Jerome Lewis is a US Navy Veteran. He’s also a caring father, loving husband, and a person in long-term recovery. From his trials with a substance abuse disorder, he’s become a Veteran’s Treatment Court graduate, Veteran’s Treatment Court Mentor, and Racine County Alcohol and Drug Treatment Court Mentor. Despite the challenges he’s faced in life, he’s also now a Salvation Army maintenance man and volunteer throughout Racine.
From Addict to Mentor
Lewis is a jack of all trades and has a long list of titles. Unexpectedly, he recently was given the honor of being named a hero. In February of 2022, Lewis was named the Wisconsin Association of Treatment Court Professionals (WATCP) Treatment Court Hero; an honor he never dreamed of receiving. “I am in complete shock,” said Lewis.
The WATCP works to represent the interests of treatment courts in the State of Wisconsin. Lewis enrolled in the Veterans Treatment Court in 2015. This was after his 3rd Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) offense.
Before starting the program, he was sentenced to one year in jail originally, but that was reduced to 90 days. He was assigned this time length because of his commitment to a substance abuse program through the Veterans Affair in Milwaukee, Wis. “The beautiful part,” he said, “is that I put myself in this program.”
Additionally, he received a shorter sentence because of his promise to dedicate himself to the Veterans Treatment Court. The two programs knocked 9 months off his sentencing.
After being released from jail, Lewis was required to attend the program at the Veterans Treatment Court once a week. This Veterans-only program is referral-based. However, he wanted to be free from substances and to maintain recovery. He attended the program every day as a way to change himself. He graduated from the program in 2017 and has gone on to not only change his life but many other lives in Southeastern Wisconsin.
Becoming a Mentor
“I struggled before, during, and after the service,” Lewis said about his substance abuse disorder. However, despite his negative relationship with substances, he’s found a purpose in his pain. Even though Lewis has officially completed the program, he never separated himself from the organizations. He recalled a guard from the jail telling him, “you’ll be back. Once you’re in the system, you’re always in the system.” However, Lewis is determined to never return to jail because of his commitment to WATCP.
According to WATCP, their membership consists of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, court administrators, treatment providers, probation and community corrections officers, social service caseworkers, and other stakeholders in the field of treatment courts.
Lewis works closely with this organization who unites with the Wisconsin criminal justice system and treatment organizations. They are heavily focused on improving local justice system management and community corrections alternatives.
After his program competition, Lewis was asked to be a mentor. However, the person he is today was a long time coming.
US Navy Veteran
Lewis wasn’t always the man that he is today. Originally from Detriot, MI, Lewis found his way to the Greater Chicagoland Area when he enlisted in the US Navy. Lewis’s brother, Lee Lewis, also served in the US Navy prior to him. This sparked his interest to serve. Jerome Lewis started as a janitor in the military and then climbed the ladder of success to become an electrician. He served from 1974 to 1976.
“I pushed real hard to become an electrician,” Lewis said. “I was blessed to be an electrician.”
While stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Base, he began dating and later got married. This woman became the mother of his children. However, that marriage ended in divorce. Once Lewis finished serving in the military, his family kept him in the area. He moved to Racine to stay close with family members and to raise his family in one place.
Little did he know that Racine would change him for the better. It became the place where his life changed. He pointed out that he didn’t change his life on his own. It took help.
Jerome said that it took support, especially from his wife. Lewis got remarried to Joanne Lewis. Every week when he attended his treatment meetings through the Veterans Treatment Court, she was there. He said, “It’s beneficial. I couldn’t tell you how much. She was there every week.” Lewis noted that having her there also helped others. It was impactful for women involved in the program to have her to look up to.
Lewis stated, “my whole life is now about helping people.” He realized that it was selfish of him to have the relationship that he did with substances. However, Lewis said, “I really wanted my sobriety.” While in recovery, he found much more. He found his purpose.
Volunteer in Action
When speaking about people with a substance abuse disorder, Lewis said, “we are so selfish; we don’t think about who we are hurting.” However, since changing his life, he’s had an impact on more people than he knows. Lewis continues to mentor and be an example to those enrolled in the Veteran’s Treatment Court and Racine County Alcohol and Drug Treatment Court.
That wasn’t enough as a way to give back, so Lewis became an employee of the Salvation Army in Racine. One of his favorite ways to help is by delivering lunches to school-aged children at various schools in Racine.
Lewis stated, “anytime they need me, I pick up.”
While it’s been a process, he’s picked himself up and continues to lift others up through his volunteerism. His service has not gone unnoticed throughout Racine.
Racine County Wisconsin posted recently on Facebook, “County Executive Jonathan Delagrave had the opportunity to congratulate Racine County native and U.S. Navy veteran Jerome Lewis, a recipient of the Wisconsin Association of Treatment Court Professionals’ (WATCP) Treatment Court Hero Award.”
The post added,” Court Hero Awards are presented to individuals for their outstanding service to the court and the Treatment Court community. Thank you to Jerome for sharing his inspiring story.’
Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin also recognized Lewis for his hard work. They stated in a post, Congrats Jerome! Thank you for your dedication to our Veteran community.”
Leave a comment or note of appreciation in the comments section. If you are a Veteran in need of help or are someone struggling with a substance abuse disorder, visit the Racine County Veterans Services for assistance.