Local judges Street, Rice win statewide recovery court award
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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — If you want to know why First Judicial District judges Lisa Rice and Stacy Street deserved a statewide award for their work with Recovery Drug Courts, just talk to Chris Hagy.

“The tools and the support and to be honest, the love that I was shown there is what really changed my life,” Hagy, the First District Felony Recovery Court’s first participant and graduate said Friday, nearly seven years after he started the program.

Recovery court allows non-violent offenders whose crimes are influenced by substance abuse to complete a five-phase program, in lieu of serving a jail sentence, that is aimed at helping them recover. Today, more than five years after graduating, Hagy is a tech at an oil change center living a life far different than he might have without the recovery court opportunity.

Chris Hagy, the First Judicial District’s first felony recovery court graduate (2018) now volunteers with the program regularly. (Photo: WJHL)

“I would probably be in prison or dead,” Hagy said. “The care and the love that has been shown by the recovery court program and the judges, especially Judge Rice and Judge Street, they have really amazed me with how far they go to help the participants.”

Thursday, Rice and Street jointly received the 2023 Judges Making A Difference Award (Criminal Court level) from the Tennessee Association of Recovery Court Professionals (TARCP), just months after the opening of a residential recovery center they helped spearhead. The award is now named in honor of longtime Nashville Judge Seth Norman, who started the state’s first recovery courts and died in September at the age of 89.

Judge Kenneth Bailey and members of the Greene County Recovery Court received this year’s General Sessions Court level award.

“It’s his vision, his drive, his determination, his refusal to take no for an answer that started all of this,” Rice said of Norman during an acceptance speech Thursday.

Rachel Roden of Families Free is the program manager for the First District’s recovery courts, which now include a residential facility in Carter County that serves people across nine Northeast Tennessee counties. She nominated Rice and Street jointly for the award in the same year that a vision of theirs — to start a residential recovery court — came to fruition.

“I was very excited because it’s well deserved,” Roden said of hearing the pair had won.

“They’ve done a lot of hard work from the beginning, from developing the felony court to where it is now and then gaining the support for the residential.”

Judge Lisa Rice, right, at a recovery court graduation. (Families Free)

After Rice lauded the late Judge Norman and her Second District counterpart Judge Jim Goodwin, Street took the podium and said any successful recovery court is a team effort.

“Everything we’ve done has been because of the team and the work that we put in each and every week,” Street said. “It’s not easy. It’s not fun. But it’s so important and … it saves lives.

“There’s no better tool that we have, no more urgent need that we have.”

Roden said 36 people are currently participating in the Felony Recovery Court, which is for people who would be serving at least a two-year sentence otherwise. Those who succeed — often with some setbacks — usually take 18 to 24 months to graduate.

Second Judicial District Judge Jim Goodwin started the region’s first recovery court and helped guide Street and Rice when they started the First District felony court.

Rice said Goodwin also traveled the region drumming up support for the residential court, which opened in Roan Mountain this year and has seven participants.

“He really should be getting this award as well,” Rice said.

Grace and grit

Roden told people at the TARCP annual meeting the judges embodied the theme the court has used for its last several graduations: Grace and Grit.

“Not only do they give grace to every participant that’s in the program, they give the grit when needed,” Roden said.

Judge Stacy Street at a recovery court graduation. (Families Free)

Hagy, who now volunteers at recovery court and was recently certified as a peer recovery specialist, said the judges applied the right amount of both qualities when he was in the program.

“Not everybody is ready, and until they’re ready, they’re not going to get it,” he said. “I wasn’t ready for a long time, and by the grace of God and the recovery court team, they put up with me long enough until I was ready.”

For his part, Hagy sees that grit in the personal time both judges invest in the program.

“They donate a lot of their time to actually learn about the disease of the addiction, how these recovery courts are working across the country and how to best serve their participants,” he said.

“They’re not just career invested in it, they are emotionally and personally invested in the success of each individual. They don’t do it because they’re coming up for election. They really believe in this program.”

Street, who said he was surprised and grateful to receive the award, told News Channel 11 it was Rice who initially encouraged him to approach Goodwin about starting a felony recovery court. A misdemeanor court in the First District, similar to the one Bailey won this year’s award for, is operated out of Judge Jonathan Minga’s court.

While both were quick to deflect praise at Thursday’s awards, Families Free Executive Director Lisa Tipton couldn’t say enough about them.

“Each of these judges bring such integrity to the bench, and each of you exemplify what it really means to live justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God,” Tipton said.

“You seek to bring justice to our area, you bring grace, you bring truth, and your heart and your vision for what Recovery Court could be and also what for what the Residential Recovery Court could be has really created a movement in Northeast Tennessee.”

That men’s facility in Roan Mountain has a capacity of 85. A women’s residential facility recently opened in Johnson City with a capacity of 12.

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