FRESNO COUNTY, California - They say gardening is good for the soul. It has been good for Nick Ramey – bringing him a sense of calmness.
It’s the kind of peace that has escaped him for years. The former U.S. Marine says the war took so much for him.
“My brother getting killed in Iraq was an absolute fork in the road in my life; everything about my life changed Nov. 8,” Ramey said.
After a roadside bomb took the life of the older brother he idolized, Ramey signed up and became a Marine at the age of 18.
“We were basically as new as possible before they could train us and send us over with the next battalion,” Ramey said. “And I realize that all these guys now in their young 20s, and I was 18, but they had been to combat several times … and it just takes a toll on you, but none of us came back the same I don’t think.”
Ramey came back home angry, depressed, and he was drinking too much.
“I started to realize it’s something more than that. I can’t control my temper; I hate everybody; i’m the most pessimistic person in the world,” Ramey said. “I was incapable of feeling any type of emotion for anything except extreme depression – extreme anger.”
It wasn’t long before Ramey’s troubled lifestyle landed him in jail with a serious charge, but when it was time for him to be sentenced for his crime, he landed in a different kind of courtroom.
Veterans Treatment Court is where the defendants are encouraged and celebrated.
“I have so much respect for people who have served our country,” Superior Court Judge Hilary Chittick said. “Many of them ended up being harmed during the course of that service, and I like the opportunity to be of service to them.”
The Fresno County District Attorney, public defender and Chittick were all instrumental in setting up the court.
The county lacked the funding to staff the court with a prosecutor so District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp took on the job herself.
“The whole goal of the treatment court is to provide the veterans the treatment and the programing that they need to get back on track,” Smittcamp said.
Even though the crime 30-year-old Ramey committed made him ineligible to participate in veterans court, he got a second chance.
“I ended up in the veterans treatment court because of Lisa Smittcamp,” Ramey said.
Smittcamp, whose father was a navy veteran, said she saw something in Ramey that he couldn’t see in himself.
“I believe – I really truly believed that his behavior was a result of very stereotypical PTSD-type behavior; he’d had all the systems all the signs,” Smittcamp said.
Ramsey said, “And she said ‘I’m not going to let you go to prison; I’m going to help you.’ That woman could have fried me, and she gave me a hug. She just reached out in the hallway and hugged me right there – the district attorney.”
Smittcamp doesn’t want you to think she is being soft on crime; she says there are bad guys who don’t deserve a second chance and need to be locked up. But she says even as law officers there are times to show compassion.
“And I don’t want to sit here like some Pollyanna and everything is wine and roses, and we just give everybody a break all the time cause that’s not true,” Smittcamp said. “But I think if you are not a compassionate human being, you can’t be a good prosecutor.”
Ramey said that act of kindness shown to him has changed his life, and he vows to become a model participate of veterans court.
Ramey said, “And they hold you to a high standard it is not something to mess up but it’s working and its working really, really well.”