Drug court forges unlikely bonds between cops and ex-addicts

Drug court graduation 2016

Jeffrey Warner of Olympia is honored along with fellow 2106 DUI/Drug Court graduates in Thurston County Superior Court.
Up Next
Jeffrey Warner of Olympia is honored along with fellow 2106 DUI/Drug Court graduates in Thurston County Superior Court.

When Jeff Warner met Corrections Deputy Avery Stegall in the late 1980s, he was a mess. He was about five years into a methamphetamine addiction, which began when he was just 15 years old.

“He was just a rookie, and I think I scared him a little,” Warner said. “I was all messed up because of my addiction.”

Nearly two decades later, the duo reunited in the Thurston County Drug Court program. Warner entered the program following a 2014 arrest, and Stegall, still a corrections deputy, works with the program.

In the two years since his arrest, Warner has turned his life around. He holds a steady job, earned a high school diploma, is continuing his education with automotive classes, and is dedicated to his 16-month-old daughter, Viola. He has been clean for 662 days.

“They say Drug Court is just about treating addiction, but that’s not true. It’s about treating the whole person,” said counselor Autumn Irvine as she introduced Warner during a Friday Drug Court graduation ceremony.

Irvine said Drug Court helps participants obtain education, improve family relationships, and more. Warner truly took advantage of that help, she said.

Warner said Friday that the trouble started when he was 3 years old, when his parents divorced. His mother dropped him off at child care and never came back, leaving him to be raised by an alcoholic father.

Warner described an early start to his addiction, stealing alcohol from his dad by the time he was 8 years old, and smoking marijuana by age 11. Missing his mother, Warner frequently ran away to look for her, landing himself in juvenile detention. He began using methamphetamine at 15, and dropped out of school.

At age 30, he went to prison for 12 months and learned about Narcotics Anonymous upon his release. He made a friend who became like a family member and was clean for seven years, Warner said. But when that friend died unexpectedly, he began using drugs again and found himself back in jail.

When he entered the program at age 47, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to change his life.

“But I met some amazing people, they really helped me through it,” Warner said. “I really couldn’t have done it without them.”

Stegall, like Irvine, said that Warner really used the program to his advantage and tailored it to his needs. For example, instead of going for a GED, Warner used the High School 21+ program, where he could a high school diploma.

That initiative prompted Stegall to take a special interest in Warner. When Warner considered leaving the program, Stegall and Public Defender Phil Griffith convinced him to continue on.

“When he was ready to quit, I told him to stay in,” Stegall said. “I told him I’d have his back until the end. Whatever he needed, I’d help him.”

In a gesture of thanks, Warner handed Stegall his 30-day coin. The corrections deputy held onto it until Friday, when he handed it back in an emotion-filled moment.

Warner wasn’t the only graduate Friday to meet law enforcement officers from his past.

Waylan Graves, who has been clean for 536 days, was arrested in Olympia in April 2015. He had been addicted to meth since 1988. He said that since entering the program, his life has improved drastically.

“I never knew how good life could be,” Graves said.

Olympia Police Officer George Clark, who arrested Graves in 2015, attended the ceremony along with Lt. Dan Smith. Graves and the officers had a cheerful reunion and posed for photos.

“We’re always really happy to see a case end like this,” Smith said.

Three other DUI and Drug Court participants graduated Friday: Anamarie Rasbury who is 526 days clean, Mark Neufeld who is 395 days sober, and a man who is 548 days sober but wished to remain anonymous.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Erik Price, who presides over DUI and Drug Court, said Friday’s ceremony was the program’s 127th graduation; 637 people have graduated since 1998.

He ended the ceremony with a quote from Gen. George Patton:

“The test of success is not what you do when you are on top. Success is how high you bounce when you hit the bottom.”

Amelia Dickson: 360-754-5445, @Amelia_Oly