Drug court coordinator focuses on recovery, not solely sobriety
“There comes a point in time when life is about more than success and money,” said Consuelo Walley, coordinator of Jones County Drug Court. “If I can help someone change their life, give them the tools, then I have an obligation to do that.”
It took Walley nearly 20 years to find her current career path. Her title as coordinator doesn’t fully convey the breadth of her responsibility; she’s a teacher, a counselor, a confidant and a friend to many. She began her work as head of the drug court in the last week of July 2018.
She’d been traveling the road to this point since 1999 when she became a licensed attorney. She stopped practicing full time in 2009 as she made a shift to education.
Walley took charge of the paralegal program at Antonelli College.
“I could teach but still be involved in law,” she said. “Now that I look back, I kind of really see that it was all part of the plan to get me where I am now. It set me up to teach recovery participants at Dying to Live.”
Dying to Live Ministries at Christ’s Church of Laurel is focused on addiction recovery. A woman of deep faith, Walley became involved with the program when she and her husband intervened in a family member’s rising addiction. As the couple learned more about addiction and Dying to Live’s work in the community, they felt a call to action and volunteered.
“I learned to have grace for people I did not have grace for before,” Walley said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from — addiction knows no boundaries. People suffering from addiction come from all walks of life.”
The face of addiction, she said, has changed. Co-workers, fathers, mothers, neighbors — anyone is susceptible to the disease.
“People can struggle with addiction and still be ‘functional,’” Walley said. “You never realize it. People have got to drop this idea of what an addict looks like. People are struggling out there. If we don’t change the way we perceive addiction, people are going to continue to die.”
This idea is one of Walley’s greatest motivators — that if the community can change its perception of what addiction is, the support net can be greater. Awareness mitigates risk. In 2018, Walley met Judge Dal Williamson by chance at a wedding. They had a 15-minute conversation about Jones County’s drug court, which needed a new coordinator.
“About two weeks later, he called me to say he couldn’t get our conversation off his mind,” Walley said. “He said, ‘You have a background in law, you have a heart for people who struggle with addiction and I think you can be that balance I’m looking for.’”
It was a convergence of roads, something Walley attributes to God’s intent. She consulted with her pastors at Christ’s Church, unsure if she wanted to leave Dying to Live. They told her to take the job.
“God had given me an opportunity to have a larger platform,” Walley said. “I saw it as an opportunity to change the way the justice system views addiction and have a greater impact.”
A year and a half later, Walley has become known at drug court as the Hurricane. If nothing else, it implies the force with which she tackles the disease of addiction.
“I think if you sat down and talked to (drug court participants), even though they’re joking and calling me that, at the end of the day they know I’ll stand with them,” she said. “I’ll support them. In all of our exit interviews, I tell them that just because you’re graduating doesn’t mean you don’t have us as a team.”
Drug court, for many, is the watermark for a new start. It’s the wall that separates old habits and recovery. Indeed, sobriety is not necessarily the priority in drug court, according to Walley—it’s a mental, emotional and spiritual recovery that will sustain sobriety. Drug court then becomes a personal path.
“We look at each individual and help with short-term and long-term goals,” Walley said. “They’ve never had anyone ask them, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’ They’ve never dreamed. If you’d never gotten lost in addiction, what would’ve been your dream?”
“Most people coming into this program, they’re trying to regain custody of their kids, and they’re trying to be better overall,” said case manager Kenyada Smith. “Those classes help them become productive parents coming out of addiction.”
Smith, a witness to drug court’s success for the last year, said Walley’s personalized teaching is preventative.
“Everyone thinks recovery is just about drugs, but it extends to issues you deal with in your life,” she said. “Those classes helped them deal with those problems in their lives so they don’t fall back to drugs.”
During graduation on Oct. 22, numerous participants thanked Walley for her tough-love approach to teaching.
“Thank you, Mrs. Consuelo, I deserved all of that,” said T.J. Merrill, joking about Walley’s stern methods.
This year, Walley plans to focus on writing grants for funding treatment. She also wants to educate the community.
“A lot of people in Jones don’t understand what drug court is,” she said. “There’s a huge difference between sobriety and recovery. Anybody can be sober for three years if they’re being held accountable.”
The next drug court graduation is set for March. The public is welcome to attend.