Pamela McCaffrey had a simple message recently for a group of students sitting in Blount County General Sessions Court.
“If you don’t drink or use drugs, I strongly urge and pray you don’t start,” she said. “Addiction is a disease that will kill you.”
McCaffrey was speaking to students from Maryville, Alcoa, William Blount and Heritage high schools. The students got the opportunity to see Blount County government from all sides recently - from the executive branch to the law and order side - as part of the annual Government Day activities. The event is organized by the Blount County Office of Veteran’s Affairs.
The students visited the different offices at the Blount County Courthouse, chatted with Mayor Jerry Cunningham and County Clerk Roy Crawford Jr., toured the Blount County Jail and Justice Center and sat in for part of General Sessions Judge Bill Brewer’s afternoon docket.
McCaffrey said her appearance in Judge Brewer’s court room on this day was voluntary and as the judge’s guest speaker. There was a time, however, when she said she dreaded going in front of Brewer.
“Judge Brewer put me in jail 19 of the 27 times I was brought before him in six years,” McCaffrey told the students. “The first time I met him, the charge was driving on a suspended license. There were other charges and things got worse until I realized I had a problem,” McCaffrey said.
But on this day, Brewer stopped court and asked McCaffrey to address the students and everyone else in the packed courtroom on the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. McCaffrey said she was an “A” student in high school and even earned a scholarship to Boston University, but because she also started drinking and doing drugs in high school, one bad decision led to another. Before she could start her college career, she became pregnant and then married, but bad habits continued. “I had a lot of opportunities, but the one constant was drugs,” she said.
McCaffrey said her husband eventually left her and she moved on to using cocaine. “I became everything I hated. In July of 2007, I ended up at Blount Memorial Hospital. The drugs I had taken put me in a coma for 12 days,” she said.
McCaffrey said Brewer helped her get the help she needed to start a new life. “Today, by God’s grace, I’ve been free from this addiction for 32 months,” she said.
The students said the day, from the morning visit at the courthouse to the tour of the Justice Center and Jail, gave them a glimpse of how government works and how life is different for those who don’t abide by the law.
Collin Lawrence, 16, a Maryville High School sophomore, said it was interesting to see the difference between how jail life really is and how it is glorified on television.
Catherine Eishhorn, 17, a junior from Maryville High School also enjoyed the field trip. “I really liked touring the jail and Justice Center,” she said. “I’ve never been to this place.”
Lane Bloom, 15, a freshman from William Blount High School, enjoyed Brewer’s court. “I liked being in the courtroom and seeing how everything goes through and what they deal with,” Bloom said. “I think Blount County has a well-structured government and everything is working well.”
Elisabeth Eckles, 17, Heritage High School, said it was fun to see what actually happens at the courthouse and Justice Center.
William Blount High School principal Steve Lafon said he has been participating in the program annually for the past five years. Each time students get the chance to see how government operates, and Lafon said each year, without fail, he learns something as well.
“Everytime I come, there are things I learn,” he said. “If I’m learning something at my age then they’ve got to be learning a lot.”