Crime victim turns dark situation into something good’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 5, 2000

Tammy Childress started Court Watch, a probation program that can be appointed by judges for misdemeanor offenders. The program monitors fines and offers courses in character development, responsible living and anger management for domestic violence. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

Tammy Childress took what she called the lowest point in her life and used it to build a company designed to help others.

In 1987, Childress was sexually assaulted while her 1-year-old daughter was held at knife point.

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“It was a really dark time, but God helped me take a bad situation and turn it into something good,” she said.

The “something good” is her company, Court Watch, now six years old and in Warren County for 15 months.

Childress said that while she was working for the District Attorney’s Office in Madison County she noticed a lot of offenders, including the one who attacked her, graduate from a string of misdemeanor offenses.

“I had an idea that if we could get to these people before they committed felonies, we might have a chance, and so my dream was born,” Childress said.

Court Watch is a probation program to which misdemeanor offenders can be assigned by judges. The program monitors fines and offers courses in character development, responsible living and anger management.

“We have professional therapists on staff that are available to help these people,” Childress said.

The company that Childress started from a computer in her house now boasts seven branches, including one in Vicksburg on North Frontage Road.

“I felt led to do this and my passion is to help people,” she said.

Mary Owens, who manages the Vicksburg office, said she also feels inspired.

“It is an extreme challenge, but if you can help just one person it is worth it,” Owens said.

The city and the county have a contract with Court Watch, but pay no money for their services.

“The probationers pay a fee that pays us,” Childress said. “I’m proud that this program isn’t costing the taxpayers.”

Since it opened in May 1999, the Vicksburg office has seen 266 probationers.

“Sixty-six percent of those have completed the program successfully,” Childress said.

Owens said there are about 100 people in the program now. Offenses range from public drunkenness, open container ordinance violations and criminal trespass.

“Our goal is to get them to see what their problems are and what they stem from and go from there,” she said.

Owens said she meets with the probationers monthly or weekly depending on the person.

“Some people really just need to be held accountable and once they are it makes a difference,” she said. “I have taught people how to balance their checkbook and I know it gives them pride.”

As for the man who attacked Childress, he was convicted and is serving a life sentence.

“I find that once someone reaches the felony stage it is too late. You have to hit them hard when they first break the law,” Childress said.

Felony probation cases in Warren, Sharkey and Issaquena counties are handled by the Mississippi Department of Corrections through the Vicksburg Parole and Probation Office.

In addition to Vicksburg, Court Watch has offices in Forest, Hattiesburg, Ridgeland, Southhaven and Columbus.

“I will go wherever someone wants us,” Childress said.