A year after it began, Anne Arundel County's juvenile drug court presented its first three graduates this week as proof that the program is working.
The court's first graduation, held Monday in Circuit Court, featured little of the pomp and circumstance of a more traditional ceremony, but its three young participants beamed as if they were being handed college diplomas.
Patrick Dixon, 18, stood up to thank the court before Judge Pamela L. North stepped off the bench to shake his hand.
"I couldn't have done it without y'all," the Glen Burnie teen-ager said.
His father, Miles Dixon Jr., proudly patted his son on the back and said, "Thanks for supporting Patrick."
The program is an intensive blend of court-supervised drug treatment and community service that the juvenile offenders and their families must agree to complete.
The program includes 24 boys and one girl. About half faced drug charges. The others were charged with crimes such as theft but were found to have underlying drug problems, said John D. Fullmer, drug court coordinator. No one charged with a violent crime may be admitted.
Major goals for the participants include maintaining daily attendance at school, remaining drug- and alcohol-free and attending counseling sessions. The juveniles also make biweekly court appearances before North.
"We treat the whole child," North said. "I'm very encouraged by the transformations I see. It's almost like magic."
Anne Arundel joined Baltimore, Talbot and Harford counties when it secured federal grant money in 2001 to begin a drug court. Baltimore County started its juvenile drug court yesterday.
Graduation attendees, including first lady Kendel Ehrlich, State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee and numerous state and county representatives, applauded enthusiastically after North recapped the changes three young men had undergone in the previous year.
Dixon, who had been clean 295 days, is on track to graduate this year from Glen Burnie High School.
The judge described him as bright and articulate, and encouraged him to pursue his dreams of acting.
Before the ceremony, Dixon compared the drug court experience to the military. Asked whether he enjoyed it, he shook his head.
"It was more like something you had to do," he said.
His father said he hoped Dixon would pass along to some of his friends the lessons he learned.
Two other graduates, who asked that their last names not be used, reported transformations similar to Dixon's.
Nicholas, 18, had been clean for 416 days, obtained his GED and enrolled in community college -- all the while working one or more jobs and volunteering with the Department of Natural Resources. North said he could be held up as a model for the program's success.
Matthew, 14, "made the most substantial change," North said, comparing his progress to a miracle.
He came in as an angry, disrespectful youth, she said, and now his mother calls him "an absolute joy to be around."
North said drug court officials will probably check the progress of the three graduates every six months.
The judge said she has a personal interest in seeing that each of the graduates succeeds.