Edward Flesher has a good job as a mechanic at the Harley-Davidson store in Meridian. He has a solid family: his wife, Tawna, and six children. He has more than two years of sobriety and reason for optimism.
He was one of the first two graduates of the Ada County Veterans Treatment Court on Tuesday.
Judge Timothy Hansen, himself a veteran, presides over the court.
"I tell participants this is probably one of the most difficult things they'll do in their lives," said Hansen.
Veterans court started in Ada County in 2011. Officials thought there was a better alternative to prison for certain offenders - those mixed up with the legal system because of substance abuse or mental health issues related to military service.
Flesher, featured in a 2012 Statesman story when he was about halfway through the program, served a nine-month "hostile duty" mission in Somalia. He left the service with post-traumatic stress disorder and became addicted to drugs and alcohol. That led to a felony burglary charge.
In veterans court, he's spent more than two years taking daily drug tests, making weekly court dates and meeting with a mentor, all while working full time.
Flesher's employer has sent him out of state to earn additional mechanic certifications. To do so, he had to make arrangements to abide by court rules and get daily drug tests.
Now he's done. His conviction remains on his record and he will be on unsupervised probation, but if he stays out of trouble, he'll be able to petition the court to dismiss the case.
"At certain points in veterans court you wish you could walk away. But staying with the program has given me the chance to walk away drug-free," said Flesher. "It feels legitimate. It feels like it worked."
Twenty-two men are in Ada veterans court. Thanks to a federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the court will more than double capacity to 45. The grant also pays for a volunteer mentor coordinator as well as parenting and trauma programs for participants with PTSD, said Marreen Burton, court coordinator.
The county has other courts that offer alternatives to incarceration: drug courts, a mental health court and a juvenile drug court. In January, the county opened a DUI court, a pilot project targeting second-time offenders.
COURT THRIVES IN CANYON COUNTY
When Army veteran and Lighthouse Mission resident Robert Fleming learned he'd have to do 20 hours of community service to graduate from veterans court, he started looking for projects.
"I saw all the bikes at the mission and wondered if I could start refurbishing old ones to donate," said Fleming.
He talked to staffers at the Canyon County homeless shelter. They gave him space to work. Before long, he had salvaged 100 bikes. When he finished the 100th - a mere frame with a front wheel when he started - he got the idea of donating it to the court.
Fleming's All-American red, white and blue bike will be raffled off in April. He's setting up at table at the Nampa Fred Meyer on Tuesdays and Thursdays in March to sell tickets.
Proceeds will help pay for small rewards for other veterans as they reach milestones in Canyon's five-phase program, said Dona Butler, court coordinator.
They will also help supplement the $25-a-week fee the veterans have to pay for drug testing.
Fleming worked for 20 years at a trailer manufacturer. He ran the repair shop, among other jobs.
Both his parents died when he was a boy; he found his father dead on the floor from a heart attack.
"The stork drops off babies. One dropped me off in this world, but I survived it," he said.
He said pain from back and leg injuries made him start drinking. He violated parole after a felony DUI.
"I was going to prison, but I found out about veterans court and asked to be in that program," he said. "In my heart, I owe the judge a lot. I'm giving my 110 percent to keep the court going."
Butler said Fleming is her "star." She said he's done about 500 hours of community service - way above and beyond.
"He's come a long way and has done nothing but excel," she said.
Fleming continues to fix bikes. He donates them to the mission's veterans ministry program and Easter Seals. He just finished a child's bike he painted like a bee: black and yellow.
Nineteen veterans are in the Canyon County program, which opened in the spring of 2012. The court's first graduation should be in August or September.
Anna Webb: 377-6431