The man leading the team at Christian County Drug Court will soon retire after 16 years coordinating the program that gives jail-bound substance abusers a second chance at being productive citizens instead of going behind bars.
Local drug court and veterans treatment court supervisor Mike Walker said now is a good time for him to go because there is new management in Frankfort and he reached his goal of working until he was 62.
"I turn 62 at the end of the month," Walker said from his UK-themed office on the second floor of the Christian County Justice Center.
Walker, a native of Hopkinsville, has been in the position almost as long as the program has been administered through the Christian Circuit Court system. His last day is Sept. 30.
Launched in 2001, Christian County Drug Court is a court-managed, drug intervention program designed to provide a cost-effective alternative to traditional criminal case processing.
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Participants must have a drug-related offense and be referred to the program by Judges Andrew Self, John Atkins or Foster Cotthoff.
Once accepted into the program, participants must call in every morning and are subject to random drug tests every morning for the program's minimum of 18 months. They must also obtain and maintain a job, attend self-help meetings every week and keep current with any court-mandated fees like restitution or child support.
"The ones that do get in here, a lot of times they don't have jobs," Walker said. "They're just down and out, and they're looking at going to the penitentiary. Our job is to keep them out of the penitentiary, we try to get them work, we try to get them clean and sober and try to make them productive citizens in this community."
Approximately 25 participants go through the program each year, and about 40% of participants succeed and graduate, he estimated.
Walker said participants aren't always successful, which leads them back to jail, but that doesn't make them a failure.
"When I first come here, I thought we could save every one of them," Walker said. "But some people don't want help --- they're just here to avoid jail --- but we've had a real high success rate of people that want our help."
Walker said the success of the local drug court program is due to a collective effort among the judges, lawyers, his drug court staff and the Pennyroyal Mental Health Center where participants get treatment.
"This is a team --- it's just not one person in here," he said. "You can't do this by yourself; you've got to have some help."
Walker said he will miss the team as he moves into the next phase of his life.
His assistant supervisor Elizabeth Holland has worked with him all 16 years and said it will be different without him right next door. She will also miss his "bad cop" persona to her "good cop" aura.
"He was intimidating to the participants," she chuckled, "but I think that kept a lot of them on track."
Walker said he wasn't always the favorite of the participants, but that was part of the job.
"A lot of times they come in here and they hate me because we're making them do things," he said. "But in the end, they say, 'I know why you did that.' I see people all the time who went through the program --- I don't know if that's good or bad --- but I've got good relationships with about 99% of the ones that graduated."
Walker said he doesn't have anything planned yet for post-retirement, but he is going to miss the job.
"You never know what doors God will open for you," Walker said. "I never thought about doing this, but Janice Cunningham took a chance on hiring me 16 years ago and I appreciate that."
Reach Zirconia Alleyne at 270-887-3243 or email@example.com.