More than fifty women sit in courtroom 12-C Thursday afternoon. Women wiping their mouths from the chicken salad sandwiches they just finished eating, or sipping on their sodas. They are all laughing, cracking jokes and having casual conversation. A judge in black robes strolls around the room, shaking hands with children telling them how proud he is of their mother. Once 1 pm rolls around, the judge returns to his podium, and strikes his gavel. C.A.T.C.H Court is in session.
C.A.T.C.H (Changing Actions to Change Habits) Court is a specialized docket in Franklin County, catering to help and treat former prostitutes instead of repeating the cycle of jail-time and solicitation to strangers. With 1,500 arrests being made annually in Franklin County, Judge Paul Herbert aspired to stop the cycle.
Video footage courtesey of Megan Deierling, a student at Kent State University.
“Prostitution was a revolving door crime where people would get out of jail, go right back into their drug addictions and life, and then get back in jail,” said Herbert.
C.A.T.C.H Court was started in 2009 by Herbert as a prostitution court since traditional probation was not helping to treat these women. The court was created to be an intensive recovery for victims of human trafficking.
“For her, in that moment, on that street corner, that feels like her only option,” said Hannah Estabrook, the C.A.T.C.H coordinator, in the documentary “Caught in Columbus.” “She doesn't know she has other options and she doesn’t know she’s worth other options.”
“The block was my job,” wrote a survivor, who read her speech aloud in a previous C.A.T.C.H meeting. “My body was my advertisement, allies were my office, the dope house was my restaurant, drugs were my food and [abandoned buildings] were my home.”
Women who enter C.A.T.C.H can be homeless, incarcerated or addicted to drugs, said Estabrook. Once in the program, women can get help with housing, custody and enroll in treatment shelters, such as Amethyst Recovery Center. Survivors even can go through the traditional Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A) or Narcotics Anonymous (N.A) treatment and get chips for progress in their recovery.
“It meant everything,” said a survivor at the court after receiving her one-year chip. “I didn’t think I could be sober for even a day.”
Every Thursday afternoon, these women meet with Herbert to discuss their progress within the program. They tell him how a case manager helped them find a home so they can live with their family again. Survivors also talk about their struggles with addiction, such as triggers in the treatment center.
“I didn't’ think I was triggered,” said one survivor. “I could taste heroin in my mouth.”
As these women, or “sisters” as they call each other, complete the program, they graduate into phases. The fourth phase being the last, Herbert gifted a necklace to the phase four graduate last Thursday, telling her to “burn the ships,” leave her old life behind and be the captain of her new one.