When appearing for court at the Bradley County Judicial Complex, the expectation is that the proceedings will be serious and somber – and they usually are. But anyone walking past Judge Andrew …
When appearing for court at the Bradley County Judicial Complex, the expectation is that the proceedings will be serious and somber – and they usually are. But anyone walking past Judge Andrew Freiberg's courtroom on Tuesday afternoon overheard laughter and applause, both of which were appropriate for the occasion.
Freiberg hosted a graduation ceremony for the 10th Judicial District's Mental Health Court, the first for the special court that began last year.
Freiberg, a circuit court judge for the 10th Judicial District Criminal Court, said graduation is an exciting day to see "what was always this vision, come to reality." The mental health court is an intensive outpatient treatment and supervision program that started last year. Court personnel include a probation officer, treatment provider, legal representatives, case manager and director.
"We keep them accountable," Freiberg said of court participants.
Whisper Hampton and Roy Jackson III are the first participants who have successfully completed the 12- to 18-month program, of which there are four phases.
Freiberg said nine participants started the program and "right now we have 15." He is hoping to host quarterly graduation ceremonies.
Bringing the ceremony to order, Freiberg invited Sandra Donaghy, a fellow circuit court judge for the 10th Judicial District Criminal Court, to address the court.
"This is a really special day," Donaghy said, congratulating Hampton and Jackson for their hard work. She said the mental health court gives them the seeds for the skills they need going forward, but said they are not guaranteed a "fix forever." They need to take all the skills they've learned and their support "and use it to grow and flourish."
"I hope this is exactly what you need to change your life forever," Donaghy said.
Freiberg said when he first met Hampton she was "barefoot, with no place to go and no ride."
"When you first came into the program you were so sad on the inside," he said. Also the Bradley County resident had no relationship with her mother or daughter.
"But there was some light that was shining from within you that very first day," Freiberg said. As he gave her a plaque commemorating her graduation, Freiberg said "this is not something I'm giving you, this is something … you've achieved."
Hampton said she appreciates the opportunity to participate in mental health court and knows the court personnel truly believe in her. She was homeless for three years and said "I lost it all. I hit rock bottom – hard. I never thought I'd get my life back."
Reading from a written statement, Hampton thanked "everyone in the mental health program for giving me the amazing opportunity and believing in me when I didn't even know if I should even believe in myself."
"If anyone would have told me a year and a half ago I would be where I am today, and accomplish all the things that I have, I would tell them that they lost their minds," Hampton said. "As an addict, all I ever thought about was going back to the time in my life where I wasn't one. The time in my life where things were good. The time in my life where I had my children in my life, and I had a job and cars and a house of my own."
Hampton said "all of that was so out of reach for me. I never thought in a million years I would ever see that life ever again."
"Meth destroyed me. It took everything from me, including myself," Hampton said. "For three years I was homeless, with nothing. I lost it all, and the worst part of it I lost my kids … if it wasn't for mental health court, I'd be in prison or I'd be dead. I was in a place in my life where I didn't care about myself anymore or what happened to me because what I really wanted in my life seemed so far out of reach – I never thought I'd get my life back. But I have now. I have more than I could ever ask for, and then some. I'm so very blessed."
Of Jackson, Freiberg said "he's always projected strength."
"True strength is having the courage to ask for help when you need it," he said.
"You just seem at peace and ready to be enjoying our life," Freiberg told the McMinn County resident. "You deserve it."
Turning to Jackson's family and friends in the courtroom, Freiberg said "I hope you're as proud of this young man as I am."
Jackson said mental health court is not an easy program, but if you work with the court "and stick with it" they give good advice.
"This program really does help," he said.
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