Golden bells symbolizing a release from the shackles once used to restrain those with mental illness were awarded to seven individuals who graduated Wednesday from Lancaster County’s Mental Health Court.
The five men and two women completed the year-plus, specialty-court program available to those facing charges (typically non-violent offenses) and dealing with a diagnosed mental-health problem.
Lancaster County Judge Margaret Miller handed certificates of completion to the seven, bringing the total number of graduates to 57 since the court’s launch in 2010.
The program offers participants a chance, upon completion, to have charges reduced or expunged from their records.
Judge Miller has presided over the court since its inception and told the graduating class, “Few things worth having are easy to get.”
And that was illustrated in the stories of the seven graduates.
Graduate Jill spent over three years in the program, eventually progressing to become a mentor for women through the county’s Re-Entry Management Organization.
Graduate Brian also took about three years to complete, having been sanctioned for violations early on in his program. An artist and mason, he restored brickwork at St. Joseph’s Church for his graduation project, which is required for all graduates.
Graduate Jeremiah was homeless when he entered the program. He moved into his own apartment as he progressed through the program’s four phases.
Graduate Karen was the rare example of a participant who completes the program essentially without a hitch; she did it in about a year. Her project was a video she produced for potential applicants to the program, showing what they can expect.
Melanie Snyder, keynote speaker and director of the RMO, told the graduates, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
Rhonda Slinghoff, of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services, followed Snyder by explaining the significance of the golden bells awarded to the seven graduates.
The actual Mental Health Bell is a 300-pound symbol of freedom, created from the melting of metal shackles and bindings used in asylums until the 1950s. The bell is displayed at the National Mental Health Association’s National Center in Alexandria, Va.
Assistant District Attorney Deborah Greathouse represents the commonwealth at Mental Health Court precedings.
MEDIA CONTACT: Brett A. Hambright, 717-295-2041; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @BrettHambright