DOBSON — A group of offenders on probation were recognized for making strides toward rehabilitation during a ceremony at the start of Surry County Superior Court on Monday.
“An alarming number of people placed on probation don’t do well,” said Senior Resident Superior Court Judge A. Moses Massey during opening remarks.
“Today we’re going to recognize people who are doing well,” he said, adding that some consider probation to be “no big deal, to be an easy thing. That is the opinion of ignorant people. Probation done well is work. It takes a lot.”
Every month, each community corrections officer in the county probation nominates an offender who has gone above and beyond to meet the demands of their supervised probation sentence in spite of barriers that make it difficult to do so.
The winners chosen from among those nominations are named that month’s “picture of success.”
Their photograph is displayed for the month on a bulletin board in the Mount Airy and Dobson probation offices and a quarterly ceremony held in court honors the winners from the past few months.
The incentive program, which was established about a year ago, is a way of using positive reinforcement to foster behavior changes.
It reflects a shift in approach in the state criminal justice system towards geared more towards helping offenders break the cycle of crime rather than relying punishment when they can’t.
Sheriff Graham Atkinson and Clerk of Courts Teresa O’Dell were present for the ceremony, which was held during an administrative session of Superior Court, a two-day term which typically addresses probation violations.
The packed courtroom was full with officers, honorees and their supporters in the audience, as well as offenders on the docket facing violations who might benefit from witnessing the success of others facing similar obstacles.
Community Corrections Officer Sunday Joyce acknowledged that offenders often face obstacles and barriers that make success difficult even for those with the best intentions.
This quarter’s honorees included Crystal Barker, David Lowe, Debbie Atkins, Steven Justice, Alana Bowman and Richard Anderson.
Officer Sheila Myers announced and presented a certificate to each honoree, who were congratulated with a handshake by Massey and applause from the audience.
“They’ve worked hard to be where they are today,” Myers said. “They are not perfect, we are not perfect, none of us are,” she said. “These people have put forth a concerted effort.”
Guest speaker Gayle McCray, a resident of the Shepherd’s House shelter in Mount Airy and victim of sexual abuse, openly shared her experiences about turning her own life around after 35 years and more than 100 criminal convictions.
“I chose that road,” she said of her life of drugs, crime and homelessness. “I got on the expressway to hell.”
She recalled being placed on probation at one point with no intention of making good on the opportunity.
“I knew that when I signed the paper,” she said, encouraging those on that same path to veer off of it sooner than she did.
“It’s a different world now,” McCray said, explaining how good things have been since she got help at the Shepherd’s House and made the choice to live a better life.
“If I had known 35 years ago it was going to be different like this, I would have stopped,” she said. “It’s crazy you guys, how if you really turn around, how if you really just do how Nike said, just do it, if you really just make up your mind to turn around there are so many people out here that are blowing my mind that are willing to just help. Everybody doesn’t want to see you fail.”
Massey closed the ceremony on a positive note, grateful for the opportunity to have cause for celebration in the courtroom.
“It’s so wonderful to see the kind of progress these people and Ms. McCray have shown,” he said. “I sincerely congratulate you and admonish you to keep on keeping on.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 425-4734.