Brian proudly holds his diploma after completing the Mental Health Court program of the Conasauga Circuit
Mental Health Court Judge Scott Minter hugs the newest graduate of the program, Brian, as his family looks on
Recent graduate Brian (center) stands with members of the Mental Health Court team, including (from left) probation officer Hector Vazquez, public defenders William Moses and Latasha Heflin, Judge Scott Minter, Jennifer Farrar with the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office, Court Coordinator Angie Anderson, and Assistant District Attorney Geoff Bard
Since entering the Conasauga Circuit Mental Health Court program in February 2021, Brian has been an “exemplary” participant.
That’s the word from court officials after Brian became the sixth graduate of the program.
“It has been an honor to watch you grow and flourish,” program coordinator Angie Anderson said during a graduation ceremony held Sept. 22 at the Whitfield County Courthouse. “You have maintained stable employment at Shaw now for over one year. You went from working part-time to full-time employment. During this time, you also received several promotions. And you managed to save over $17,000!”
Brian plans to use that money to further his education at Dalton State College, where he will be pursuing a career in Information Technology and Software Development.
“I hope one day he will come back and help us start our own website!” Ms. Anderson said. “Brian is always quick to help other participants in need and serves as a role model for our newer participants.”
In a letter to Mental Health Court Judge Scott Minter, Brian said the program has allowed him to overcome mental health challenges.
“As time passed by, it became easier to deal with because I was able to learn more about my mental health disorder and how to do my part of using coping skills such as breathing, grounding techniques, and thought stop thinking techniques,” Brian explained. “My identity on the first day of Mental Health Court was a lost and hopeful man trying to pursue a better life for myself and for others around me.”
He expressed thanks to his treatment provider, Melissa Beavers, “that at my worst times, she was able to identify and direct me to stay at ease and to understand that everything is okay,” and Ms. Anderson, who “was what I needed a lot to be able to be successful in the program because of the disciplinary actions and thoughts to be able to move forward.”
He also thanked other participants who “made me feel in peace and welcomed to be in the program” as well as his family and the City of Refuge “that gave me an opportunity to live, gave moral support, and [helped me] to be able to volunteer or do community service.”
After completing the program, Brian says he is “definitely at a great time” in his life. “I’ve been able to save up lots of money, find a great job that has given me promotions, and make my dream come true to look forward to attend college again,” he said.
Until he entered the program, Brian says he had only one person he could talk to about his mental health. “The best thing about the MHC program was definitely being able to know and understand that I’m not alone in this world about my mental health conditions,” he said.
Offering a word of advice to the participants still going through the program, Brian said, “A message that I’d like to give to others is to listen and to cooperate with the people that actually care and love you for who you truly are.”
“It may seem unfair or challenging to understand why you should listen and follow directions,” he said, “but at the end of the day, you’ll be thankful for everything that all these people are doing for you.”
Ms. Anderson says Brian made it through the program “as the result of months of hard work, perseverance, and dedication,” and she hopes he will be an example to other participants to “seize this opportunity to reaffirm your commitment to turn your life around, rebuild relationships with family and friends, and overcome every obstacle that stands in your way.”
Ms. Anderson acknowledged that the program is strict and extraordinarily difficult to complete. “That is why I am so proud to celebrate the progress that Brian has made,” she said, “to recognize the achievements of those who are continuing to move along the path to recovery, and to encourage every Mental Health Court participant to keep fighting. Keep working hard. And keep up your efforts to reclaim your lives and to become productive members of your communities.”
The Mental Health Court program, which serves residents in Whitfield and Murray counties, began in July 2018, with Ms. Anderson hired as coordinator at that time to start putting together policies and procedures and assembling the team of professionals on the staff.
In Georgia, treatment courts such as drug courts and mental health courts save up to $5,000 for every individual they serve, and each graduate returns as much as $22,125 back in economic benefit. Nationally, treatment courts return as much as $27 for every $1 invested.
The program offers a recovery-focused program for defendants in the criminal justice system who have been diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illness and/or substance abuse disorder, and “definitely fills a real need in our community,” Judge Minter said.
The judge praised the “really dedicated” staff members “who go the extra mile, noting “they really care about the participants, and all of them have had an impact” on their lives. They include probation officer Hector Vazquez, public defenders William Moses and Latasha Heflin, Jennifer Farrar with the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office, Court Coordinator Angie Anderson, and Assistant District Attorney Geoff Bard.