Thursday, March 2, 2017 12:06 am
The Sangamon County mental health court finally has a graduate. After two years in the program aimed at keeping mentally ill folks out of prison (“Treatment instead of jail,” April 23, 2015),
on Monday was discharged from the program. There were plenty of tears in the courtroom. Overton stands alone – the other four defendants who were alongside her as the program’s first enrollees all failed and ended up in jail. After discharging her from the program, Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John Madonia stepped down from the bench and gave Overton a hug in the courtroom well. “You’ve come a long way,” Madonia told her. Overton wrote a lengthy thank-you letter to the judge, prosecutors, probation officers and others who shepherd defendants with a mix of tough love and praise. “Because of you, I started to see what you saw in me,” Overton wrote in the letter, which Madonia read into the official court record. “I’m so thankful that God put you in my life. … We aren’t bad people. We are people with mental illness.” Overton, who had been charged with felony shoplifting, has a lengthy criminal history that includes more than a dozen arrests, mostly for theft. Now, she’s attending classes so she can become a caseworker and help others with mental illness. “What are you going to do to celebrate?” a defendant asked Overton as she prepared to leave the courtroom. “Nothing – go home and babysit,” Overton answered.