Seven people from throughout the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit are the newest graduates of the Parental Accountability Court.
A special ceremony honoring them was held at North Ridge Church in Milledgeville last Wednesday morning. The new graduates are Kevin Dixon, of Baldwin County; Jessica Bevins, of Wilkinson County; Corey Brown, of Wilkinson County; Errol Johnson, of Putnam County; Quinton Griffin, of Morgan County and Willie McCommons, of Greene County.
Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge Brenda H. Trammell welcomed everyone to the ceremony.
“You know, I thought when I was coming in here that we owe such a debt of gratitude to Northridge,” Trammell said. “Y’all have been so good to us always. There’s just something about the community recognizing the work that people put into things that we can’t tell you in words how grateful we are for your support. So, I want to thank you.”
The Parental Accountability Court was formed in 2015.
Trammell pointed out that during her career as a trial lawyer and since that time as a judge she has placed several people in jail for failure to pay court-ordered child support.
“I didn’t have a hesitation to do that,” Trammell said. “The problem is that you’ve got to realize that a lot of times circumstances are such that you cannot.”
She said sometimes those delinquent in payments have been down so low that they have to bend.
“When things pile on and pile on, you just lose heart in being able to go to work and to do the things that you need to do,” Trammell said. “And as a result, our children suffer.”
Through the Parental Accountability Court, Trammell said she has sympathy for people who can’t, but she has no sympathy for those who won’t.
“What we try to do is give the ability so that there is no longer a way that they can say we can’t,” Trammell said. “And we give them the incentive that they never tell us they won’t. We’ve got a cure for that.”
The chief judge said the programs and resources offered through the Parental Accountability Court or, PAC, and the training offer residents help and support.
Trammell said some of the ways of helping individuals those is by informing them of job openings available to those with felony criminal records.
Sometimes, there are those in the program who don’t have a valid driver’s license, either because it is suspended or they simply never got one.
“I didn’t say they didn’t drive; I said they didn’t have a license,” Trammell said with a smile. “The thing about it is that this program allows us to be able to help them overcome those sorts of things. You know, we’ve got some that jail doesn’t help them when they’ve got medical issues; jail doesn’t help them if they have alcohol issues.”
There are two Parental Accountability Courts within the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit since the circuit is one of the largest in Georgia — one covers the northern portion, while the other one is located in the southern portion.
Within the two courts, Trammell said nearly $1 million has been collected in child support payments.
Trammell noted for some involved in the program that it has been a struggle, but that she and Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Alison T. Burleson were proud of their success and achievements and how their lives have been turned around.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp also congratulated the recent local PAC graduates. He joined the ceremony by taped video from Atlanta.
Kemp also extended thanks to the judges involved in the program, as well as PAC coordinators, and representatives of the Georgia Department of Human Services Division of Child Support Services for helping graduates make their special day possible.
“Anything that is worth doing takes commitment,” Kemp said via video. “From the first step on this journey, you have committed to doing everything in your power to allow your children to thrive. Today is more than receiving a certificate of achievement. You are no longer facing the threat of incarceration. It is about being the best provider you can be.”
The governor told the graduates that not only does their future look brighter, but that their children’s futures also look much brighter.
Ashley Ford, deputy director for operations for the Georgia Department of Human Health Services Division of Child Support Services, also spoke about PAC.
Nakia Braziel, meanwhile, who serves as one of the local PAC coordinators, later introduced
Ga. Sen.-elect Rick Williams, R-Milledgeville, as the guest speaker.
“It’s certainly an honor and a privilege to be here,” Williams said. “I’ve sat and listened to all the speakers and it reminds me of an old country music song. If you’ve not heard it, listen to it. It’s called ‘Choices’ by George Jones.”
Williams said everyone makes choices.
“Our Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit — I would put [it] up against any in the State of Georgia,” Williams said. “We’ve got some of the most magnificent judges. They can be tough when they need to be tough, but they are human, and they understand us. And they know when we need that second change.”
Williams said his parents were the children of sharecroppers who grew up moving from farm to farm.
He said God has a plan for everyone’s life.
“We don’t know what that plan is, but we have to work every day of our life to do the best we can,” Williams said.
He told the graduates that he found himself in a position similar to theirs several years ago.
It happened in 1986 when his first marriage ended in divorce.
Williams suddenly became the custodial parent of three children, ages 11, 10 and 6.
“I was raising those children and I was supposed to be receiving child support,” Williams said. “I didn’t get it. I got a little bit every once in a while.”
Even though it was a hardship, he said he knew the only way to make it all work was to make sacrifices.
“We bring them into this world and we’ve to see after them and we’ve got to take care of them, whether it’s financial needs or emotional needs,” Williams said. “We all need to be loved and taken care of.”
He told the graduates that he saluted each of them for completing the PAC program.
“It takes a village to raise a child, and we all have to reach out to our family and our friends,” Williams said. “Believe me, there were a lot of times when my business was 24-7 that I had to reach out to someone to help me care for my children when they were small.”