A legal lifeline for former addicts

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Justice in Motion: Members in Motion

July 2010, Volume 46, No. 7

A legal lifeline for former addicts 

If you’re a drug addict or an alcoholic in Atlanta and you wind up in a city-run detox center by court order, you’ll be sent to one of several treatment centers.

“And if you’re lucky, you get sent to Covenant Community,” said Nelson Tyrone III, an Atlanta lawyer who has volunteered at Covenant since 1999 and is now on its board of directors.

“Covenant is a remarkable program,” Tyrone explained. “They achieve three times the success rate of other treatment centers nationwide, based on the percentage of program graduates who are still sober after 12 months.”

Covenant Community is a 16-bed, long-term residential center that provides counseling, medical care, job training, and social support to men struggling with substance addiction. The program is free of charge; many residents have no jobs, no health insurance, and no homes. It is located on the grounds of All Saints Episcopal Church, which donates space to the community, although it is not a church-run program.

Tyrone, who was a criminal defense lawyer before turning to personal injury law, provides free legal services to any resident of Covenant, as long as the client remains sober. Tyrone estimates that he works with 12 to 15 clients each year, helping them with “unresolved legal issues hanging over their heads that they want to straighten out.”

The vast majority of these involve failures to appear for probation or in court. Other clients have child support or probationary fines to pay, or community service to complete.

“What we are really doing is ‘social-working’ their cases,” Tyrone said. “We want to keep them out of jail, which will only end putting them back on the streets and back in trouble. My goal is to get the judge to listen to my client’s side of the story.”

Tyrone said that working with Covenant “is the best thing I do as a lawyer.” The program holds two or three graduation ceremonies each year, and Tyrone attends as many as he can.

“It’s one of the most beautiful things I get to see,” he said. “At a place like Covenant, people don’t walk in—they’re carried in. And to see those same people with their lives totally turned around, with their families—it’s a miracle. It’s like someone who you thought was lost in a war, and now they’ve returned.”

The American Association for Justice
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