Tammy Hawkins hadn’t used her degree in criminal justice and minor in psychology in 17 years in 1993, telling her mother she would be the highest paid meter maid there ever was at the time.
But former Teen Court Coordinator Natalie Rothstein told Hawkins she would be a great choice to take over her role, and after Rothstein died, Hawkins was appointed to the position in April of 1993.
“Since that day, every day has been a special day,” Hawkins said. “I’ve never regretted one minute. It’s been the grandest ride ever.”
After more than 25 years as the coordinator for the Odessa Teen Court, Hawkins is retiring from the position to spend more time with her parents, her five grandchildren, and to travel with her husband.
“I’m 60, I want to do whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it,” she said. “I still think God has more out there for me.”
Teen Court is a program for first-time offenders given a class C misdemeanor who are at least 10 to 18 or older if they are still in high school. By going through teen court, the citation is taken off of their records. Those cited stand before a jury of teens who have also gone through the Teen Court system, who issue a sentence of community service hours and a number of jury duties they have to serve for the citation.
“It’s for kids that made a mistake,” Hawkins said. “It’s not for bad kids; it’s for good kids that made a bad choice.”
Teen Court meets on Monday nights at the Ector County Courthouse about two to three times a month.
Hawkins said teenagers from all walks of life come through Teen Court, rich or poor, even both of her own children had gone through the court. She said many of those who go through the court system come back to act as attorneys, and seniors in high school can be given scholarships. Between 500 and 800 minors go through Teen Court every year, she said.
One of the greatest joys of working as Teen Court coordinator, Hawkins said, has been being able to walk down the street and have a parent or someone who went through the system come up to her and thank her for what she did for them.
“As far as I’m concerned, if I saved one, it’s all been worth it,” Hawkins said. “That kid’s been worth it.”
Hawkins considers Teen Court as a testament of the entire community. The judges in the court room are volunteers, typically district judges or prosecutors. District Attorney Bobby Bland, Judge Sara Kate Billingsley, and even State Representative Brooks Landgraf have volunteered their time as judges for Teen Court cases.
“Our community has embraced this program because it works,” Hawkins said. “The whole entire city of Odessa has embraced us and that’s what has kept us up for 34 years.”
Hawkins said in her role, she oversees the trials and also works with the teenagers who are facing trial, talking to them about upcoming court dates, and finding out what and how their citations happened. She also tries to find out if they are going through any problems, such as issues at homes or trouble with drugs or alcohol or feeling suicidal, and tries to get them the help they need.
“We may move mountains and we may move hills, but somebody’s moving, because we’re coming through,” Hawkins said. “And this kid’s gonna be OK.”
Despite her best efforts, she said some do run into trouble with the law after they’re done with Teen Court.
“There are some that slip through the cracks, and those are the ones you cry at night about,” she said. “That doesn’t mean you’re gonna stop trying, but those hurt a lot.”
Hawkins’ last day was Thursday, and her replacement already started working the next day, Rebecca Grisham, Hawkins’ assistant for nearly six years.
“She’ll bring a strength to this program that we need and I know that she will do a perfect job,” Hawkins said.
Grisham said she’s honored and excited to take over the job, and has learned a lot from Hawkins over the years,
“It was an adventure,” Grisham said about working with Hawkins. “Every day is a different situation, every kid is a different kid. She has a really good grasp on how to handle the different situations and so that was something that has been amazing.”