Addiction epidemic is personal for East TN judge
When Mallie Moore, 27, first appeared in Judge Duane Slone's courtroom, she didn't like him very much.
Little did she know then, he would change her life.
About three years ago, he sentenced her to jail time for felony drug charges. But after about five months behind bars, he recommended she enter a new halfway house with intensive inpatient therapy. Deputies drove her to the cabin in rural White Pine. She was nine months pregnant.
"I remember pulling in the driveway and thinking that we were at the wrong address because I'd never been in such a beautiful home, let alone lived there," Mallie said.
Today, Mallie is not only drug-free, she also has her own place and custody of her children. Mallie also works at the halfway house where she found sobriety as the house mother.
"I feel more at home here than I have anywhere, even as a child," Mallie said, "He (Judge Slone) goes any length that he can to get you help."
Slone started the recovery center where Mallie found hope in 2013 when a generous community member offered a cabin and 18 acres of land for 60 percent of its value.
Slone and his Drug Recovery Court team were tired of seeing people relapse because of lack of treatment options in their rural district. They place priority of addicted pregnant women.
"I took the bench in 1998. There was maybe one or two female inmates in our Jefferson County Jail at the time. Now I think it's around 50-60, maybe more. Every one of the 50-60 that are there are there because of an addiction issue," Slone said.
The halfway house currently houses six women and offers outpatient therapy to men as well. They are hoping to double in size in the near future.
Slone believes his role is not just about punishment, it's also about healing.
During one of his Drug Recovery Court sessions, you will often hear him sounding more like a parent, therapist or cheerleader than a judge.
"I'm very proud of you. I know your family is. Keep up the good work," he told a man convicted of drug charges who had continued to follow his probation and stay sober.
"They know I know their story. If their grandmother's sick, I know that. If they're child is doing well in school, I know that. If there are struggles that they're having, I know that and we talk about it," Slone said.
He recognizes that abuse and mental illness are a major part of addiction.
Mallie Moore has completely changed her life and she's also changed her opinion of Judge Slone.
"He has a big heart," she said.
She is one of dozens of people in the court system and the community impacted by his efforts, but there's one life he's perhaps changed the most. Five years ago, Sloan and his wife adopted their son Joseph from a woman who abused drugs during her pregnancy.
Joseph spent the first 52 days of his life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit being weaned off the drugs.
For Slone, the addiction epidemic is personal. He makes it his life's work to bring it to an end.