On Oct. 15, the Atlantic Judicial Circuit Veterans Court had its first graduation for three graduates. A number of prominent local officials attended the ceremony, including Liberty County Deputy Sheriff Jon Long, and District Attorney Tom Durden.
“It’s a wonderful day for veteran’s court,” said Judge Robert Russell. “It’s graduation!”
The Veteran’s treatment court program was established in July 2016, to provide intensive treatment and court supervision for vets who have been charged with felony or misdemeanor drug or alcohol offenses. The program is 24 months long and Russell presides over the court. After successful completion of the program participants can have their charges dismissed.
“It’s been a long time to get to graduation,” said Russell.
Russell introduced Judge Linnie Darden as the guest speaker for the ceremony.
“To the participants in the program, it is an honor to be a part of this,” Darden said. “The veteran experience is a unique experience.”
Darden, who recently lost his mother, spoke of the importance of not forgetting about veterans once they retire from active duty and leaving no one behind.
“There are certain people in this society that deserve a second chance,” said Darden.
After Darden spoke, Russell called the graduates to the bench to receive their certificates of graduation. Shawn Pittman and Waylon Gosseck were two of the three graduates. The third graduate preferred not to have his name or his picture used
“It was a blessing that VTC was around,” said Pittman during his speech. “It changed my life.”
While Pittman’s speech was short, Gosseck thanked everyone for their part in turning his life around and offered an in-depth look at how he got to the point where he needed help.
“I buried soldiers for a living and it eventually caught up with me,” Gosseck said.
He spoke of battling alcoholism and the different staff along the way who assisted him in making it to graduation day.
“Don’t just see this program as a way to stay out of jail,” Gosseck said. “At the end of this you’ll be a better person.”
Once program graduates spoke, Russell adjourned the ceremony and a reception was held. Attendees were treated to food from Baldino’s Subs and Chick-Fil-A.
“[The graduation] went wonderful and better than I expected,” said VTC Administrator Della Horne. “I’m so proud of everyone in the program.”