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Graduation ceremony signals a fresh start
Reporting Center participants ready to leave past lives of drugs, crimes
Crystal Buffington is congratulated Thursday by Dennis Shedd as she receives her certificate for completing rehabilitation at the Gainesville Day Reporting Center during a graduation ceremony at Montgomery Memorial Baptist Church.

Crystal Buffington grew up with absentee parents, and she didn’t want the same for her children.

But when the 28-year-old single mother was arrested on a charge of selling crack cocaine, that nearly happened.

“I had to make a change for my kids, because if I didn’t, I would lose them forever,” Buffington said. “I didn’t want to end up like my mom, with my kids not knowing who I was.”

On Thursday, it was graduation day for Buffington and 29 other men and women who were ordered into an intensive, Gainesville-based program operated by the state Department of Corrections.

At a ceremony attended by family and friends at Gainesville’s Montgomery Memorial Baptist Church, members of the second class of graduates since the Gainesville Day Reporting Center opened in April 2008 were given their certificates as a symbol of the next phase of their lives.

They included people who had their probation revoked, or were brought to court on new drug charges, or were sentenced by a judge for some other reason. Some were ordered into the Day Reporting Center in lieu of jail time, while others come to it after completing their jail sentences.

Under the DRC program, as it is commonly referred to by participants, they were given the chance of cleaning up by reporting daily, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, at a state-operated facility that until two years ago housed the Gainesville Diversion Center.

They took classes on job and life skills and relapse prevention and got GED instruction. They also were required to go on job searches, submit to regular drug screenings, attend counseling and perform community service.

“I don’t have to tell you, this is not an easy program to complete,” said Hall County Magistrate Court Judge David Burroughs, who has ordered some of the participants into the program and served as commencement speaker Thursday. “There’s a saying that some people were born on second base and feel like they hit a double. I doubt that applies to any of you all. Many of you had significant obstacles to overcome.”

Angie Pitts, a participant graduating Thursday, said the program was “tough, but it gave me structure.”

“Every day I felt better, every day I was getting closer to being better than I was. I’m not as far as I wanted to be, but I’m better than I was.”

Next month Pitts takes her GED exam.

“I’ve been wanting to get my GED for 23 years,” she said. “I’m ready.”