Woman first to graduate from drug court program


Near the end of her shift at a Seymour fast-food restaurant, Dawn-Angel Phillips was cleaning the bathrooms when she found a needle, a syringe and a bag of dope.

As a recovering methamphetamine addict, Phillips could have been tempted to use the items she found.

Being nearly two years sober and about ready to be the first graduate of the Jackson County Drug Court program, the 26-year-old knew she couldn’t give in to temptation.

“Immediately, my stomach turned, and I literally felt nauseous,” she said.

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She ran inside and told her manager, and he properly disposed of the items.

“I can remember being so proud of myself because I was in Phase 4 at this time, not getting drug tested as much,” Phillips said of the five-phase program.

“That right there was just like, ‘I had everything I needed to use, and I didn’t use. Wow! God kept his word,'” she said. “When I was in jail, I prayed, ‘Please, God, take this addiction away from me. Please just help me with it. Please, if I’m around people that are on it, please make me feel nauseous if I see it.’ That was just confirmation that my God is good, he does take care of me and I know he will take care of me.'”

Facing Jackson Circuit Judge Richard W. Poynter the next week, Phillips shared that as her best decision of the week. In drug court, participants announce their best decision of the week and give Poynter an update on how their life and treatment are going.

On Feb. 21, Phillips was recognized at the end of drug court for becoming the first graduate. She received a round of applause and a standing ovation for being 714 days sober and achieving 162 negative drug tests.

Starting a drug court was one of Poynter’s priorities when he ran for judge in 2012. A Leadership Jackson County project team took on the task of researching drug courts and submitted their findings to Poynter.

With a push by J.L. Brewer and Missy Cox with Jackson Jennings Community Corrections, drug court started in May 2016.

Poynter said Phillips started out insecure and unsure of herself, but he saw her come to life and become confident.

“You light up the room, Dawn,” he said. “To see someone turn their life around not only for yourself but for your kids, your family … because of your sobriety, you’ve given them a much better future than they ever would have had had you not chosen the right path.”

After presenting her with a certificate, Poynter accepted the state’s motion to dismiss Phillips’ arrest charges. That drew even louder applause.

Dawn Goodman-Martin, Phillips’ addictions clinician at Adult & Child in Columbus, said the turning point was when Phillips started believing in herself and became a student of recovery.

“You always stayed humble, and you never thought you were bigger than drugs, bigger than recovery,” Goodman-Martin said to Phillips. “You trusted the very long and agonizing process and the people and treatment providers to get to this point.”

As an addictions clinician, she said it’s very rare to get the opportunity to see someone do what Phillips did.

“You came to me as a caterpillar, and you went to a cocoon to grow your wings, and now, you have emerged a beautiful butterfly,” she said. “It has been absolutely my privilege to walk you along the way. You are why I do the work that I do. … We’ve taught you what you need to learn. It is your time to go show this world what you’re made of.”

Turning to drugs

Depression after a family member’s death led to Phillips turning to drugs. Her sister, Deanna Mendez, was killed in a car wreck in 2004. Phillips was 11, and her sister was 16.

Phillips began smoking marijuana around age 12, and she also started drinking alcohol. The hard drugs didn’t come until a month after she turned 18. She did a shot of morphine and later started using meth.

Dealing with depression and stress, living on her own and working 16-hour shifts as a certified nursing assistant were a lot to handle.

“I just thought meth was the miracle drug that I needed,” she said. “It kept me happy. It kept me energized. I always knew that it affected me. I just don’t think that I cared because that was my go-to.”

More depression set in when her husband, Nate Phillips, died Dec. 16, 2012. They were involved in a high-speed chase, and Nate jumped out of the vehicle and wound up drowning.

Three days before, the couple found out they were going to have their first child, a girl.

“When my husband died, I had it in my head, ‘As soon as I’m done having this baby, I’m going to go back to (meth) because that’s the only way I’m ever going to feel better’ because that’s what I did before,” she said. “I was just so young. I was four and a half months pregnant with my oldest daughter when he died, and so I just shut down and I just gave up.”

Just too much

She had the baby in May 2013. Six weeks later, she was put on the antidepressant Zoloft, so she couldn’t breastfeed.

She said she gave up and went back to meth.

“At that moment, it was like my whole life was over,” she said. “It was all just too much, and at the time, I was just 21 years old. For me, I was just so young to already lose a husband and then have to raise this baby. I just don’t think I wanted to face it. I wasn’t ready to face it.”

In January 2016, Phillips did a 3-gram shot of meth that she said should have killed her. Fortunately, a friend helped keep her alive.

Three months later, she found out she was pregnant with her second child.

Then April 14, 2016, drugs were found during a home search involving her youngest daughter’s father, who was on house arrest. Phillips was sober at the time because she was pregnant, but she was arrested for maintaining a common nuisance, possession of a syringe, possession of paraphernalia and possession of marijuana.

A fellow inmate at the Jackson County Jail in Brownstown told her she could face as many as six years in jail, and Phillips worried she would have to give up her baby.

When she was able to talk to her mother, Dalia Fugate, her oldest daughter asked, “Mommy, when are you coming home?” Phillips said she lost it.

“I went and laid on my bunk and cried and I prayed,” she said.

After Phillips spent 22 days in jail, her mother bonded her out. While talking to her lawyer about a plea, she was given information about drug court.

Phillips went to Cox’s office in Seymour.

“I just saw it as an answered prayer because I could only stay sober long enough to be pregnant, but I needed something more, something that’s going to keep me accountable, something that’s going to help me work through the issues that led me into drug use and kept me in drug use,” Phillips said.

A way out

When Phillips began drug court Aug. 26, 2016, she was the sixth participant.

To be eligible, an offender must have been arrested for committing a nonviolent felony offense or a probation violation while on probation for a nonviolent felony offense.

After the person meets with Cox, the coordinator of the program, she and the other members of the drug court team determine whether or not to accept them.

If they are accepted, they meet with a treatment provider to outline their treatment. The next week, they attend their first drug court session.

Participants go to drug court every week for the first two phases, every other week in the third and fourth phases and once a month in Phase 5.

Participants call an automated drug line every morning to see if they have to go to Cox’s office to take a drug test. There’s a minimum of two drug tests per week. Positive tests are addressed at drug court.

Cox said of the 16 participants since the beginning of drug court, six have been terminated for different reasons. One made it 20 months before being terminated, and the others made it six months or less.

Each week also consists of meeting with Cox once, seeing a therapist once and attending Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous classes.

By Phase 3, pro-social activities also are considered. For example, Phillips was raising two children, going to church, taking college classes and working.

Extra support

In November 2017, Cox started a drug court support group. Phillips is the female lead, and there also is a male lead.

They meet weekly at First Presbyterian Church in Seymour. They also plan to do outings together.

“You’ve got to want it. You’ve got to have that support. You’ve got to have that love,” Phillips said. “It does take you to want it, but it also takes a family and friends to help you stay in it.”

Attendance is not mandatory, but it’s highly encouraged, Cox said.

“I don’t have to really make it mandatory because they all want to come, which tells me it is doing what it’s supposed to be doing,” she said.

Drug court takes a minimum of 18 months to complete. Then a person may have his or her criminal charge dismissed if the plea agreement calls for a dismissal.

Failure to complete the program results in the person being sentenced in accordance with the plea agreement he or she signed upon entry into the program.

For her family

Phillips said she not only did drug court for herself but also for her family that was affected by her seven years of drug use.

“I just want other families to know there is a program out there that they can get their family members in that actually works and people are succeeding because I see my mom now, and she’s just so proud,” she said. “It’s amazing that you don’t have to have your mom worrying every single day, ‘Is this the day I’m going to bury another daughter?'”

Fugate said she had a lot of sleepless nights when her daughter was addicted to drugs.

Once Phillips started drug court, though, Fugate said she started to see positive changes.

“It was a blessing in disguise, and it’s an answered prayer,” Fugate said. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope, and this program is it.”

Fugate said drug addicts need programs like drug court to make their lives better and give them a future, she said.

“This program deserves the support because it works, and we need it,” she said. “It’s not a want. It’s a need.”

Hearing the positive comments about her daughter at graduation made Fugate proud.

“I told her, ‘This is a chapter in your life. It’s graduation. It’s very, very important because that is your past. This is your future and what you’re going to do with it. You’re going to move on, and you’re going to do great things,'” Fugate said. “I’m very grateful to Judge Poynter and all of the team.”

Cox said Phillips went from lacking confidence to being a role model for the other participants.

“She has made my job easy for the last 18 months because she has worked the program really hard, and she has worked it the way it’s designed for the participants to work,” Cox said.

Now, Phillips is focused on raising her 1- and 4-year-old daughters, working at Sonic Drive-In and attending church. She and her fiance recently bought a house in Crothersville, and she has her own car after not having her license for seven years.

Phillips had taken three semesters of classes at Ivy Tech Community College in hopes of becoming an electrical engineer, but she’s now thinking of switching majors to recovery or addiction therapy.

She will continue to see Goodman-Martin once a month, lead the weekly drug court support group and promote drug court because it changed her life.

“It has changed a girl that used drugs nonstop pretty much for seven years to somebody that you couldn’t pay enough money to want to go out there and use again because it’s just not even worth it,” she said.

“It showed me a better way of life and that you can be happy without drugs,” she said. “There are more things out there than just letting depression or loss get that grip on you. You’ve just got to know how to walk away from it and turn it around. This program has just changed my life, and it has given me a routine. … It has given me the tools I needed to be who I knew I could be.”

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What are the benefits of drug court?

Provide a fully integrated and comprehensive treatment program.

Provide graduated levels of sanctions for defendants who are not in compliance with the program.

Facilitate the acquisition or enhancement of academic, vocational and pro-social skills.

Reduce incarceration for defendants with serious substance abuse issues.

Reduce criminal justice costs over the long run by reducing drug addiction and street crime.


A defendant must be 18 or older, a resident of Jackson County and substance dependent, admit he or she has a problem and demonstrate a willingness to change.


Phase 1 lasts about 60 days. Phase 2 lasts about 15 weeks. Phases 3, 4 and 5 each last about 12 weeks.

Overall completion and graduation will take a participant a minimum of 18 months.

The mere passage of time alone does not guarantee completion of a phase.

Treatment plan

Treatment for alcohol and/or drug dependency is one of the primary objectives of the program.

Each participant will be expected to actively participate in an extensive drug treatment plan, which will include group therapy, individual therapy and self-help meetings.

Active participation in the treatment plan is essential for successful completion of the program.

Each participant will be expected to participate in a minimum amount of treatment sessions as outlined above in the description of the program phases.

Jackson Circuit Judge Richard W. Poynter is adding drug court to his docket.

Missy Cox, who works for Jackson-Jennings Community Corrections, is the coordinator of the program.

Drug court team

Richard W. Poynter, Jackson Circuit Court judge

Missy Cox, coordinator/case manager

Alan Marshall, public defender

AmyMarie Travis and Scott Noth, prosecuting attorneys

Carrie Tormoehlen, probation officer

Lt. John Watson, Seymour Police Department

Kris Small, Lori Kooiman and Brittany Drawbaugh, Centerstone

Dawn Goodman-Martin, Adult & Child


Call 812-271-1400 or email [email protected].

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“It has changed a girl that used drugs nonstop pretty much for seven years to somebody that you couldn’t pay enough money to want to go out there and use again because it’s just not even worth it.”

Dawn-Angel Phillips of Crothersville on the Jackson County Drug Court program


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