It’s hard to believe it’s been seven years since the Veteran’s Treatment Court took on the oftentimes daunting task of giving veterans, who have found themselves caught up in the legal system, a chance to redeem themselves.
The court put things on a temporary hold Wednesday to celebrate its seventh anniversary, the last six under the watchful eye of Chief District Court Judge Jacquelyn Lee.
“As I think about the court, the best way to describe it is agony and ecstasy,” Lee said as the anniversary celebration began. “The agony of losing veterans to their demons and the ecstasy of seeing them obtain achievements which have only been dreams before their being in court.”
Part of the process is an annual graduation ceremony for those who successfully complete the program. This year was no exception as two more veterans, both former soldiers, earned the recognition for their ability to fight off their own demons and earn their own forms of ecstasy.
Duke Radford and Stephen Doust were the two graduates at Wednesday’s ceremony. Both offered their thanks to the court and expressed gratitude for being given a second chance to turn their lives in a new direction.
“Since entering this program, I’ve gone through a lot of different changes, a lot of challenges and a lot of obstacles,” Doust said. “I’m really appreciative of the court for sticking with me through all my transitions, all the changes I needed to make. It really has taken a lot to get to this point in time.”
Lee said the impact on the lives of the veterans who take part in the program is almost immeasurable. Some have been at first hesitant before realizing the success awaiting them beyond the program.
“We’ve had someone who is a wrestling coach now at Rutgers University in New Jersey who has been through our court,” Lee said. “We have had someone, one of the veterans who graduated has gotten his PhD and you think about we never know what we get, but we’re able to take all these rough stones and turn them into jewels.”
As well as honoring those who have successfully completed the program, each anniversary celebration is a chance for the court to honor their own team members who have stood out throughout the year.
The Silver Eagle Award, described as an award for outstanding performance, was given to Amy Brown and Gwen Walton for supporting the program.
Honored with the Order of the Eagle’s Nest — an honor for tireless dedication to the program — was Genevieve Winderweedle, program case manager.
The Sgt. Ramirez Compliance Award, which goes to a program graduate who reflects the purpose of the program, was given to honor graduate Dorothy Robinson.
“When Dorothy came into the court she was very difficult,” Lee said. “Anybody that went out there, she would run them off. And she went to treatment and now here she is becoming just a model person. She went to college and now she’s a mentor with our program.”
Honored with The Veteran Thomas Steves Award was mentor Mary Easley and Mentor of The Year was George Williams.
Lee received the commendations and awards of her late husband Tommy Farrell Lee, who died of pancreatic cancer last year as a result of the use of Agent Orange in the jungles of Vietnam. He was a veteran who never received the honors he was due from his time in Southeast Asia, until Wednesday.
She characterized her late husband as a man who didn’t seek the honors he deserved.
“He never pursued them,” she said. “He had done what he needed to do and he never looked for any rewards or any commemorations or anything else.”
The presentations also had a special meaning to Lee.
“I was appreciative to the court for chasing the rabbits to get those awards,” Lee said. “Even in death, he still needs to be recognized for what he did and for his service.”
-Dunn Daily Record