JoCo on the Go Podcast: Veterans Treatment Court Mentors

On JoCo on the Go, episode #151, we feature information about mentors in the Johnson County Veterans Treatment Court program. Learn what mentors do, how to become one and why they play such an important role for veterans trying to navigate the legal system while they work on recovery. You can learn more about being a mentor by emailing or calling 913-715-7510. More information about Veterans Treatment Court is available at this link.

JoCo on the Go Webcast: Veterans Treatment Court Mentors

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Time Subject
00:00 Introduction
01:53 Mentors and mentorship
05:47 Importance of graduation
10:00 Starting in the program
14:17 Starting as a mentor
18:59 Matching mentors
21:33 What mentors should do and what they not do.


Gerald Hay  0:00  
Veteran's Treatment Court is a specialized court program in Johnson County that offers a second chance to veterans in trouble with the law. On this admission of JoCo on the Go, we're going to talk to three participants in the program.

Announcer  0:13  
Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Gerald Hay  0:27  
Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go, in 2023. I am your host, Gerald Hay from the county's public information office. Today we're talking about a need for more mentors to participate in Johnson County veteran's treatment court, a program that started seven years ago. The court, which was the first of its kind in Kansas, provides eligible veterans in the criminal justice system to receive supervised treatment, counseling and supportive services instead of going to jail. There are many participants in this program helping these veterans, volunteer mentors, who are veterans also, serve important roles in this program. Joining us today are Adam Baker, veteran's treatment court coordinator, Mike (Rails) Ralls (I'm sorry) veteran mentor coordinator and Corey Schramm, (is that way. Okay.) a recent graduate of the program. Thank you for participating in this podcast. Let's begin with Adam. Veterans Treatment Court is pretty extensive. What partners from what agencies participate in this program?

Adam Baker  1:51  
Yeah, thanks. Thanks, Gerald. And first off, just thank you for your service as well. Not only to our nation, but then to our community as well. So thank you, Gerald. Yes, ministering to court is a collaborative process. So many, many partners, many agencies. And those those range, obviously, we're a court first. So we're housed within the District Court. Courthouse, here in Johnson County. So the court, court admin team, Judge McCarthy, Judge Kelly Ryan, but then our partners we have from the DA's office, public defender's office, sheriff's office, court service does all of our supervision. And then treatment partners we have, mainly most of our folks come from the VA have treatment needs with the VA. And then but we also partner with Johnson County Mental Health that help augments some of our vets that may not be eligible for health benefits through the VA.

Gerald Hay  3:06  
Okay, Adam, the program also relies on veterans to help veterans. How important is veteran mentors in veteran's treatment court?

Adam Baker  3:18  
Yeah, yeah. And the reason I didn't mention mentors is because of this question. Mentors, is what makes when you talk about, you know, what is a treatment court and how they're set up. One of the main unique functions of a veteran's Treatment Court is their utilization of mentors. The mentor component is so integral, you see it in other recovery programs where you have peer support specialists, you have that ability to connect with a person on a different level than practitioners or clinicians, and to walk with them in a way that allows them to be vulnerable to be authentic, outside of the purview of, you know, the communication with the court is really important, and it's an important part of our treatment courts, specifically here in Johns County. We have a group of veteran mentors, and what that means is it's they're vetted as volunteers of the court, but they're vets themselves. They've, you know, they've raised their right hand and then they've gone through, they've walked the walk, talk the talk, and they can help our justice-involved, veterans just start to piecemeal and usually, that's just one foot in front of the other. So they are there from when they enter the court all the way to when they graduate. It's a really special process that we actually don't even other than a graduate shown and different, you know, very small touch points that we get to see how those relationships impact the veterans, how they utilize that relationship to springboard, other community based, you know, things that they want to get involved with or pro-social activities. It's a really unique thing that we simply just offer, you know, freely. And it's and it's really the relationship between the mentor and the mentee that, that that is the, you know, that Judge McCarthy always calls the secret sauce. So that's, it's, to answer your question, it's vitally important, Gerald.

Gerald Hay  5:47  
And finally, you talk about the graduation at the end of the program. How meaningful is this for both the veteran and the mentor?

Adam Baker  5:57  
Yeah, yeah, I think of, you know, I think of an author and a clinician by the name of Dr. Ed Tick and he really talks about the welcoming home the welcoming back to society of our veterans. And, and, I mean, I'm not the first one to tell you about, you know, veterans that go off and, and do what they need to do. And the issues that transitioning from that service is regardless of combat-related or whatever, just that separation, and then that return is a really tough point. Now you add on those transitions, as you add on criminal charges, you add on mental health, severe persistent mental health diagnosis, you add in substance use disorder, those are the types of things that really make it difficult for a service member or prior service member to accurately be able to navigate those waters of what does me being okay look like? What does me being back in society look like? And so graduation is really a culmination of all the work that our justice-involved veterans are doing to not only address the criminal justice need, that is obviously there, but but really the work that they're doing, so that our only hope is that while they're in our program, it's a voluntary program, that they're doing the work to better themselves to we don't want to see them back in the capacity that we originally saw them. The graduation is that culmination of return, of acceptance. Oftentimes, the graduate, the veteran going through the court really has a hard time identifying themselves as you know, you see yourself as a service member, you have high esteem. Now you see yourself as a criminal or offender or whatever other labels, you know, people, people put on, on people who are justice-involved. So the graduation is a way for them to both be accepted back into it, but authentically tell their story. Authentically tell the process that they took. Many times there's also a restoration in those graduation ceremonies, where they're not only feeling like they're welcoming themselves back, but they're also making a public declaration of the changes that they made. You know, as a community, we really want we want everybody in the criminal justice system to have that level of restoration. Those graduations are emotional. They're impactful. They're not only impactful for the people that watch it, but the team, and then it's and then and then I'd say it's really impactful for the mentor to be able to be to know that they're the ones that walked through that they walked this person stepping foot for, and there's a lot of struggles, you know, it's not sunshine and rainbows, but there's a lot of struggles and those mentors really get to see. They really get to see the change firsthand. It's pretty remarkable.

Gerald Hay  9:43  
Speaking of gratulations, Corey, I believe you graduated in August, correct? 

Corey Schramm  9:50  

Gerald Hay  9:51  
And you're an Army veteran, correct? 

Corey Schramm  9:53  
Yes, sir. 

Gerald Hay  9:55  
If you don't mind. Can you share your story with us?

Corey Schramm  10:00  
Oh, yeah, first of all, thanks for having me. I was I'm a nine, I served nine years in the Army deployed three times to Iraq. Upon getting out, I didn't really have any kind of, you know, like drive or vision and where I wanted to go, I was jumping job to job, really didn't try to face any of my, you know, mental health issues with PTSD, anxiety, and I was self medicating a lot. There was a period of like, three years I was on and off probation, like, right as I got off, like four months, I was right back on it. And then this third time was how I ended up with Veterans Treatment Court. I spent Father's Day 2020 in jail. And then they asked me, they kept asked me if I was a veteran, I could understand why but they did. And that's how I think they picked up on it that they were going to send me to the veterans treatment. Well, I had to apply and all that. But yeah, I went through that it's two year process is amazing. Now I'm going to school to be an addiction counselor. I'm also currently I just started a part time job as a peer support specialists on the reentry chain re entry team at Johnson County Mental Health. So I'm just trying to get back to the community and eventually, just, you know, help those there like, like me struggle with mental illness and substance abuse.

Gerald Hay  11:27  
Tell us about your mentor. Was there any commonalities in your military service? Was he an army guy, or what? Was it an instant connection with him? Was it a good match?

Corey Schramm  11:43  
First of all, my mentor is Ed and he is a legend if no one's aware. But that's why I call him anyways. And he's an Air Force vet, completely two different branches, I would say we did get along pretty right off the bat. We communicated through texts, there for a while it was just do like FaceTime and stuff like that. And I mean, he was always there. For me, if I ever needed anything, if I had, like a problem that I needed sorted out, he was just that he was that extra voice for me to tell me, you know, like, he could see it from a different angle, and kind of calm me down about it and stuff like that. And he just along the way he was he motivated me. When I was down, he brought me up. And, you know, he just made sure that, you know, like, I think I do, I got a couple of sanctions. And his number one saying was jungle rules. It's jungle rules. So you know, you just learn from it, and then come back even stronger. So yeah, he was very, very vital to my success through the treatment court.

Gerald Hay  12:53  
How important was it for you to have a mentor? 

Corey Schramm  12:59  
You know, at first you don't really understand, I didn't understand what a mentor was, I thought it was another guy in the program, until they explained it more to me, but then, you know, it's very important, just because he, he knew the ins and outs of the program. Because one he had already had, like, I think one or two veterans he had worked with. And he was kind of, you know, telling me what was coming up and what level with what to expect and phase two and three, and stuff like that. And he did, like, it was just important. I don't think it would be, as I don't want to say it's easy, but it'd be a lot more challenging if Ed wasn't there along the way. I know that. Because then you'd have to communicate everything through like my probation officer, and they're dealing with a bunch of people and stuff like that. So having Ed was, you know, very, very, yeah, it was essential, I believe.

Gerald Hay  13:55  
And finally, we would like to bring up Mike is an Army veteran with 23 years of military service. Now, I believe, Mike, you've been mentors for a veterans I believe. How did your involvement, How did you get involved in veteran's treatment court?

Mike Ralls  14:17  
Well, Gerald, first, thank you so much for having me. This is a super important topic for me, as the Mentor coordinator, obviously, and, and that might be a little confusing with Adam, who's the VTC coordinator. He's kind of my boss, but not. You know. I've always said it's the guy you need to know to keep you out of trouble. That's the first one you want to meet. And that's Adam, in my case, and with Corey having gone through this and those kind words, Cory, I really appreciate that. I'll pass them on to Ed next time I see him but answer your question. Geez, I goes back. Let's see I I got started around the end of 2016. It was not at the beginning of the earliest days of Johnson County veteran's treatment court. But it was in the first year I think, and Adam can correct me if I'm wrong, but I am not even sure now how I met John. But John Grahams was the original mentor coordinator. He and I got together and we sat down and over coffee kind of hashed out what this was about. And I got some questions answered. But what I really wanted to do was attend to court session and see what that was all about, and see some of the vets that were involved. And just see which way things went from there. I did that went to a live court session. Like I said, that was around the end of 2016. I think and seeing the process in action that was all I needed that that absolutely slam dunked and convinced me, I needed to jump in and get off my butt and help out with this. I was retired I had the time. That's what I needed. And that's what I did. And since then I've mentored like you say, seven or eight vets. I'm not even sure exactly anymore. Widespread of ranks and ages. I can tell you, it's been the most rewarding activity that that I've ever undertaken since since I retired from the Army many years ago.

Gerald Hay  16:23  
I like your hat too. How have your years in military helped you in guiding veterans in veteran's treatment court? And other mentors?

Mike Ralls  16:34  
Oh, yeah, well, yours. Shoot, I started in Vietnam in 69. I retired from the Gulf War, the first Gulf War in 1991. And throughout that spread of time, I was lucky enough to occupy every single enlisted leadership position in the engineers and infantry that I could. And in doing so I had a mentor myself, and that was a fairly young buck sergeant and Vietnam, who kind of took me under his wing, he said, Look, Ralls, I want to tell you how to how to how to do this business. And you know, what he told me was, as, as a sergeant or an enlisted soldier, in a leadership position, your most important job is always going to be taking care of soldiers. You might see some conflicts once in a while about complete the mission versus take care of your soldiers, soldiers. But there's no conflict, you take care of your soldiers, and they're going to get the mission done. And I stuck with that. And I think that's why I had a successful and really fun career in some aspects. Not every aspect, of course, but in some cases, my military experiences in general, provided me and this goes for I think anybody that's in the military, provided me with a framework that may not be identical from all branches, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, etc. But it certainly is familiar enough that you can step next to another veteran, regardless of their branch and start talking similarities almost immediately, you just you can have a a familiar feeling almost immediately without knowing their name, even their rank or what branch they were in. And as a result of that camaraderie through my mentoring of the Veterans Treatment Court participants that helped establish quickly and quickly is a good aspect here. The route to a good bond of trust between me as the mentor, and for example, Corey as a participant, and it's important to get that bond of trust out there and working as quick as possible

Gerald Hay  18:54  
So Mike, what are the qualifications of a mentor?

Mike Ralls  18:59  
Yeah, great question. Well, the first qualification is get interested and knock on somebody's doors or, or discover that it's out here. And I hope this podcast will do that. And hello to everybody in the future that watches this, by the way. Once we do get a prospective member in the fold, so to speak, we start off with a process that involves an application a background check, an interview with me, attending court and shadowing another mentor. And that then progresses on to the point where I'm satisfied I take my recommendations to the court staff and to date, no one's had a problem with that. And then we have a new mentor. They're assigned a veteran, maybe not immediately, it just depends on what's available and how the matching process goes, and I think I might be jumping around on you a little bit. But while I'm here, let me talk about that matching process if that's okay, how do we match up mentors? We get a new new mentor approved. And I try as much as possible to match some of the criteria of the branch of service army to Army, Navy to Navy, etc. But just like Corey said, that's not always possible. I try to match to some extent, the rank the the enlisted versus officer, I mean, there's there's things at play in there and the age group, maybe maybe that's a deal. We also have female participants as veterans. Not exactly at this moment in time, but we have and I have female mentor, is that a big deal? Would I stop someone from coming into the program? Because I could match them up for that? Absolutely not. We try for a perfect match. But it's very rare. In practice, I want a fairly good match as good as we can come up with. And then we just go from that starting point. And I tell you, it's never failed. Through my my predecessors tenure, and his predecessors tenure, getting two people together. Really the matching is a phase, but it's not critical.

Gerald Hay  21:27  
So are mentors trained or is it on the job training?

Mike Ralls  21:33  
OJT? Definitely a big part of it. Growing as you go. Having someone to kind of reach out to and that's part of my job. Having resources to, again, plug in things like how about some online training, you know, you got some time in the evening, go through some of these courses. And I've had quite a few mentors do that. So that training is on the job. We present what we can and hopefully, again, we're going to get back to some face to face maybe weekend courses with the VA.

Gerald Hay  22:07  
So I'm just kind of curious, what can a mentor do and what can they not do? Are there guidelines involved?

Mike Ralls  22:15  
Yeah, there definitely are. And that goes to what I call orientation versus training. But you could lump those together, when I'm interviewing a mentor, or in their earliest days when they're shadowing other mentors at court, we definitely discussed these. So here quickly are some of my bullet points on those. A mentor should emphasize keywords that we preach more or less when they're working with their mentee with their participant. And those are, empower them, encourage them and engage them and do so so that they are feeling very in control of the situation. I think it's really important for a mentor to help steer up a participant like Corey, if they get off track a little bit, they're a little upset, something came down the road that ended up a bump in the road for him. If that mentor can do anything right, then it's good to get him back up. Dust him off. Don't show him a way out of this. Don't show him the solution. I don't want mentors to provide solutions to people. I want them to guide people to find their own solutions. Mentors are not disciplinarian. We're not supervisors. We're not shouting out. Give me 50 Push ups and you know, in a harsh, loud voice, that's not us. We're in the background. We're the guide. We're the cheerleader. We're the person that is not directly associated with court staff. We're not directly involved in the legal system. We're there because their a vet and we're a vet and we want to help

Gerald Hay  23:55  
Mike or Adam, how can a veteran apply to become a mentor, and learn more about veteran's treatment court?

Mike Ralls  24:05  
I have show and tell. So, if you live, you're watching this in Johnson County and you do not subscribed to you, ought to. This is the Best Times. Gerald knows all about it. He's got an article in here with me. In fact, that's why I'm showing this. I think right there. So you can get a hold of this. Finding good if you don't subscribe, get yourself subscription to it. It's great. There's an article here all about mentors. And if you need other contacts on how to do this, how about so here's some context, the very bottom when there's kind of a long URL that's actually the magazine that I just held up. And there's some others that list Adams contact information. And I'll hold this up for just another second. I'm sure if you're doing a podcast, you can just freeze it and get it. But that's our great way to get you in here and get you hooked.

Gerald Hay  25:02  
Thanks Mike and Adam and all that you do and helping veterans in veteran's treatment court, and more importantly, to become future graduates. Like Corey. Congratulations, Corey, for being a grad. And I can finally say mission accomplished. And finally, from one one Marine veteran, to two Army veterans. Thank you, Mike and Corey for your military service. Anyone can learn more about veteran's treatment court and And going to the about the court information. Thanks, everyone for joining us today.

Announcer  25:52  
You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss. We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at jocogov. For more on this podcast, visit Thanks for listening

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