A Douglas County district judge has wiped clean the felony records of eight veterans as part of a treatment program giving second chances to those who fought for our country.
One by one, the veterans came forward inside legislative chambers on Thursday with Douglas County Judge James Gleason offering a salute and saying, “Gentlemen, congratulations."
The Veterans’ Treatment Court was the brainchild of the late Judge Mark Ashford, who died suddenly in his chambers last July. Over the last 16-months, each of the graduates completed milestones to reach a point where their felony record would be wiped clean.
6 News first met Marine veteran Ron Holesko in 2017 and caught up with him on graduation day. "This has been a roller-coaster of a ride, but overall a great life-changing experience that's pushing me into a whole different dimension of what life can be and what life is going to be."
Some of the previous four graduates - the first class through - offered support Thursday. Graduate Justin Erickson told 6 News he and the fellow graduates know the struggle doesn't end at graduation. "Relapse is real and the second you think about it, whether it’s drugs or alcohol or something else, whenever you think of it, you've already relapsed and you've got to start over from square one."
In Judge Ashford's absence, his nephew, attorney John Ashford, addressed the graduates. "This was his life's passion. He'd tell you this is a day of celebration. This is a day to forgive yourself."
Mark Ashford's wife Deb fought back emotions as she knew what this second chance for vets program meant to him.
Erickson said, "It gives me goosebumps every time I think about it because he took care of us really well.”
Perhaps graduate Mark Overgaard summed it up best: “All the people who have given me support - it's time to move and do better things."
Following this class' graduation, there now remains close to 30 veterans who are at different stages of treatment court in Douglas County. Each has a mentor and others to lean on when times get tough.