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Rebuilding Bridges: McDowell County Family Treatment Court Holds First Graduation

By Derek Tyson, The Welch News Editor

WELCH, W.Va. – Yesterday was a day of celebration as the McDowell County Family Treatment Court held its very first graduation.

Circuit Judge Edward Kornish spoke first at Tuesday’s graduation ceremony, commending Clay Hall for his hard work and dedication.

“Clay is the first graduate of our Family Treatment Court. He has done an extraordinary job with help from his kids and his mom. Clay, like a lot of folks we deal with in our programs, didn’t have the easiest life growing up then resorted to some self-help, which caused problems for his kids. But now Clay is back on track,” said Kornish.

“It’s validating to see somebody acknowledge that we all have problems, but in order to get better, we have to admit them, seek help and most importantly, do the work. Clay has definitely put in the work. Clay and his family are in a better place today than they were 6 months ago, definitely better than 2 years ago. Today we celebrate your sobriety and more importantly to celebrate your family being back together,” continued Kornish.

Hall shared his experiences in the Family Treatment Court program, saying the support from the treatment team helped ease his mind as he worked to be reunited with his 4 children.

“Sometimes you get worried and frustrated, you want to explain yourself. Having someone like Lindsey to calm you down, or talking to the Judge helps. People like me have extreme anxiety and flip out when I think something is going on. My family makes it easier. My family knew I was going to come back from what I was doing. Nobody doubted me. When no one doubts you, you can’t mess up because you know you’re letting them down,” said Hall.

“When this all first started, I felt like my kids were upset with me, aggravated and let down. The hardest thing when this first started was to look in their eyes hoping to see that glowing happiness and knowing everything will be okay because you are Dad. It took a long time to get to that point. When they first came home, everything was harder. I had to watch every step I made, everything that I said I had to think through. It was a hard road but they have seen the hard work I put in. I think that has helped, to see that I would do anything and work harder than ever has made them respect me even more,” continued Hall.

Judge Kornish said the treatment of addiction was only one component of the program. Mending relationships and restoring trust.

“Because of bad choices we’ve made, we’ve burnt bridges to family, friends and our children. You always have the love but it’s a matter of earning respect again and showing that your Dad can go back to being the person he was and ought to be,” said Kornish.

“I didn’t have the respect I thought I would have when they came home and it was hard to earn it back. You’ve got to learn that it is going to heart, but you have to bite it, chew it up, swallow it and keep going. You’re going to hurt yourself over and over but you have to keep going,” said Hall.

Also in attendance Tuesday was Hall’s mother Florence.

“I’m so proud, he’s come a long way. When you talk about trust, I didn’t trust him for a long time. But he proved himself to us all. I’m just very proud of him, it’s almost like when he was a little boy. He minds me a bit better now,” said Florence.

Judge Kornish shared changes he had made in his own life since inheriting the Family Treatment Court from former Judge Booker T. Stephens.

“As a Prosecutor, I was pretty hardcore. The judges didn’t even ask me what my sentiments were at sentencing because I believed if you break the law, you do the time. I wasn’t a big believer in rehabilitation. I inherited this program from Judge Stephens and I’ve become a believer,” said Kornish. “I would say our overall success rate is 40% on a good day. On a bad day, no more than 30%. So we have more people not finish but when I was a Prosecutor, I helped send hundreds of people to jail and prison for drugs. But our drug problem in this county is worse today than it was 30 years ago.”

“The simple truth for our county, our state, our country, you can’t just incarcerate people to cure the drug problem in this country. There are other issues and one of the big ones is rehabilitation. Giving people an opportunity to get some help and deal with their addiction, no matter the substance. My feeling is it takes a village. We have to have help from the families, counselors, social workers, lawyers involved in the case. It takes people that are willing to be courageous and admit they have a problem that they need help to fix. Despite doing everything right, bad stuff still happens. It’s tempting to just check out, but Clay hasn’t. He has stayed strong because he loves his family,” continued Kornish.

Also traveling to congratulate Hall on his graduation was Chautle Haught, State Family Treatment Specialist.

“What the judge doesn’t mention is that he does this voluntarily, as does the treatment team. What they do here is extra, no one gets paid extra for doing this. All the time they devote to Clay and his family and all the other participants is extra,” said Haught. “All of this is for the betterment of the community, the state and the county. Clay if you find yourself heading down a path, Lindsey is here. Virgil is down at the ADC. Stop by the office, text them, do whatever it takes to not go down that path because you’ve got 4 little ones and a mama that will whip your hind end. Congratulations Clay, I’m very proud of you.”

“Clay knows to call me anytime, even in the middle of the night. I’m always available,” said Lindsey Winebarger, Family Treatment Court Coordinator. “I also forgot to mention that he has been in the program for 271 days and has been clean for 271 days.”

Everyone in attendance cheered and applauded his success. Winebarger presented two family pictures printed on canvas, as well as a basket full of snacks, movies and a board game for a fun family night to Clay and his children. They were also treated to pizza and cake to celebrate Hall’s success.

McDowell County was the seventh county to be selected by the West Virginia Supreme Court to implement a Family Treatment Court.

McDowell County Family Treatment Court began operating and accepting participants on January 19th, 2021.

Family Treatment Court is an intensive, and collaborate effort of the circuit court, child protective services, treatment providers, and anyone else involved to assist parents with accessing substance abuse treatment and returning families together in a timely manner. Family Treatment Court is a minimum of 9 months.