For those charged with, or involved in prostitution, this program changes lives

CATCH Court graduates taking advantage of second chance

Graduates of the CATCH Court program in Columbus celebrate at a graduation ceremony in September. Photo contributed.

Two women entered a courtroom in separate cases but close succession.

Judge Paul Herbert sees the bruises and sullen eyes of a hard life on both women.

But, one big difference: The first woman is a domestic abuse survivor.  The second isn't technically a victim -- she's been charged with prostitution. But still, the bruises on the women were similar.

It left the judge to wonder: How can I help?

A community in need

Herbert decided to research how much of a problem sex trafficking was in his community. What he found blew his mind and led to an idea to help.

People might not assume an affluent area such as Columbus, Ohio, would have issues with sex trafficking or prostitution.

But Herbert found otherwise. Through his research, it was discovered that roughly 1,200 women in Franklin County each year are arrested for prostitution and solicitation.

Of that number, 92 percent were victims of sex trafficking.

One of those woman was Tina Legg, who described her life as “chaos” and “danger” while on the streets.

Legg said she was molested by her stepdad regularly between the ages of 4 and 12, and at age 14, she “turned to boys and drugs.”

“I was stripping and running,” Legg said. “I was always jumping in and out of cars with several different types of people. You know who you are going to get in a car with and you never know if you are going to make it. It was scary.”

Mandie Matthews said she was also out on the streets: homeless, doing drugs and prostituting.

While incarcerated, Matthews, who said her parents were in and out of prison so much growing up that she bounced around, living with different family members, said there was a turning point that made her realize it was time to do something about her problems.

“When I was in jail, I was served custody papers for my son,” she said. “He was living with no utilities. We went to the doctors, and drugs were found in his system. He was 5 or 6 at the time. Reading that and seeing that, I knew I was done. I knew I needed help.”

That’s where the new program created by Herbert came in. 

Quite a CATCH

In 2009, Herbert created CATCH Court, which stands for Changing Actions to Change Habits.

Women who are jailed are given an opportunity to go through a two-year rehabilitation program that starts with a full mental health assessment to gauge what types of treatment are needed.

The participants are required to adhere to their treatment plan, which includes counseling, drug tests, a weekly group therapy session and a weekly review hearing.

“The most important thing is to establish safety and stability,” said Keturah Lee DeChristopher, a CATCH Court coordinator.

Matthews said trying to separate from one’s old life is an important element, as well.

“You have to agree to stay away from people, places and things, certain sides of town and certain people,” Matthews said.

Ultimately, the objective of the program is to look at the women as victims who need help, not criminals who need to be punished.

“(We're) doing the research of what got you here, instead of your charge,” DeChristopher said.

Graduation requirements can vary depending on the history of a participant, but two basic requirements include not relapsing and not violating the terms of your probation.

Graduation ceremonies are held every year in the fall, with 15 members being a part of the most recent class.

By the time the graduation ceremony takes place, participants are sober and ready to become functioning members of society, with jobs and homes to live in.

More importantly, graduates are in a position to serve as role models, something unthinkable before they started the program. 

Giving back

In a case of positive irony, both Legg and Matthews are on the other side now, in terms of rehabilitation.

Legg is a staff member at a treatment center in a Columbus suburb, and Matthews is a counselor at an addiction center.

Both are now trying to give the same support and help that others provided to them.

“It’s just as hard,” Matthews said, adding at the same time though, it’s "awesome" to be able to help out people.

Legg said she can give back what was freely given to her.

“We feel like nobody loves us because we messed up so much,” Legg said. “Today, I can give back and let them know they are worthy.”

Both women have also repaired once-fractured relationships with their children.

Matthews said she has full custody of her now 9-year-old son, while Legg has four children ages 23, 21, 19 and 17 that she regularly communicates with after not being in their lives for much of their childhoods.

Legg said four days after graduating CATCH Court, she reunited with her 19-year-old daughter after being away from her since her daughter was 3 years old.

“I’m just working on it and trying to build this all back together,” Legg said.

Legg and Matthews said they can’t be grateful enough to the CATCH Court program, which saved their lives.

“It’s OK to not have the answers, and it’s OK to not be OK,” Matthews said. “I’ve been through (a lot in) my sobriety. I’ve lost some friends and family members. They’ve just loved me through it. It’s like this overwhelming sense of love.”

Legg doesn’t want to imagine her life without CATCH Court, mainly because she knows where she would be today if not for the seed planted by Herbert almost 10 years ago.

“If it wasn’t for them, I’d still be out there,” Legg said. 

About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.