Updated at 3:42 p.m.
Darnell Morris said that when he started the District of Columbia Superior Court's Fathering Court program, his relationship with his 15-year-old daughter "wasn’t too perfect." Morris, 42, had been in trouble with the law before for selling drugs, but said he had heard about the Fathering Court program on television and wanted a shot "to better myself."
On Friday morning, Morris and thirteen other men graduated from the 2011 class of Fathering Court, which aims to not only help fathers comply with child support orders, but also become better parents.
"I’m a better person, I’m a better father," said Morris, who was joined during the ceremony by his three-year-old son, Darnell Caesar Jr.
The Fathering Court program began in 2008, and has graduated more than 50 men re-entering the community from prison who have child support responsibilities. Participants are connected with employment services, counseling and other support over the course of a year.
Only two graduates have re-offended since the program began, according to a court spokesman.
Superior Court Judge Milton Lee, who presides over the program, said during the ceremony that while times may be tough in terms of finding a steady job or a home, “our gentlemen have not let that stop them.”
“You are better men than people will ever know,” Lee said, acknowledging that many of the men overcame health, relationship and a host of other problems to complete the program. Lee credited program manager Ron Scott, presiding Family Court Judge Zoe Bush and other staff for their role in making the program a success.