Clayton County Superior Court Judge Al Collier, who supervises Adult Felony Drug Court, talks with Lorraine Oliver, at left, and Janice Jerome after a stakeholders meeting Monday. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)
JONESBORO — Ferris Barber laughed at sobriety most of his life, wanting no part of an existence that didn’t include alcohol.
Now 18 months sober, Barber is still laughing — and he has an audience to encourage him.
Barber, 45, is known professionally as Mack Bootsy when he performs in comedy clubs all over the country. It wasn’t easy for Clayton County State Court Judge Linda S. Cowen to approve his career.
“I didn’t think working in clubs around all that alcohol was conducive to his sobriety,” she said. “But I talked to his manager and he assured me he could handle it and would call if Ferris took a drink.”
So far, so good.
Barber is one of dozens of addicts who have successfully completed an Accountability Courts program, in his case, misdemeanor DUI Court supervised by Cowen and her team. Superior Court Judge Al Collier oversees Adult Felony Drug Court. Both are intense programs for select probationers with addictions.
Officials from both programs met Monday with community stakeholders to outline what is needed for probationers to become productive members of society. They must have jobs, appropriate housing and transportation to work, court and support meetings. Sometimes that transportation is their own two feet or donated bicycles, because some probationers have suspended licenses and because Clayton County doesn’t offer a mass transit system.
Geraldine Ruiz, William Faison and Frances Hogan of Faith Open Door Community Center in Jonesboro were eager to get involved because they are setting up a transitional housing program.
“We wanted to find out how we could help,” said Ruiz. “I love these programs but there was a lot I didn’t know. We could have been part of this years ago. We can help them but they can also help us, for example, with employment.”
The center offers counseling, mentoring, leadership classes and teaching young people to make the right choices. Hogan is program coordinator.
“We have a lot of probationers who do community service at our center,” she said. “We want to be partners with the judicial system.”
When Hogan heard the county offers free training for five or more people interested in Accountability Courts, she acted quickly.
“I already got five people together,” she said, still at the meeting place Monday. “I hope it will happen soon before people start to forget.
Janice Jerome of Restorative Justice and Lorraine Oliver of Affordable Counseling Solutions were more hesitant. Jerome talked to Collier after the meeting about the court’s sanctions and incentives system.
“You know sanctions is just a fancy word for punishment,” said Jerome. “I think we need to strengthen the offender over punishment. You know, you can beat a dog or be nice to it and it will still do tricks.”
However, the bulk of those in attendance were there to hear what their business or organization could do to help the court programs. They heard from Collier and Cowen but also from graduates Barber and Todd Cox, who is vice-chairman of the Accountability Court steering committee. Both displayed their mugshots, which show unhealthy men in decline.
“This was me seven years ago,” said Cox. “I was in the throes of addiction, weighed 150 pounds, frail. This program is very close and dear to me. Drug Court saved my life, no doubt about it.”
Barber and Cox encouraged support of the programs not only for participants but for their children.
“We have to look at the bigger picture,” said Cox. “It’s more important to improve the lives of the offender’s kids. They are the future.”
Both men are raising sons. Cox’s is 14, Barber’s is in college.
Anyone interested in providing jobs, housing or transportation for probationers should contact Accountability Courts Program Coordinator Deborah A. Boddie at 770-347-0181, by fax at 770-478-2381 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.