We like the personal approach by which Etolia White proposes to help troubled people get on with their lives. The crime victim’s advocate for Franklin County courts came to the conclusion that her clients weren’t the only ones at loose ends following legal trauma. She envisions a new program, dubbed The Escape Route, operating under the aegis of the courts but relying on volunteer mentors who have the people skills and the dedication needed to assist victims and/or offenders.
It sounds like a legion of guardian angels or, if you prefer a secular metaphor, a band of Big Brothers/Big Sisters for adults. Either way, the idea is to build one-on-one relationships between mentors and people who need their help, in hopes personal counseling will be more effective than leaving individuals to fend for themselves after the gavel falls.
Too often, White has observed in the course of performing her duties, both victims and defenders get little guidance after the court renders judgment and they have to chart their own course forward.
Elderly persons exploited by caretakers or con artists may get “justice” in the courtroom only to find themselves back in the same vulnerable situation with no one to understand their fears or give pragmatic advice on how to out-smart predatory schemers.
People convicted of crimes likewise need moral support to change their ways. Drugs, a factor behind many of the crimes committed in Franklin County, present a particularly difficult stumbling block. The local drug court tries to steer users away from repeat offenses and encourage legal alternatives to the behavior that got them in trouble. There have been some success stories but also episodes of backsliding. White hopes a sympathetic but firm helping hand will lead more to the successful outcome, on a case-by-case basis. As it stands, she told State Journal reporter Kayleigh Zyskowski, “Once they walk out of the courthouse doors they are back in reality with all the same temptations around them.”
The advocate draws motivation from her own experience as a victim of child molestation who’s keenly aware of how difficult it is for a 5-year-old, at the mercy of an adult abuser, to trust anyone. She assures clients it’s “possible to escape what has happened to them.”
Mentors, she realizes, won’t be miracle workers. “Our mission is to help people who want help. ... But we can’t help people who aren’t ready to make a change.”
She’s gratified that lawyers and judges express support for her plan. The next step is to arrange funding. Even though the volunteers presumably will serve without pay, there should be a process of screening prospective mentors to ensure participants are neither “soft touches” who fall for every sob story they hear or tyrannical control freaks who alienate the very people they’re supposed to be assisting. Donations are needed. An inaugural luncheon/fundraiser is planned Friday, April 13, at the Governor’s Mansion. Contact the organizer (439-8423 or firstname.lastname@example.org) to purchase tickets.
The road to despair is strewn with the good intentions of would-be humanitarians. Failure is a ubiquitous job hazard. But with some well-placed roadside warnings, perhaps The Escape Route can help a few more reach a satisfactory destination.