HAMPTON, Va. - Sheryl Marple is no stranger to sitting in a Hampton courtroom and staring at a judge.
"I had a bad heroin habit. I had no structure in my life, and I was very tired," stated Marple.
Three years ago, she was busted for drugs, facing hefty jail time.
"This looked like a way out for me. I was scared at first because I've never completed anything," said Marple.
That way out - Hampton Drug Court - was an alternative to sitting behind bars.
"Drug court is a win-win. You can't prosecute your way out of addiction. Addiction is far beyond just a sentence or punishment - these individuals need help to break that cycle," said Hampton Commonwealth's Attorney Anton Bell.
The 18-month long program presented to non-violent offenders is one of the most successful in the state of Virginia.
"We are producing individuals who are now productive in society. Their lives have changed, their family dynamics have now changed," said Bell.
The program teaches self-worth, structure, direction and accountability and uses therapy, court check-ins and screens to help break the cycle and get down to the root cause of addiction.
"It also reduces recidivism, thus saving taxpayer dollars," said Bell. "It costs $3,500 for a program participant versus $35,000 a year to house them in jail."
On Tuesday, Marple strutted into a Hampton courtroom with a smile on her face - this time, the handcuffs were off and it was time to celebrate.
"I am proud of myself. I feel like there is nothing I can't accomplish," said Marple.
Nine other people who struggled with addiction were by her side, staring out at a packed courtroom for their drug court graduation. They join the class of more than 100 graduates since 2003 who are on a new clean path to becoming productive members of society.
"Drugs are not worth it. There is help out there, and it's worth it to be on the other side," said Marple.
Coordinators of the program said participants must also hold a job or be a full-time student, have a savings account and join a church.