Mental health court graduation offers Flint man second chance
FLINT, MI – Flint resident Aaron Richards expected to come to court Wednesday afternoon to hear the announcement of his mental health court graduation.
What the 30-year-old did not expect to happen was Probate Judge Jennie Barkey to announce the clearance of his felony record.
Richards, who pleaded guilty in July 2021 to one count of unarmed robbery, began tearing up with his family by his side.
“I wanted to do backflips,” Richards said. “Today has meant freedom and I’m thankful for a clean slate on my record I thought I would never have. There were plenty of times I wanted to give up, but I had to fight mentally and emotionally.”
Richards started the Mental Health Counseling program in August 2020. He was scheduled to graduate the program in November.
“In the beginning, it was a terrible start,” Richards said. “It was especially hard when it came to the screenings. I was basically not coming in clean a lot of times, but I put in a lot of effort and hard work. I’m just grateful.”
He thanked everyone involved that helped him, including his family and Barkey.
Richards took a moment to also point out and thank Robin Cowan, a therapist he was transferred to work with over the past year.
“She pretty much is the reason why I wanted to do right,” Richards said.
Cowan said her biggest challenge was developing trust between herself and Richards.
“He was very quiet and shy,” said Cowan, who has worked as a therapist for 20 years. “I think after the first session, I knew he didn’t belong in the system. So my goal was to help guide him through and I was hoping it played out the way it did today. I’m on Cloud nine and this is what makes it all worthwhile.”
Richards has a message for those who are just starting out in the Mental Health Counseling program.
“What I want them to know is to keep fighting and going hard,” he said. “Please listen to those who are giving you the tools, knowledge and advice to literally go through the program without any struggles. You might have a couple bumps because you feel like the program isn’t doing much for you, but in actuality, it’s doing a lot.”
Richards has worked at Catholic Charities of Shiawassee and Genesee Counties for six months and is in charge of the organization’s donation area.
Redonna Riggs works at Catholic Charities as the Community Closet Coordinator.
“As a young black man in Flint, it’s hard not to go off with the gangs and not go off and do what other people are doing,” Riggs said. “He has stayed positive and kept pushing himself because he knew he had his support system. He has been so awesome and has grown a lot.”
Richards started volunteering in 2019 at Catholic Charities. His plans are to continue working at Catholic Charities and take a vacation.
“I’ve never been out of Michigan a day of my life,” he said. “I’m going to stay away from negative influences.”
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