The Avondale Restorative Justice Community Court program offers those charged with nonviolent offenses a chance to turn their lives around. Rather than serving time, people are given another option through a Cook County initiative that is helping people find jobs and heal.
Marcos Morones, 28, has been given a second chance.
“I want to thank everyone, especially my case worker, because he has helped me a lot,” Morones said. “The program did work with me.”
Morones is one of 16 people who just graduated from the program, which helps people caught in the legal system get a clean slate.
“A lot of my cases are unlawful use of weapons,” said Cook County Judge Beatriz Santiago, “and a lot of them carry it (guns) because they say they are scared not to have it with all the things going on. So they use it for protection.”
Morones said he got caught in a situation while at work carrying a gun without a proper license.
“I actually got a gun case dismissed,” Morones said. “I work as a tow truck driver, so I got robbed at gunpoint and did it the wrong way of carrying a gun. They got me with it and put me into this program.”
The program can last up to a year, and participants are required to complete various courses. Yarnell Ruffin, 21, said his coursework taught him more about gun laws.
“And right after I got my case dismissed, I was able to immediately apply for my FIOD and get my conceal to carry (license) and learn how to do it the right way,” Ruffin said.
“I just want to say this is a good program, and it actually helped me get on track,” Ruffin shared on stage as he received his certificate for finishing the program.
Ruffin and Morones have now had their charges dismissed and records expunged.
Santiago said it’s an opportunity to change their lives.
“In regular court they are trying to punish the person,” Santiago said. “Here we are trying to restore them and have them go back in the community better than they were coming into the system.”
Each participant is one less person in the system; that’s what Santiago said she loves about her work.
“It’s already hard as it is for a person of color and then to have that felony conviction as well, it’s even worse,” Santiago said.
Morones said the program has given him a new perspective on his future.
“My goal is not to get into any problems and continue to push forward like they told me and continue,” Morones said.
According to the county, 300 people have graduated from the program since 2017.