New York Daily News
He ‘showed them right’
Graduates from Mental Health Court in lieu of jail time
It was a special kind of commencement, years in the making.
A beaming Qulon McCain, who once faced up to four years behind bars for stealing four pairs of socks, appeared on the computer screen Friday in what would be his final virtual check-in with Manhattan Mental Health Court.
In another rectangular box appeared Judge Juan Merchan, who listened intently as McCain’s case manager Kelly Whitfield ticked off McCain’s accomplishments during his 19-month stay at the residential Bronxbased treatment center Harbor House.
McCain attended individual and group therapy sessions six days a week that tackled a number of issues, like anger management, family reintegration and how to quit smoking.
He repeatedly tested negative for all illicit substances. And McCain — who has bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and went years without being properly treated — had “shown extreme resilience,” Whitfield said, when learning how to cope with stressful situations without relying on drugs. Merchan seemed pleased. “So it’s another great update Mr. McCain. You’ve had a lot of them,” the judge said.
“As I’m looking at your criminal history, I’m looking at the 89 misdemeanors,” he continued, referring to a list of relatively minor offenses McCain had racked up years before. “[But then] I see how well you’ve done in the program. It’s clear to me that you just were not getting the help that you needed all along.”
“That’s right,” replied McCain, smiling.
McCain, 45, graduated Friday from the court’s alternative to
incarceration program he entered in July 2019 after pocketing a few pairs of socks from Bloomingdale’s flagship store on Nov. 9, 2018.
The offense would normally be a petty larceny charge — but McCain, who had swiped a few small items from the same department store in 2017, was slapped with a felony burglary via a sly legal tactic commonly used by stores to thwart repeat shoplifters. That charge
carries a prison sentence of two to four years.
McCain’s lawyer, Thalia Karny of New York County Defender Services, urged prosecutors to consider her client for Manhattan’s Mental Health Court, where some defendants accused of nonviolent felonies may appear if they’ve been diagnosed with a serious mental illness.
McCain pleaded guilty to burglary and the lesser charge of petty larceny in order to get into the court, with the understanding his charges would be reduced after he completed the residential treatment program.
On Friday, Merchan dismissed the burglary charge and granted McCain time served on the charge of petty larceny.
“Your attitude toward treatment and your commitment to getting better, is nothing short of remarkable,” Assistant District Attorney Eva Dowdell said on the virtual call. “I wish you the best of luck, sir.”
As the graduation came to a close, Karny, who was also on the call, swelled with pride.
“I just wanted to say thank you so much for this opportunity for Mr. McCain. And I’m so proud of you, Mr. McCain,” she said. “I’m so sad that it’s COVID, and I can’t give you a big hug.”
McCain laughed, before thanking those who he had leaned on for nearly two years.
“I would like to thank [the] staff [for] believing that I could do the program with ease,” he said. “And I showed them right, that I could do it.”