Crisis Summit that includes talks by Mendez, Sandson and leaders in the recovery community.