COVINGTON — A total of eight Newton County former inmates were celebrated for their life-changing efforts and progressive steps into a better life Friday afternoon at the Newton County Courthouse.

Since the induction of the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) program in November 2018, the Newton County Sheriff’s Office, with the assistance of community facilitators, as been able to successfully host and graduate more than 25 former inmates from the program.

The RSAT program allows inmates the opportunity to be rehabilitated while incarcerated. The program teaches the men coping skills and gives them the tools required to succeed and to live as law-abiding citizens.

“We are proud of each and every one of you gentlemen — and most importantly as we move forward with this program, I must acknowledge that the judges, District Attorney’s Office, the Superior Court, our partners and staff are the reason why we are able to keep doing this,” said Sheriff Ezell Brown. “You are the ones who are behind the scenes and are the engine behind this entire operation.”

Newton is the third county in the metro Atlanta area to offer such a program. Gwinnett and Rockdale are the other two counties with RSAT programs. It is a collaboration of the Newton County District Attorney’s Office, the Superior Court judges and the Newton County Sheriff’s Office.

Special guest Douglas Tuller, of the Charles Christian Tuller House in Covington, spoke to graduates and guests about striving toward a better life.

After his brother Charles passed away in 1994, Douglas started to self-medicate in order to cope with the loss. After years of substance abuse, Tuller finally found sobriety and moved away to study at the University of Arizona. Unfortunately, after five years, he relapsed and took an innocent life as a drunk driver. Incarcerated in 2004, Tuller spent over 11 years trying to reshape and repurpose his life.

“Losing my brother when I was 18 years old really put me and my family in a disarray,” said Tuller. “I saw the agonizing pain that my parents experienced and it really hit me as well ... I was never a saint; using alcohol and drugs, but it took a different tone after my brother passed. And I had a really hard time accepting that what I was doing to myself was a problem. I made multiple attempts with treatment, but my concept of addiction paired with my self-will or stubbornness, defeated me. It came to the day I got black out drunk, got in my girlfriend’s car and got on the equivalent of 285 in Atlanta and caused a car accident that took a life.”

Tuller served time in Arizona State Penitentiary. “Because of the nature of my crime, I was serving with guys who committed first and second degree murders,” said Tuller. “It wasn’t a nice place ... Eventually I was offered a job helping inmates with the GED program. And this was my burning bush moment. Knowing that I could do this and keep myself and others moving forward really set me spiritually free.”

After 11 years and three months, Tuller moved back to Georgia and to Covington where his family opened the Tuller House in 2015.

“It’s not easy, but I promise you if you continue to do the work, life will get so much better,” concluded Tuller.

Each graduate was presented with a certificate and was invited to say a few words before concluding the ceremony.

Graduates include Javaris Bridges, David Ewing, Brady Huff, Terrance Davis, Mitchell Russell, Aaron Putril, Brian Herring and Rocky Gilee.

Each graduate thanked their mentors, Sheriff Brown and Officer Kimberly Eskew for their dedication to the program.

To learn more about the Tuller House, visit www.tullerhouse.org.