Springfield’s Homeless Court Celebrates Program’s First Graduates
“We’ve got your certificate, you’re finished. Congratulations,” says Judge Becky Borthwick to a round of applause.
The room is packed. People are standing, sitting, and leaning on and around the large, brown, U-shaped table.
“I can’t wait to see all the great things that you do.”
Tuesday marked the very first graduation ceremony of Springfield’s Homeless Court. Smiles and smart phone cameras are aimed at the center of the room as two of the program’s first success stories are given certificates and firm handshakes.
In January of this year, this same room was home to the court’s inaugural session. The program was created to let homeless defendants resolve outstanding nonviolent misdemeanor offenses, fines, and warrants within the city of Springfield’s Municipal Court.
In order to resolve those offenses, defendants must commit to fulfilling personal goals set by their life coach, such as getting a job, taking medicine, and attending support groups.
Scott Beasley has fulfilled those goals, and he’s the first graduate to receive his certificate.
“It’s been a long road, basically. Homeless on and off for 20 years,” says Beasley.
Originally from Kansas City, Beasley has been homeless in Springfield for two and a half years.
“Till I got a phone call from one of my friends saying, ‘they’re starting this new program, you need to go.’”
That new program was the Homeless Court. Beasley says what followed was a bit of a shock.
“I showed up, thinking, ‘okay, I’m just going to get my fines taken care of.’ Then, three weeks down the road, I’ve got an apartment; I’ve got my dog back. Everything’s been such a blessing. Wasn’t expected.”
He ended up only having to serve seven months of his one year probation, and:
“Had all my fines wiped out as of today.”
As great as that feels, he says, it’s still somewhat bittersweet.
“It’s not necessarily a relief, relief, because I always enjoyed coming here. And I’ll still come here, as, like, a spokesperson for the new people coming in.”
Beasley recruited several of the 10 defendants currently working through the program. He says that while the process isn’t difficult, it can be intimidating.
“They see the police here, the prosecutors here, you know, they’re like ‘they’re going to take me to jail.’ That’s not the case, they’re here to help you out.”
20-year-old Alexis Fidell, the second graduate, says she was definitely nervous when beginning the program. As she is presented her certificate, Rita Gurian, one of her mentors, gives her a hug.
“Alexis has thrived just because she started believing in herself,” says Gurian.
After the ceremony, she smiles at me over a piece of colorful cookie cake.
“She pushed me to better myself, and that’s what I needed at the time, to focus more on myself and not other people,” says Fidell.
Like Beasley, Fidell was homeless for many years, and now has a job, an apartment, and all of her fines paid off.
“A weight is off my shoulders. It feels good.”
However, the most important thing she learned, she says:
“Knowing what I was capable of and what I deserve.”
Fidell says now she plans to look for a better job, but she’ll keep in touch with her mentors.
“I’m sure I’ll come back.”
Coming back is exactly what the program encourages, explains Judge Becky Borthwick at the end of Tuesday’s ceremony.
“Even though you are done with us, you are not alone,” says Borthwick.
Graduates of the program are encouraged to maintain a close relationship with their staff mentors, and to:
“Come back and start being a mentor for the new people,” says Borthwick.
And Borthwick hopes the simple act of accepting the graduation certificate has encouraged defendants currently in the program.
“We feel it shows that there’s hope for the rest of the graduates, and we think that people will be inspired by tonight’s graduation, that they can do it too.”
Borthwick says the program hopes to hold another graduation ceremony at the end of this year.