PANHANDLE - Patty Ward of Vernon sat in a Washington County courtroom Monday, waiting for her son, Jamison Haskins, to be sentenced for a methamphetamine conviction.
"No matter what he gets, it will be hard," said Ward. "I'm just hoping that he can finally get some help instead of just being warehoused in a cell block with nothing to do but learn more criminality."
Like many family members of inmates, Ward says she longs for the day her son can complete his sentence and overcome his past.
"He has been battling addiction for 15 years and has been hospitalized for a drug overdose," she said. "I am hopeful that Department of Corrections rehabilitative programs can help set him on the right path."
Ward says it was this desperate wish from a mother's heart that had her responding when she was approached by fellow Vernon native Timothy Lee Carter last fall.
Carter, who was released from the Florida Prison System in September, told Ward that after nearly 30 years of living his life in and out of prison, he had decided to work with the Florida Department of Corrections to help improve the agency's re-entry program.
In addition to assisting FDOC, Carter stated he was looking for other ways to help reduce recidivism and convinced Ward to co-found "Helping Hands Ministries" - a non-profit organization he claimed would help former Holmes, Jackson, and Washington County inmates transition back into society.
Ward accompanied Carter to Tallahassee, where they actually met with Kim Riley, Chief of FDOC's Bureau of Readiness and Community Transition and discussed ways to improve the state's re-entry programs.
The pair also met with State Representative Brad Drake and Senator George Gainer - both of whom agreed improvements to the existing program could be made.
"As it is named, FDOC is a state agency that has the interest of correcting those who have made mistakes," said Drake. "It's not just about incarcerating someone who has wronged society and keeping them off the streets. At some time, they may go back into society, and we hope that in the time they were in custody we were able to do something to change their behavior and make them productive citizens. If not, we have failed."
Rep. Drake says he prides himself on being available to listen to the concerns and ideas of his continuants. He also says he took such time with Carter and is deeply sadden by the outcome.
"It absolutely devastates me when people come to you asking for compassion and you give them your trust - then they turn on you," said Drake. "It makes it very difficult for us as legislators to help those who have sincere intentions."
Washington County Sheriff Kevin Crews agrees - and says his office doesn't take actions like Carter's lightly.
"As Sheriff, I want our citizens to know that someone purposely defrauding the people of Washington County will never be acceptable," said Crews. "Our community reaches out to those in need out of the goodness of their hearts, and someone taking advantage of that will not be tolerated."
Ward, who first filed a complaint with the Washington County Sheriff's Office last month, states Carter wrote numerous bad checks on accounts belonging to herself and her elderly mother. But Ward says more than anything, Carter stole her faith.
"I wanted so much to believe that I did," said Ward. "He has taken my trust, my hope, my belief in things that are good, and most importantly, I am questioning my own beliefs. I sit in silence in my home, filled with embarrassment and heartbreak."
According to reports, Carter also accepted monetary and other donations for the phony thrift store from residents in Holmes and Washington Counties - as well as donations "for gas money" to travel to Jacksonville, where he stated his teenage daughter had been in a car accident and was not expected to live. A call to the teen's mother confirmed the teen had not been in an accident - rather was doing well and present at school the day Carter was taking fuel donations.
Many local residents hesitated to help Carter at first - mainly because his reputation and criminal record preceded him.
Carter has more than 40 charges - including bigamy, numerous counts of grant theft, forgery, and fraud - ranging over ten counties in Florida. Still more charges are listed in several other states, including Georgia and Alabama.
But Amy Cooper, founder of Faith at the Beach, a Bay County ministry aimed to offer wrap-around services for women experiencing addiction and alcohol abuse, invested in Carter's vision, donating more than $80,000 in retail merchandise to stock the thrift store which never opened.
Cooper, who is candid about her criminal past, says Carter's actions hurt both the community and those who are sincere are making a change in their lives.
"It troubles me," said Cooper. "I have taken time to build my ministry, and unlike when I was addicted to drugs, integrity means something to me now"
"(The ministry) celebrated five years in January," she added. "Carter's actions are troublesome because I have worked to get grants to help other transition - but with people like him, it just sets us back. It takes time to build a solid reputation."
Carter told the Washington County News in a January interview: "Anytime my name comes up, folks will tell others to steer clear. If you Google my name, you won't see anything positive … It got to the point my family was relieved when they knew I was in jail because at least they knew I was safe."
Ward says she finds his words almost prophetic.
"Law enforcement will eventually catch up with him," she said. "And when they do, I imagine he will 'be safe' for a long time to come. Carter is a con; not converted."
Carter is believed to be hiding in the Pensacola area. Anyone with any information regarding his whereabouts is asked to contact the Washington County Sheriff's Office at 850-638-6111.