41-B District Court Judge Carrie Lynn Fuca congratulates Navy veteran Shawn Ann Bielecki May 23. Bielecki was one of 11 graduates in the Veterans Treatment Court.

41-B District Court Judge Carrie Lynn Fuca congratulates Navy veteran Shawn Ann Bielecki May 23. Bielecki was one of 11 graduates in the Veterans Treatment Court.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Military vets graduate from local addiction program

Special memorial announced for lives lost

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published June 5, 2019

 John Thomas Brinkerhoff, a recovering heroin addict who served in the Army, kisses his 10-month-old son, Thomas.

John Thomas Brinkerhoff, a recovering heroin addict who served in the Army, kisses his 10-month-old son, Thomas.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 Judge Fuca presents the first brick of a future outdoor memorial garden, seen in the background, to Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Clement.

Judge Fuca presents the first brick of a future outdoor memorial garden, seen in the background, to Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Clement.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — As 41-B District Court Magistrate Ryan Zemke put it, “We are all statistics.”

He kicked off yet another 41-B Veterans Treatment Court graduation May 23. A total of 11 vets were honored for getting clean and turning their lives around.

“Every aspect of your lives we’ve seen improve, and we’re excited to show the public,” Zemke said.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel talked about an individual within his own family who died young, at the age of 35, due to a drug overdose. He described the emotional trauma of the event — the “What could I have done?” thought pattern relegated to hindsight.

“You are extremely fortunate,” Hackel told the grads. “There’s a tremendous amount of people in society who care about you. … We all need a support mechanism.”

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Clement is a sister, daughter and granddaughter of vets. She said her presence, right before Memorial Day, was just one way to praise a program that has offered dozens of individuals a second chance at life over the years.

About four years ago, only eight veteran treatment courts existed statewide, she noted, and that number is now up to 27 — the highest in the nation.

“It’s unbelievably uplifting for us because we know they work,” Clement said.

About $1 million in grant money has lent itself toward decreased recidivism rates and smaller unemployment numbers among such addicts. Like the military, but also unique in other ways, these programs build people up in different ways.

“It’s not over,” she said. “You’re graduating, but it’s not the end for you. It’s the beginning.”

Judge Carrie Lynn Fuca presided over most of the ceremony, describing the journeys that each of the veterans took to reach the next summit in their lives.

There was Jason Doetsch, who served in the Marine Corps between 2000 and 2004. He was drug tested more than 120 times, saying his life is now viewed like a car: The rearview window is small for a reason, because the front windshield is bigger and that’s what is ahead of you.

Matthew Grubba served in the Navy between 1994 and 1997. The best day of his life, Grubba said, was the day he decided to get sober, which he has been for two years. Now, the Detroit Tigers fan will be a mentor for current and future addicts in the program.

Kenneth Bush was in the Navy between 1993 and 1998. He holds a 41-B record, drug testing a whopping 299 times. A fan of motorcycles and man caves, he beat his addiction by overcoming his “proud” demeanor.

“I don’t want to ask anyone for anything, but it took this program for me to realize you can (ask),” Bush said.

Others take different journeys to reach their destinations. That was the case for Joseph VanPamel, an Army member from 1991 to 1996, who served 30 court-mandated days in jail and completed 190 community service hours prior to entering treatment.

There’s a sense of addressing your own demons in life, he said.

“I don’t disappoint the people who had faith in me,” VanPamel said.

And then there are those who almost don’t get out alive, like John Brinkerhoff, who served in the Army from 2005 to 2008.

He became a heroin addict, fighting back and forth to combat his disease, but he relapsed and almost took his own life.

“Addiction doesn’t discriminate,” Fuca said.

Following a jail stint, Brinkerhoff is nearly two years clean.

“I can literally say … this program saved my life,” he said.

John Anklam, an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1971, was described by Fuca as the program’s “sweetest graduate.” He routinely volunteers with programs like Meals on Wheels and pet programs, and has even donated 35 gallons of blood for the American Red Cross.

Alfred Biland was an alcoholic for 20 years. He praised the treatment court for making survival a realistic option.

“Life throws us a lot of curveballs. This program has allowed me and other graduates the chance to step out of the batter’s box,” he said.

 

A memorial
At the end of the ceremony, Fuca said not everyone makes it to graduation. Some fail within the program, while others successfully complete the program but relapse in the outside world.

A memorial garden area is planned to be unveiled soon outside the 41-B District Court, which will honor nearly a dozen individuals who have died over the past eight years. It will include benches and places for families and recovering addicts to congregate.

The first official brick for the project was given to Clement for what Fuca said was her tireless pursuit of treating addicts in a humane way. Clement has donated copious amounts of time in addition to her normal duties, and she has impacted the way the judicial system is transforming itself into one that looks more feverishly at reform than just punishment.

“(Those who passed are) gone but not forgotten,” Fuca said. “We’re gonna keep on keepin’ on.”

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