Even when it’s cold and gloomy outside, what takes place inside these two courthouses one Friday each month feels like a lot of sunshine and celebration.
Grayson and Fannin counties are part of the North Texas Regional Veterans Court, with the Honorable John Roach presiding.
The first hint that this court proceeding is unlike any other occurs with “ATTENTION ON DECK!”, followed by Judge Roach entering the courtoom wearing his camoflauge robe, with the courtroom support dog, Justice, in tow. From the bench, Judge Roach personally practices the expectation of dedication and effort that he encourages the veterans in court to have.
Ocassionally a veteran fails to bring their folder to court. If this ever happens, Judge Roach lets the veteran pick the number of push-ups they prefer to do, then he makes them drop in front of everyone. The catch to this is that Judge Roach himself drops and does push-ups alongside the veteran, joined by all the other able-bodied veterans who participate in the program. He has no qualms taking swift action in the rare event that a veteran does not pass a drug test, which results in being cuffed and escorted from the courtoom straight to jail.
Judge Roach talks to each veteran in his courtroom individually, asking them about their successes, updates and challenges over the past 30 days. The tone he has with them is conversational and personal, conveying a sense of sincere empathy in their successes.Sometimes he shares advice or stories in the courtroom, and it is in those stories that you understand these veterans are always on his mind regardless of where he is.
They were on his mind when he set out to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, a mountain in Africa which is the highest single free-standing mountain above sea level in the world. He explained that climbing the mountain was extremely hard, and he wanted to quit. But he kept thinking about the veterans, and how their journeys to recovery are incredibly challenging. How could he quit on that mountain and come back to face the veterans in court who are also on a hard journey and may feel like quitting?
So he didn’t quit.
He kept climbing, and along the way, he kept repeating the Swahili words that his guide taught him to use as a mental tool to finish the climb: “Pole Pole”, and “Hakuna Matata” which means “Slowly, Slowly” and “no troubles.” At times he felt like he was going to fall off the mountain, or collapse from exhaustion. But he kept moving his feet, “Pole Pole.” That’s how it can feel for veterans who are climbing their way to a higher point in life through the North Texas Regional Veterans Court.
It is a second chance in life for veterans facing convictions.
Many of the veterans are there for incidents that involve addiction, on a journey that typically lasts anywhere from 12 months to 18 months. Commencing from the program means they’ve successfully completed all the requirements including therapy, classes and maintaining sobriety. It is evident that the veterans in front of Judge Roach are making progress. Some of the progress is something tangible such as achieving the goal of buying a new car or getting a promotion at work. Often, some of the progress that veterans report is that they were invited to spend dinner or holidays with family for the first time in a long time.
Listening to the victories and milestones that the veterans have achieved since the last time they were in front of Judge Roach can easily move a person to tears. A round of applause breaks out for each veteran as they state how many days (many have hundreds of days) of sobriety they’ve achieved. It’s a celebration of the journey that they take day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, and sometimes second by second…”Pole Pole”.
Military Veteran Peer Network provides mentors for the veterans who go through veterans court. We have a need for more mentors in both Fannin and Grayson counties. If you’re interested in volunteering to become a mentor for Veterans Court in Fannin or Grayson, please contact Sharon Luse firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on how to apply to participate in the North Texas Regional Veterans Court, please visit https://www.northtexasveteranscourt.com/apply-now