Drug felons graduate Cook County treatment program: EXCLUSIVE - Chicago News and Weather | FOX 32 News

Drug felons graduate Cook County treatment program: EXCLUSIVE

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

A special graduation ceremony was held Friday at the Criminal Courts building, where the graduates were all former drug users who had been in court for misdemeanor charges.

Instead of handing down sentences and locking people up, Judge Charles Burns gave out hugs to celebrate small victories.

"The rap program gave me a foundation to want to do something different in my life, so I am very grateful to judge Burns,"one graduate said.

It took a lot of effort, a lot of prayer, and a lot of tears, but Willie, along with a dozen others, graduated from drug court--Cook County's drug treatment program.

"You probably didn't want to go into the program and some of you probably said ‘I'd rather go into the penitentiary, judge,'" Judge Burns said.

"LA Mike" Richardson graduated from the program in the early 1990's. He was a cornerback on the ‘85 Chicago Bears Super Bowl team.

Richardson is a recovering addict and now he wants to help change the lives of others. In 2007, after one more hit, Richardson says he was standing in front of a judge and hit rock bottom when that judge sentenced him to 13 years in prison. He got out a short time later on appeal.

"The gates opened up. I got out and I remembered some of the stuff they were saying in those rooms and it helped save my life," Richardson says. "I remembered them telling me to get a sponsor."

State's attorneys, judges and probation officers all gave their time to make sure former drugs users succeed, instead of falling back on drugs or back behind bars.

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