Michael Clancy is living proof you can turn your life around and save another life in the process.
Broward Circuit Judge Michele Towbin-Singer says it's also proof that the county's Drug Court Program works.
"This is not about getting through the program and staying clean; you have to change your life," she said. "I will not graduate someone unless I feel they've changed their life."
Clancy, 40, is a Drug Court graduate. He was one of four men who lifted an overturned car, half-submerged in muck, to free Phenise Louis, 27, who flipped her 1999 Honda Prelude into a ditch beside Interstate 95 in Fort Lauderdale on Labor Day last year.
Two years earlier, Clancy had been arrested on charges of cocaine possession. The arrest was his 21st since 1993 and his 12th on drug-related charges, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records.
"After being in the state prison system several times for drug-related crimes, nothing serious or violent, I just got sick and tired of being sick and tired," he said.
He was a prime candidate for Broward County's Post-Adjudicatory Drug Court Program, which honored him and graduated more than 175 others at the main Broward courthouse Thursday.
"I have a family today for being clean and sober," Clancy said. "It's better to wake up next to my wife than a screaming guard and have to scream out your prison identification number during roll call."
Drug Court is a state-funded program designed to give nonviolent offenders with a history of drug problems the option of intensive substance abuse treatment lasting nine months on average.
The goal is to help offenders become drug-free, productive citizens and save the state and county the significant cost of incarceration.
It costs an average of $3,000 per Drug Court participant compared with the $15,300 annual cost of keeping a man in prison or the $25,400 for a woman, according to the state's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability.
"I think Drug Court appeals to people throughout the political spectrum because whether you want to help people change their lives around or whether you want to save money and lower recidivism, Drug Court is the answer," Towbin-Singer said.
Drug Court participants must stay clean for a year and take part in counseling, treatment, rehabilitation, acupuncture and random urine testing. Completing Drug Court enables a person to avoid a conviction and a prison term, or, if already convicted, successfully complete probation.
Pre-Trial Drug Court, for first offenders, has graduated 11,826 people since it began in 1994. Post-Adjudicatory Drug Court, for those with prison records, has graduated 317 — including Clancy — since its inception in 2009, said Drug Court manager Gary Hilko.
"The national [success] rate is between 40 and 50 percent but we've been in the 80 percent range for 20 years," he said. There are thousands of drug courts across the country, but when Broward's began, it was one of only three nationwide.
On that fateful Labor Day, Clancy, Brian Moody, Lawrence Rand and Gabino Vargas jumped from their cars and teamed up to pull Louis from her overturned Honda. Clancy says that's the real reward.
"People can change, including people that have been to prison a few times," he said. "I just thank God for the opportunity to help that lady."
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