Shelby County Drug Court Celebrates 20 years

February 3, 2017

From The Commercial Appeal

Bryan Owens committed his first crime when he was 12. He did it for the love of his life: drugs.

"I was smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol," Owens says. "My birth father got me high when I was 6."

By the time he was an adult, Owens was using pharmaceutical opioids and, eventually, heroin — the end game for many opioid addicts. That's when he stole the lawnmower.

"I stole it because I knew I could get rid of it quickly," Owens recalls now.

Little did he know at the time, but that's when his life would begin turning. Police were conducting an undercover sting operation in the neighborhood when he stole the mower, and they caught him. He didn't have drugs on him, but he did have drug paraphernalia. He was 32 at the time.

"I stayed in jail three days, and then they (police) came and got me," Owens says. "They had a secret indictment on me where I had sold (drugs) to an undercover officer."

Like other drug cases, Owens' case filtered through Division 8, Judge Tim Dwyer's drug court. It was a chance to get clean of drugs and clear of the criminal charges hanging over him.

"I wasn't eligible for drug court at first because I looked like a dealer," Owens is able to say now with a slight laugh. "Luckily, I had an amazing public defender, and he petitioned to keep me in drug court. They finally accepted me. I didn't go in because I wanted to get clean — I wanted to stay out of jail."

Whatever the motivation, Owens had found a path that would eventually change his life. Today, he's a certified peer recovery specialist in the Shelby County Drug Court. That means he helps others going through the court and into recovery. Owens just started working on a Master's Degree in social work at the University of Memphis, has a house in Arlington and became engaged over Christmas to his girlfriend of five years.

The biggest achievement? He's getting temporary custody of his 13-year-old son, Josef Owens.

It doesn't always end as well as it has for Owens, but his is the kind of success story Shelby County Drug Court likes to celebrate. And celebrate is what staff, graduates and supporters did Wednesday afternoon as they filled the auditorium at 201 Poplar to join Dwyer in marking the program's 20th anniversary.

See the story.

Judge Tim Dwyer, seated with wife Belynda and son Conor, 9, is moved by the speeches given by drug court graduates during an event celebrating 20 years of service by Shelby County Drug Court held in the auditorium of the Criminal Justice Center. (Photo: Nikki Boertman/The Commercial Appeal)

Judge Tim Dwyer keeps on his bench an early 1990s photo of him with his 12-year-old cousin, Thomas Dwyer, who along with two teenage friends was killed by a drunk driver in 1993. (Photo: The Commercial Appeal file photo)