HAYS — Thursday’s graduation day lacked caps and gowns and was a little less formal than traditional pomp and circumstance, but it was no less joyous for the participants who filled the third-floor courtroom in the Ellis County Court House.

The six who graduated were among the first to be sentenced 15 months ago to Drug Court and complete its five phases that aim to treat the offenders’ drug problem and give them the tools to not return to their former habits.

Drug Court, while a part of an offender’s sentence with strict requirements, is often informal in its proceedings when it meets every two weeks in the second-floor courtroom of 23rd Judicial District Chief Judge Glenn Braun. He likens Drug Court to more of a conversation between him and each individual, where they share their ups and downs in their lives.

Braun opened Thursday’s graduation by saying it would be a bit more formal than normal due to its location in the larger third-floor courtroom of District Judge Blake Bittel, but any decorum ended as Braun called the first member of the six to the floor.

“When we were planning this, I had some hesitation about this part, especially when they said we were going to go in alphabetical order. Mark, the floor is yours,” he said to Mark Bryant.

Bryant promptly stepped in front of the bench, raised his arms and screamed “Whooooo!” getting laughs and applause from the more than 150 people gathered for the event. The crowd included family and friends of the graduates, the Drug Court team and other court officials, law enforcement, and — perhaps most importantly — the other 29 Drug Court participants, including some brand new to the program.

“It’s exciting for them to see this and hopefully get some motivation to keep doing a good job,” said Court Services Officer Teresa Greenwood, who is Drug Court coordinator.

Just as important were the people who were not there, Bryant said in his remarks.

“If you look around right now,” he said, addressing the others going through Drug Court, “all your usin’ buddies, quote-unquote friends, ain’t none of them here supporting you. But those of us here who have found recovery and sobriety, we’re all here to help.”

Ashlee Forde, who had been charged with possession of meth, said Drug Court was the best thing that had happened to her.

“It took me 15 months to realize it,” she said. “I will be a year clean Jan. 7. And that’s the first time I’ve been clean more than a year in almost 12 years.”

She thanked her corrections officer and her family for their support, and said she has the opportunity to get full-time custody of her children back in March.

The success of Drug Court is seen not just in the people, but also in the finances. The Ellis County Commission granted the program $30,000 in seed money in 2018.

“For every dollar invested, there’s $27 returned back,” Commission Chairman Dean Haselhorst said. “Instead of putting people in jail, we’re putting them back in the community. They’re getting jobs, bringing in tax money. They’re buying houses and different thing."