The Ely Times
National Drug Court Month is May 2018, and it is reported that more than 3,300 drug courts exist across the United States. White Pine County had a recent drug court graduation this past Monday with two graduates.
One particular graduate reached out to The Ely Times and wanted to tell his story about the program.
Amy Adams is a substance abuse counselor in Ely. James McConnell explained how much the program has changed him. This was not the first time for him.
Three or four years ago when he signed up for the program he admitted to going to each meeting, testing dirty because he said he wasn’t ready. This time, things were very different.
And, it definitely didn’t come easy.
McConnell was arrested in front of his niece and nephews, and while he was placed in the back of a patrol car, they were crying and physically upset. It was then that McConnell said he was tired of running, tired of going back and forth to jail and he had a wife and baby on the way.
“I hurt my family a lot and I just got tired of it, McConnell said.
McConnell started at a young age with his first arrest at age 13 for battery. His drug of choice was meth, and he said by age 25 he was full speed ahead on using meth, and doing whatever was necessary to get high.
His history included trafficking, possession and several violent tendencies. He was back and forth to jail and while it was not disclosed of the amount of years he spent in prison, McConnell served a few years in prison.
Adams said, “We knew his background, and at first glance, looking at him on paper, we weren’t sure, but he advocated for himself. When were looking at drug court were looking at high risk, high needs. We’re looking at people who have an extensive history, and timing is everything. What got my attention was that he was advocating for himself so much. There was the willingness of him wanting to change.”
Now at age 43, McConnell went through the program and successfully graduated this past Monday.
“If they can take a person like me, my background and my story, anybody can do it. The program was easy, it was getting into the program that was pretty hard,” McConnell said.
Everyone in jail was telling him that with his violent background, he wasn’t going to get into the program and that pushed him harder to want to do it.
McConnell admits he probably would have died in prison, or the streets, and talked about how he never had anything going for him for a long time. What motivated him to press on through to graduating the program?
He said his biggest motivation was not being able to see his other kids. McConnell has four kids, three of whom live in other parts of the Unite States.
McConnell noted that not being a part of their life because he couldn’t stay out of prison long enough or drug free long enough was a breaking point as well.
“I never wanted them to see me like that so I would avoid them, I wouldn’t make contact with them, but finally when I got in this program, I contacted them and a couple months later they came down and seen me. I think a lot of it was they wanted proof that I was actually trying to change.”
McConnell wanted to give recognition to the team at the drug court program, for guiding him along the way, and helping him. And he also noted that he has a different perspective of law enforcement.
He invited several law enforcement personnel to his graduate, and many showed up. Officer Luke Shady with the White Pine County Sheriff’s office spoke about how proud he was of McConnell, and noted how they had become workout buddies.
Chris Brewer with the Nevada Division of Investigations spoke as well, congratulating McConnell, noting that addiction was nothing to sit and giggle about, it’s one of the hardest things he had ever seen.
District Attorney Mike Wheable congratulated James as well, and mentioned some of McConnell’s past. “ I had Angie Gianoli prosecuting you, and the deal was that we were going to send James to prison, but Angie was gone that day, and I was covering the case, and I had been watching you, you were out of custody and you were taking care of your business even when you didn’t have to, and it came time for my recommendation and I said Angie is going to kill me but I think you should give James a chance.
“Watching you and seeing how you carried yourself, I knew you wanted to make some positive changes, I have to tell you watching you over the past couple years, standing in as a father for those two boys, and your niece, your a helluva a man. I’m really proud of you,” Wheable said.
McConnell’s mother was on speakerphone congratulating him, and letters from former White Pine County Sheriffi’s office, Sean Wilkin and Angie Gianoli, former Deputy DA were read to McConnell by Judge Steve Dobrecu congratulating him and wishing him well in his future endeavors.
Dobrescu said, “ When everyone enters into our system they all start at the same place, they’re starting as lost people, and a lot of pain in their lives, and everybody starts there. And with lots of hard work, people move forward, and they get jobs, you have to have a job, go to school, test, and tell the truth and cut out old bad associates, and that is the hardest part and everyone of you can attest to that.”
Now McConnell is going to work for a drilling company and mentioned that he owes a lot of to his wife and kids to be able to change his ways of thinking and life.
“I have to thank Adams, Dobrescu and Wheable for actually believing in me and giving me a chance.”