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Still has a long way to go

Drug Court is just part of Shawn Phillips’ journey

  • Michael Shawn Phillips talks about his journey through Anderson County Drug Court while Drug Court Coordinator Winnie Gadd looks on. Phillips said the chart behind him was instrumental in helping him turn his life around. - Ken Leinart

  • From left: Judge Ryan Spitzer, Michael Shawn Phillips, Winnie Gadd and Judge Don Elledge. - Ken Leinart

It’s not an easy road to travel.

But that’s what they have to do — the graduates of Anderson County Drug Court.

They take a journey from addiction to recovery, from a wasted life to a life with new purpose.

Ask Michael Shawn Phillips. He graduated from Drug Court Thursday, July 28, in a ceremony in Anderson County Criminal Court — the first such ceremony Drug Court has been able to hold in two years thanks to COVID-19 regulations and restrictions.

Participants of Anderson County Drug Court may feel like they have to make that journey alone, but they don’t.

There are literally hundreds of people taking that journey with them, helping them when there are bumps in the road or there are forks in the road.

“There is an endless amount of people who cared,” Phillips said at his ceremony Thursday evening.

That, he said, was a surprise to him — that so many people actually wanted to help him, so many people actually cared.

Drug Court is not easy. It’s not a “get out of jail fee” card. It takes hard work and it takes commitment.

Because of that it takes people to help you.

Phillips said he’s been on both sides of the system. He worked dispatch for emergency services, he was Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) officer.

Then he hurt his back and pain pills became his life.

“It took me eight to 10 years to lose everything,” he said.

His addiction started to control his life. And finally, he said, he turned from the legal side of society to the illegal.

“I use the term, ‘Hell in a handbasket in a hurry,’” he said.

But, he said, pointing to a posting behind him featuring the “blocks” of successfully completing Drug Court, he found his path on the road to recovery.

And it wasn’t an easy path.

“Take away one block from this program … You take away just one, and I crumble,” Phillips said.

Drug Court Coordinator Winnie Gadd said Phillips’ journey almost didn’t start.

He was one of the last persons she would be able to talk to at the Anderson County Detention Facility before it was forced to lockdown due to the pandemic.

“Shawn came in and he was talking,” Gadd said. “Shawn likes to talk. Then he said he wanted to get out of jail.

“And I thought, ‘Oh, this isn’t going to happen. All he wants is out of jail.’”

But Phillips wanted more than that, but he said he had a process to go through before he realized it.

“I thought, ‘I got this,’” he said. “I didn’t.

“I needed to be humbled.”

Retired Judge Don Elledge, who started the Anderson County Drug Court in 2007, did just that.

One of the things Elledge did was make Phillips write his own obituary — two obituaries actually. The first if his death was caused by his addiction, the second if his death was from natural causes after living a “clean” life.

Phillips said that was an eye opener for him.

“With the help of others my life has turned a complete 180,” he said.

Gadd said one thing Phillips did was he started looking at himself while doing his journal. Every participant in Drug Court has to write a journal about their road to recovery.

Gadd said Phillips started writing about things he was realizing about his life.

“It wasn’t just, “I got up, had eggs for breakfast. Had lunch …,” she said.

Phillips received his certificate. He received his journals (he wrote two), he received his “golden cup,” for not failing a single drug test during his journey.

And he received a word of advice.

“Your journey is just starting,” Elledge said. “There’s a long road ahead of you.”