Through perseverance, local Army vet earns back the freedom he fought for

ELYRIA - Through relapse and redemption, persistence and perseverance, a US Army combat veteran finally graduated from the Lorain County Veterans Treatment Court four years after being admitted into it.

DeShawn Turner, 26, spent four years as a combat engineer. Upon his honorable discharge, he spent the next four years trying to earn back the very freedom he fought for.

“I did not think I was going to end up here today,” Turner said.

There was a time where many people in the veterans court program found themselves wondering the same thing.

In 2013, Lorain County received a federal grant to establish its veterans court program, a division of the judicial system that solely handles veterans who face criminal charges. Only veterans with substance abuse, mental health, or war trauma-related issues can be admitted into it. The specialized docket aims to reduce recidivism rates and increase compliance with terms of treatment.

As part of the program, veterans have to undergo therapy and counseling, among other things. They are also latched up with a mentor. The mentors are also veterans. The program works in conjunction with the Veterans Administration, pretrial services, the county veterans service commission and the county court system.

Since its creation, 19 veterans have successfully completed the rigorous four-phase program. On Monday, Turner became the twentieth veteran to receive his completion certificate.

"I never thought I was going to pass," Turner admitted. "I didn’t think I was going to stop [abusing drugs]. They’d send me to jail every couple of weeks. But for me, for someone who’s been trained in the Army, going to jail every two weeks is nothing.”

After getting into trouble with the law in 2014, Turner was admitted into the veterans court program. However, his substance abuse issues continued to delay his progress in the program. Eventually, after continuing to fail to adhere to the strict standards of the program, Turner was sentenced to prison. It was at that point things started to click for him, Turner said.

While incarcerated, Turner lost access to his monthly veterans’ benefit checks from the U.S. government. That was only part of it, he said.

“I was realizing all the stuff I was missing. I was missing my wife. Stuff started clicking and I didn’t want this life anymore,” Turner said.

When he was released, Turner was admitted back into the veterans court program, but with one caveat. He had to start over. During his second "tour of duty" in the veterans court program, he began to lean heavily on the treatment staff and mentors.

“You talk about perseverance. I hope Shawn is up here someday talking about his journey because my journey isn’t [anything] compared to what he went through,” said William Carrero, a retired marine and recovering addict who graduated the veterans treatment court program in 2016.

In his four years enrolled in the program, Turner earned a reputation as a jovial, affable and charismatic person. Seeing him turn his life around is proof that the program works, they said. Turner is now enrolled in college and is pursuing a degree in construction technology. He received "As" and "Bs" last semester.

“I’m glad this program came out. I wouldn’t have the opportunity to be where I am today if I didn’t have this program,” Turner said.

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