Adolescents graduate with clean records

Published 12:32 am Tuesday, May 22, 2012

NATCHEZ — Sometimes things go wrong, and sometimes teens make bad decisions.

But sometimes, with help from the right people, they can get things straightened out and go forward with their lives — and in the case of six graduates of the Adams County Adolescent Opportunity Program, with clean records.

Graduation rites for the program were Wednesday, and one graduate — who said he has the goal of becoming a lawyer or a pro basketball player — said he was thankful someone was there to give him help when he needed it.

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“The Adams County Youth Court and the Adolescent Opportunity Program provided that help,” he said. “We hope (everyone) will continue to believe in us.”

Other graduates expressed thanks to the program directors and to the youth court.

The AOP allows youth offenders who agree to enter the program the opportunity to keep a clean record if they enter intensive therapy and probation programs.

Erica Johnson with Southwest Mississippi Mental Health, which administers the therapy portion of the program, said the three-tier AOP system starts with four days a week two-hour therapy sessions and gradually works down to once-a-week one-hour sessions at which the teens are taught coping, anger management and relapse prevention skills.

One mother at the graduation said she had been forced to place her son in the hands of God and leave him there. Now, after he has finished the program, the mother said she has seen a positive change in her son and the other AOP students.

“They have come a mighty long way,” she said. “They were good kids who fell into bad situations.”

Adams County Youth Court Judge John Hudson told the graduates that life can often be compared to the process it took to create the light bulb.

“When Thomas Edison was inventing the light bulb, he tried 1,000 times, but it only takes that once (to succeed),” Hudson said.

“It takes a lot of falling down and failure, but it also takes a lot of getting up.”

Graduation is often called commencement, Hudson said, and that is how AOP graduates should see that moment in their life.

“When we think of graduation, we think of the end,” he said. “But graduation is a commencement — this is a beginning. You have gotten to this goal. What are you going to do with it?”