Cheers to Consistent Efforts for Great Rewards

By Matthew Estes, Communications Director

This is an opinion column.

Opelika, Ala. – The feeling of being in a college town – this writer’s alma matter, in fact – makes me think of the weight of an accomplishment like graduating. Yes, the Opelika Day Reporting Center Lite is in, well, Opelika, but realistically you could shout from the building’s parking lot and someone in Auburn could hear you. The Opelika DRC Lite commencement on Friday, June 16, perhaps more than any I’ve been to, truly felt like an academic graduation.

Perhaps it was the event taking place at the location where these participants had spent so much of their time learning and developing. Although we appreciate our community partners for graciously allowing us to use their buildings, holding this commencement at the DRC Lite itself was a great call. Friends and family in the audience could connect the dots between the location and the graduate to see the program was professional. The audience was proud to watch their loved one walk up and receive their well-deserved certificate. There were even inappropriately timed cheers and yelling from different sections of the crowd, just as expected from an academic graduation.

Graduations are a modern way of signifying a person has put lots of work into something, completed a difficult journey, and is taking a moment to revel in accomplishment. Often, DRC graduates have spent more time in the criminal justice system, be it behind bars or under the supervision of our officers, than anyone enrolled in a university. Therefore, DRC graduations are not to be taken lightly. While not technically an academic accomplishment, a participant is training their minds in an equally rigorous way. They’re teaching themselves to be better people – to ace life – and I’m quite sure Officer Robert Pritchett and the rest of the Opelika DRC Lite staff do not let these participants just coast by.

The speakers certainly weren’t shy about discussing the hard work needed on the other site of incarceration. Two graduates, Caleb Freeman and Shamika Bullard, spoke graciously about the difficult journey to this point. This was underlined by a moving speech from former NBA star turned Alabama House Representative Oliver Robinson, who served time in prison beginning in 2018. Thankfully, his speech was not 500 pages, despite faking out the audience with a ream of blank pages while walking on stage. He spoke candidly to the graduates about not taking their second chance for granted and putting in the work every day to keep their negative behavior where it belongs – in the past.

The big accomplishments in life are worth celebrating, whether earning a diploma, getting married, having a baby or buying a house. The list goes on; however, just as important is celebrating regaining something once lost. These graduates are celebrating the renewal of their freedom, which will have a lasting impact on their life moving forward. Even if not embarked upon by everyone, surely the successful completion of this journey belongs on the list of life’s biggest accomplishments.

DRCs provide counseling, educational training and supervision for probationers and parolees. With a focus on employment assistance, substance abuse treatment, mental health, and cognitive restructuring needs, DRC staff is committed to reducing recidivism rates and improving public safety through behavior change. Currently, full Day Reporting Centers are located in Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile, Montgomery, and Tuscaloosa. Day Reporting Center Lites, condensed versions of DRCs offering similar treatment, are located in Albertville, Bay Minette, Fort Payne, Opelika and Jasper.

The Opelika DRC Lite graduates with staff and community supporters.
Opelika DRC Lite graduates.
Oliver Robinson speaking.
Opelika DRC Lite Administrator Robert Pritchett speaking.
Opelika DRC Lite graduates.
Bureau Director Cam Ward speaking to the graduates.
Opelika DRC Lite graduate Shamika Bullard speaking.
Opelika DRC Lite graduate Caleb Freeman speaking.