This wasn’t your typical June graduation ceremony.
Despite the absence of mortarboards and gowns, Monday morning’s ceremony at the Bonneville County Courthouse was as important as any school commencement to those graduating from Bonneville County Young Adult Court.
The courtroom was full of friends and family members of the graduates. Current Young Adult Court participants also were in attendance. They were all smiles, the biggest belonging to 23-year-old Mitchell Gray.
“Just keep swimming,” Gray said to the group as he accepted his certificate from Magistrate Judge Steven Gardner.
Gray, of Idaho Falls, is the first felony graduate of the specialty court since the diversion program started in 2012. Gray said the program helped him kick his alcohol addiction. He is now has a steady job, is studying psychology at Idaho State University and is living a healthier, more focused life.
Known to many as YAC, the specialty court, is designed for impulsive 18- to 24-year-olds whose poor decision-making lands them in trouble with the law.
Gray was assigned to YAC on Feb. 28, 2013, after pleading guilty to aggravated driving under the influence. District Judge Dane Watkins Jr. placed Gray on four years of probation with an underlying prison sentence of two to six years.
Gray said the program changed his life completely.
“Before the program I was an extreme narcissist,” Gray said. “The program helped me get back on my feet and realize that I’m not better than everyone else.”
“He was at a point where he wasn’t doing anything with his life,” Gray’s father, Phillip Gray, said. “It took a series of bad things for him to finally get reined in and quit battling ‘the man.’”
Gray’s counselor, Amanda Jensen, said Gray wasn’t very open to the group at first.
“He wasn’t very accepting of himself,” Jensen said. “It took some time but he began to be very involved, even leading the group at times.”
Gray said he “slipped up” in February of this year, when he confessed, while taking a polygraph test, to drinking when he wasn’t supposed to.
“It was definitely a roller coaster,” Gray said. “They threatened to terminate me (from the program). Thankfully they didn’t.”
Jensen said after that, Gray changed his attitude and graduated with flying colors.
Jensen said the program is not only based on kicking drugs and alcohol, but also the negative things in participants’ lives.
“It’s an entire lifestyle change,” Jensen said. “If they don’t change their friends, their job and other things they could fall into the same habits.”
Jensen said the program also has a social aspect, teaching young adults how to be responsible members of the community. Gray completed 100 hours of community service before graduating.
“I feel like I can interact in society more,” Gray said.
Phillip Gray said his son is much easier to live with now.
“He picks up his share, does the laundry and mows the lawn,” Phillip Gray said.
“I don’t know if I’m a model citizen,” Gray said jokingly. “But at least now I’m a lot more easy-going.”