DALLAS -- There was a special moment in a Dallas courtroom Monday for a woman who's turning her life around.
Not long ago, Felicia Flynn was a prostitute, but now she has a job in a restaurant. Monday, she celebrated a milestone, graduating from STAR Court, a court-ordered diversion program that seeks to help sex workers break a cycle of recidivism. It's a big first.
"I've never graduated from anything. Never," she said. "Receiving my GED in the mail was the closest to graduation I've ever had."
Flynn, 38, fell into prostitution 10 years ago after her marriage ended and she was suddenly on her own.
"I didn't know how to take care of myself and I found a way that was so convenient," Flynn said. "But once you find that convenient way, you get so stuck into that lifestyle. It's just a whirlpool. It sucks you under."
Soon, she was addicted to drugs and found herself in and out of jail. She said she was convicted of multiple felonies and was in and out of jail for prostitution at least seven times.
Last year, she wound up in Criminal District Court 7, in front of Judge Elizabeth Frizell. But this time, Flynn was sentenced to STAR Court instead of jail time.
"They go through the system again and again," Frizell explained. "And we're spending all this money to lock them up, and we know they're going to come back because we haven't addressed the issue."
The program is intensive. At first, it requires participants to meet weekly with the judge and counselors specializing in drug rehabilitation, mental illness and career counseling. Participants are also assigned a sponsor to closely monitor their progress.
Flynn's sponsor, Castanita Fitzpatrick, is a former prostitute who went through the program and has been clean for more than 5 years.
"In these court programs, I finally found someone that cared about me, that loved me," explained Fitzpatrick. "They wanted to see me make it, and they helped me to see that i can make it."
"If she can do it, I can do it," said Flynn. "We come from the same walk."
With her family watching from the courtroom gallery, Flynn graduated from the program. Judge Frizell gave her a medal, a certificate, and an even bigger reward, her final two years of probation commuted.
Flynn knows she's on the right track. The past is the past. Now, it's about her future.
"I want my life," she told her family and supporters. "It's definitely worth it."
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