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'I needed help': Man served 33 years in prison, graduates from KCMO Mental Health Court

KCMO Mental Health Court graduation
Posted at 10:28 PM, Jun 04, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City has a voluntary mental health court that's been helping people for more than 20 years.

The mental health court provides support for people who struggle with mental health challenges.

​That was Maurice Johnson's reality after he served 33 years in prison for bank robbery.

"I didn’t have nowhere to go…homeless," Johnson said. "I just started going to the hospital and police station."

​Staying out of the criminal justice system was hard for him, but he was eligible for help from the mental health court.

Patrice Winston, the program's coordinator, said Johnson had a rough start.

"He came in distrusting of a lot of people," Winston said. "He was always in survival mode​."

Johnson needed help beyond the court program to get where he needed to be.

He got involved with Kevin Morgan's organization, Lean on Me Ministries, which serves formerly incarcerated men.

Johnson started engaging with that community and helping at-risk youth.

Lean on Me Ministries
Maurice Johnson volunteering with Lean on Me Ministries.

As of Tuesday, Johnson can say he's a graduate of the mental health court.​

Graduation means his municipal charges will be dismissed.

Judge Martina Peterson handed him his graduation certificate and reflected on how far he's come.

"You have worked harder than most people in this program to get to where you are because you started 50 yards behind everyone else​."

​What happens now is up to Johnson.

Maurice Johnson

"​Trying to get an apartment, find me a part-time job," Johnson said. "The next step is the hardest step."

​He shouldn't be a familiar face in front of a judge anymore.

​"That's success for us," Winston said. "Just don't come back in the system. We love to see you, but just wanna run into you at Walmart, not at the courthouse​."

Johnson said he was depressed when he started in the mental health court program.

He rated his mental health at a three or four on a scale of 10.

Now he rates his mental health at an eight on a scale of 10.

"Kevin and the judge, a shout out, because if it weren’t for Kevin and the judge, I wouldn't be standing here talking to you today," Johnson said.