BUCKHANNON — It may have just been another cold, gray January day for most people, but for Dustin Mills, Jan. 7, 2016 was the day his life was transformed.
Mills, 26, was lodged in the Tygart Valley Regional Jail, being held on two breaking-and-entering charges and one grand larceny charge. Both were connected to his addiction to methamphetamine and heroin that held an iron-clad grip on his mind, body and spirit. On that early January day in 2016, he decided he could no longer battle his addiction on his own, so he gave his life to God.
More than a year later, Mills is not only clean and sober, but has started a local business of his own — Cherokee Auto Repair in Buckhannon.
But he took none of the credit for his accomplishments, as he stood proudly in the Upshur County Courthouse last Wednesday, March 15. Mills is the first person in 2017 to graduate from the 26th Circuit Court’s adult drug court, following Joyce Arbogast in August of 2016.
“If you would have told me a year ago that I would have made it through this program, I probably wouldn’t have thought I’d make it a day,” Mills said in front a courtroom packed with family, friends, adult drug court officials and other adults still enrolled in the program. “I gave my life to God in the jail cell in the Tygart Valley Regional Jail on Jan. 7, 2016. My little boy was a week old, and I didn’t want to live like that anymore. When I did that, everything changed. Every aspect of my life has changed since then. I don’t take any credit for anything that I’ve done.”
Mills said it took hitting rock bottom for him to hit his knees and give his life to the Lord.
“Being at my lowest, I had tried several times to do it on my own, but I couldn’t do it, so I gave it all to Him,” Mills said.
The purpose of adult drug court is to achieve a reduction in recidivism and substance abuse among those who have been arrested for drug offenses and to increase the likelihood of successful rehabilitation through early, continuous and intense treatment as well as mandatory periodic drug testing. The program also involves community supervision, sanctions and incentives, all of which is supervised by a judicial officer, according to the West Virginia Judiciary’s website.
Twenty-sixth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Jake Reger said the program is no miracle fix for drug addiction — rather, the decisions and actions of the individual who enters drug court is the deciding factor as to whether he or she will successfully complete the program.
“It’s ultimately up to the individual in drug court to make it work,” Reger said. “Dustin has been a great example for all of us for how things can work in a positive way for drug court. He’s invested in this program; he’s worked hard at it. This isn’t easy. For an individual facing some of the problems Dustin had and where he is now, to me, it’s remarkable. We’re really proud of him.”
Reger noted that drug court was designed specifically for those with a high risk to reoffend due to substance abuse and addiction issues.
“We try to identify people that have addiction and a high risk to reoffend,” Reger said. “It’s very beneficial; there are a number of people in the program who are doing very well.”
Reger said there are currently 12 people enrolled in the adult drug court program locally.
Jim Wilson, an addictions counselor for the 26th Judicial Circuit Court, described Mills’ enthusiasm as “contagious” and noted that adult drug court graduation is not an ending, but rather the beginning of a real-world battle.
“Sometimes, we think about graduation as being the end of something when in fact what we’re really doing is building the foundation of the beginning of a life undeserved,” Wilson said. “Recovery is often times like planting seeds. So much of it is dependent upon the soil that it rests on, and Dustin came into drug court very receptive and open and very eager, very ready. He took the opportunity, and he absolutely ran with it.”
Wilson said Mills’ openness about his faith in a higher power and willingness to share it aided him in overcoming the odds.
Mills, who has two children — 7-year-old Brant Grayson and 1-year-old Brayden James Allen — said he has some advice for adults still enrolled in the program or those preparing to enter it.
“Be open-minded, honest and willing,” Mills said. “Become part of the bigger recovery picture. Stay involved with the recovery community.”