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      Drug Court Turns Lives Around

      Edgar Villanueva of Edinburg admits that just a few years ago his life was headed nowhere.

      "I was just like these youths, doing the wrong things hanging around with the wrong people, my priorities weren't in line."

      Drugs were top on his list. They cost him his degree and a chance at a career after getting in trouble with the law and going to jail.

      "I was involved in drug use. I was caught with a controlled substance and I thought my life was over."

      That's when Edgar found his second chance.

      He's now a testament to the rehabilitation that's possible with the Hidalgo County Drug Court which began in 2004 for first-time and low-risk offenders as an alternative to incarceration.

      "I am now currently successful and I've been able to get a career that I'm actually proud of."

      He's watching on as successful members take part in the drug court graduation ceremony in District Judge Ricardo Rodriguez's court.

      Aaron Tanguma, a hopeful graduate of the program, says he's made a complete turn-around from where he was last year.

      "I went through a lot of depression, and mix drugs with depression and that's not a good combination and I got caught with a controlled substance as well."

      The 2009 Edcouch-Elsa High School graduate and football star is on his way to getting back where he should have been before drugs got in the way.

      "I've been in the program for about 14 months and these 14 months have been the months. I'm already going to finish at UTPA. I'm just an overall better person, that's what this program does - made me a better me."

      Judge Rodriguez closely monitors participants and meets with probation officers and case managers to follow their progress.

      Their cases are dismissed upon successful completion of the 18 month program like many in attendance today.

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