Montgomery County Judge Garrett D. Page traveled to Tulpehocken Township, Berks County, on July 31 to attend the graduation ceremony at the Teen Challenge Training Center, a faith-based, residential substance abuse rehabilitation program.
|Montgomery County Judge Garrett D. Page/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.|
“It was a 14-month intensive program. It’s no playground. It’s a faith-based solution for the adult drug epidemic,” Page explained.
When Page sentenced Thomas for a probation violation and paroled him directly to the Teen Challenge program in April 2014, he said, “I may be seeing you at Teen Challenge. Maybe I’ll pay a visit. I would recommend that the district attorney’s office get familiar with this program. I may even go there and visit them.”
Kudos to Page for keeping his promise.
Page believed Thomas’ graduation would be the perfect time to visit the training center, which despite its name does not just offer programs for teens. Page visited the program and attended the graduation on his own time.
Thomas, Page said, received an award for being “the most improved graduate” and was presented with a large wooden cross as he left the graduation podium.
“It was moving,” Page said about the ceremony, adding Thomas embraced him when he caught up with him after the graduation. “It was very emotional. This experience was nothing but positive energy.”
|Cross awarded to Michael Thomas/Photo courtesy Judge Garrett Page|
The judge said he was pleased to have made a difference in the life of someone who once stood before him to be punished for his crimes.
“Judges can make a difference,” Page said. “This was important for me as well as him, to educate me (about the program).”
Page grew up in the east Germantown section of Philadelphia in the 1970s, an area then frequented by gangs and an area he often describes as “the hood” when he addresses defendants who come before him in court.
“A number of my friends were shot, killed. Back in the 70s the gangs were big,” Page told me in April as he prepared to speak at the Peacemakers Pottstown Youth Violence Prevention Summit, adding his mother, a home and school coordinator, and his father, a postal worker and community activist for safe streets, “kept us away from that” and ingrained in him a spirit of nonviolence. “I want (defendants) to know that I’ve been in the middle of it. I’m a survivor. Maybe that can give them some hope.”
In October 2013, Thomas was sentenced to 11 ½ to 23 months in the county jail, to be followed by three years’ probation, after he pleaded guilty to a criminal trespass charge stemming from an incident in Norristown, according to court records. Thomas was back in court on April 14, 2014, in front of Page for violating his sentence, according to court records.
At the April 14 violation hearing, Thomas’ lawyer told Page that Thomas used pot since he was 11 or 12 and admitted to having a cocaine problem. An evaluation, according to testimony, showed Thomas had a dysfunctional childhood, escaped through drugs and alcohol and committed crimes related to his drug abuse.
“Your honor, I think we all too often see in these courtrooms the tragic tendency that underlies a lot of criminal behavior, and that is drug addiction and the power of drug addiction,” defense lawyer William Weiss said at that time. “I think that Mr. Thomas recognizes that about himself and that he has had that drip over his life, unfortunately, for far too long.”
Weiss told Page at that time that Thomas, who admitted to violating his previous sentence, didn’t want to be paroled directly to the streets but rather wanted to be paroled into a treatment program where he could get help. Page gave Thomas credit for the year he had been in jail awaiting sentencing for the violation and ordered that he couldn’t be released until a bed was ready for him at Teen Challenge.
“I witnessed your demeanor on the stand. I do believe that you are possibly on the right track,” Page told Thomas.
Page also ordered Thomas to complete two years’ probation after he’s paroled from the 14-month Teen Challenge program.
“So do what you have to do to get through this thicket called life and get into this program and you prove to me, because I’m going to have probation on you after that,” Page told Thomas at the time. “If I hear you mess up, I’m going to mess you up.”
“You’re young enough to be able to get involved with your grandkids and your children. Get involved with your own life, but after 14 months is over, I’m going to trust that you’ll make it through, this is lifetime. This is not 14 months,” Page told Thomas, telling him outpatient rehab must follow his Teen Challenge graduation. “And you need a safety net all around you.”
Page said he was impressed with the Teen Challenge program.
“A lot of people don’t know about it. I’m going to introduce it to our judges. I’m going to bring it up at a judicial meeting,” Page said. “Sometimes it’s a good thing to attend a graduation so you get the full flavor of where are we sending these defendants.”