Marine finds tough love, success in Veterans Court
Oakland County, Mich. — Former U.S. Marine Anthony Stott vividly recalls the night he was pulled over by police in Farmington.
“It was Cinco de Mayo in 2011,” he said. “I was arrested for driving and drinking and possession of marijuana.”
Instead of becoming another statistic in Oakland County’s court system, Stott, now 27, was steered toward Judge Brian MacKenzie’s Veterans Court, a court focused on keeping veterans out of jail for nonviolent offenses through a tightly supervised counseling and mentor program.
“They want to see you do good there. It changed my life and I’m thankful.”
MacKenzie, learned about Veterans Court in 2009 from a fellow judge, Robert Russell, who had started his own in Buffalo, N.Y.
“Most often they come back suffering from post-traumatic stress, and may be handling that by turning to drugs or alcohol. We want them to deal with that trauma so they stop turning to substances that alter behavior.”
The team includes people with the Veterans Administration, Oakland County Veterans Services and veterans who are mentors. MacKenzie has two therapy dogs — Doberman pinschers — who wander among the veterans when they visit the court.
“If people do well, there are rewards,” MacKenzie said. “If they do not, there are sanctions including jail.”
Sixty-two people have entered the program since it began in January 2010. MacKenzie said only two have washed out.
Veterans who enter agree to take part in an 18-month program where they can be tested for intoxicants at any time. They agree to have a physical.
“We stop at their houses to make sure they aren’t using,” MacKenzie said. They see a probation officer and therapists every week and meet with MacKenzie once or twice a month. Some enter a classic 12-step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous. All have veteran mentors.
A Canton native, Stott served three tours of duty in Iraq with the Marines until his discharge in 2008. His arrest earned him 18 months of reported probation in a regular court plus fines — a problem since Stott was unemployed and had declared bankruptcy.
Stott’s probation officer suggested he enter Veterans Court, which he did in September 2011.
“I was just going, thinking it would be easier than normal probation and that I would just slip through the cracks,” Stott said.
As time went on, he realized it wasn’t easier.
When he violated probation that November, MacKenzie sentenced him to three days in the Oakland County Jail.
“It sucked,” said Stott. “It felt like you were in the military, but worse. You were stuck in a cell with other people and had no say in what you could do.”
Most of all, Stott was not treated with respect.
“You are a criminal in jail,” he said. “It was a very big eye-opener.”
After that, he headed back to Veterans Court where he told probation officer and former veteran Mike McGlown what had happened.
“I felt like I was going to get yelled at by Mike and Judge MacKenzie,” he said.
But McGlown and MacKenzie didn’t do that.
“They let me know they were disappointed but that was a problem in the past,” Stott said.
“They said, ‘Now let’s worry about the future.’”
Right then, Stott said, “I thought, I’m going to make it and give this 100 percent.”
His perspective altered, Stott attended group meetings at the Veterans Administration in Ann Arbor.
“It helped me to be able to talk to other veterans and get things off my chest about being overseas,” Stott said. “You realize you are not alone.”
Stott is halfway through his 18 months. He still takes drug tests.
“I haven’t smoked weed since that first night,” he said. “I haven’t drunk anything since (jail).”
The next violation would mean 10 days in jail. With a fiancée, a stepdaughter and baby daughter, Stott said he is motivated to stay clean.
“I haven’t drank for so long, I just don’t have the urge to,” he said.
He works now, and will start a new job at a chemical company in days. It is a job he knows he never would have landed before Veterans Court. “I never would have passed a (company) drug test.”
“Me getting in trouble was a blessing.”
Contact Carol Hopkins at 248-745-4645 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @OPCarolHopkins or on Facebook @OPcarolhopkins.