Greeting dozens of people as he walked into the El Paso County Combined Courts building, Daniel Hugill made a beeline toward Magistrate Daphne Burlingame, who'd preside over Tuesday's Drug Court graduation.
Hugill wanted to make sure his mug shot was in the PowerPoint presentation.
"Wait till you guys see this," Hugill bragged. "It's pretty bad," Burlingame agreed.
The mug shot showed a shaggy haired, meth user. There was also an after photo of a clean shaven, alert body builder. Hugill beamed as he lingered on the slide, hamming it up in front of the audience, "What do you guys think of that, huh?"
Hugill, a 33 year-old graduate and recovering addict, was the poster child of the Healthy Engaged and Living Sober (HEALS) Court, one of two programs taking part in Tuesday's Recovery Court graduation.
Hugill was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2014 for manufacturing and distributing meth, but the judge left his sentence open to reconsideration. After a year and a half in prison, Hugill became eligible for HEALS Court, one of two programs in the 4th Judicial District's Recovery Court.
The programs offer deferred sentences to "high need and high risk" eligible participants, says Burlingame. The deferred sentences allow them the chance to participate in HEALS or the Adult Criminal Drug Court (ACDC), structured programs with stringent community service, therapy, work, and addiction treatment requirements. Participants also must pay court costs and restitution.
The programs boast high graduation rates and low recidivism. Recovery Court's graduation rate is 77 percent, program coordinator Robert Burrs said. For ACDC participants, 75 percent had no new criminal charges; for HEALS, it's 88 percent.
The programs are an alternative to incarceration, and upon successful completion, graduates no longer have to serve their sentences. And, in some cases, Class 4 felony drug charges can be converted to misdemeanors.
Six of Tuesday's graduates had felonies converted to misdemeanors. Graduates of the Recovery Court can also petition to have their records sealed. Hugill will be one of them, he says.
Now a recovery coach and fitness instructor with The Phoenix, an alternative to an Alcoholics Anonymous style program focused on active living and fitness, Hugill says he'd still be in prison without HEALS court.
He credits the program with helping him to succeed in foundational steps of his recovery.
"It's hard when you're in early recovery to go to somebody ... it's hard to go and tell them, 'Hey, I'm better now.' You have to show them. And what this does, is it provides a lot of stepping stones to be able to show that," said Hugill.
More than 300 people attended Tuesday's graduation - 170 of them Recovery Court participants. Attendance is mandatory for those in earlier phases of the programs. The rest were friends and family members.
Most graduates have been in either ACDC or HEALS Court for at least two years, sometimes more, as they journey toward long-term recovery under intense court supervision. Jacob Layne Johnson, a 40 year-old graduate of ACDC, had been using for more than 20 years and had accumulated several felonies before he was 18.
Johnson says these programs are different from probation and parole. "They don't just lock you up and throw away the key," he said. "They're more personal with you, they treat you like a person instead of a piece of property."
Johnson is a homeowner now and runs his own towing company.
Jemel Billington, a 36 year-old graduate of HEALS Court, said coming into the Recovery Court felt different. "It's like when you come home from a long trip and you're just like, glad to be there," said Billington. He knew things were different when he observed the program as a still incarcerated candidate, "I looked around the room and I saw people that are doing great, having success stories, and things coming to them in life. I just felt like I was home," said Billington.