After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, Brandon Hyde returned to his home in Green Bay, Wisconsin. But he was just going through the motions, without any purpose other than getting high. A life of drugs and alcohol came to a head when Brandon found himself convicted of disorderly conduct following a fight with an older sibling. It was both the lowest point of his life and the wake-up call that set him on the road to a better life. Today, with the support of the Northeast Wisconsin Veteran’s Treatment Court, the 25 year-old has replaced drugs and alcohol with a helmet, a torch and a new education. The court is designed to help veterans get their lives on track before the problems that led to their criminal behavior completely overwhelm them. Eligible participants enter into prosecution agreements that can result in reduced or dismissed charges if they complete the program and remain both drug and alcohol-free. Tom Hinz, a Vietnam veteran and former Brown County sheriff and county executive, was a driving force in creating the alternative court in 2012. He’s also Brandon’s court-appointed mentor. “As a young cop, I used to think, “Lock ‘em up and throw away the key, but that’s the easy answer,” Hinz said. “What can we do to help them turn their lives around? That’s a little more difficult, but it’s much more rewarding.”
Only two years ago, Brandon was headed down a path with only two possible destinations: prison or death. He had joined the Marines after graduating from Pulaski High School in 2010. He served four years, spending time in the Middle East and Hong Kong. Boot camp and combat were tough, and things didn’t get any better when he returned to Wisconsin. Brandon was only motivated enough to work odd jobs. His stint as a bouncer at a bar supported a heavy drinking and pot-smoking habit that ruled his life and ruined his marriage. “It was a lot to handle being that age,” he said. “I was still like a lot of young adults, drinking, smoking and partying. But for me, it was different. It was my coping mechanism.” Brandon’s life finally spiraled out of control in October of 2015. Coming home after a night at the bar, he got into a fight with his older brother. Brandon was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and operating a firearm while intoxicated. “I was in the process of getting my (concealed carry) permit,” he said. “The altercation started to get more serious. I had taken my gun out, pulled the magazine out, made sure it was cleared and gave it to my brother. He put it in his bedroom and shut the door.” Afterward, he said, punches were thrown. The weapons charge was dismissed, but even then Brandon’s only options were to serve up to 90 days in jail or take part in the program offered by the Northeast Wisconsin Veteran’s Treatment Court. He opted for the latter under a deferred prosecution agreement that requires successful participation in the program through April 2018.
When Brandon began the Veteran’s Treatment Court program, he was asked was what he wanted his future to look like. He said he always wanted to go to school, but never had enough initiative. With guidance from a therapist and Hinz, Brandon made the decision to pursue welding, an interest of his dating back to high school. Hinz, a graduate of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, knew firsthand how a technical degree could help steer Brandon in the right direction. Hinz also knows something about mentorship. Having lost most of his friends after ditching his partying lifestyle, the support offered by a good mentor is critical to Brandon’s success. “A mentor is not a therapist, not a drinking buddy, but just someone to talk to and push you forward,” Hinz said. Hinz believes that listening is the most important part of mentoring. It’s allowed him to build a strong, honest relationship with Brandon. It’s also helped Brandon to set and achieve attainable goals. Hinz has seen an improvement in Brandon’s self-confidence and the way he expresses himself.
Brandon has been sober for over a year and is set to receive his diploma in May of next year. “I’m pretty much holding straight A’s in all my classes right now. I pretty much did a 180 on my life,” he commented. In addition to Hinz, Brandon credits a major portion of his newfound success to his welding instructor, John Schaefer, who never lets him give up. Schaefer pushes his students to improve upon projects even when they are well done–an idea that Brandon has incorporated into his new outlook on life outside of the classroom. “Brandon has a really good work ethic,” Schaefer said. “As far as students go, I wish I had 20 of him. He’s really attacking each task and trying really hard to be successful at it. He’s doing a really good job.”
After graduation, Brandon is thinking of studying business. He hopes to own a welding company one day. He wouldn’t mind following in Schaefer’s globe-trotting footsteps. Schaefer’s job as a field service technician for Manitowoc Cranes took to 42 different countries. Brandon’s time in the Marines gave him a lasting passion for visiting new places, working hard, and helping people. But that’s not the only role his military service plays in his new life. Veteran’s court was the best choice for Brandon because he is surrounded by people with similar experiences. “They’re all veterans in Veterans Court. Every single one of them. Even the judge. Everybody is like family, just like I had in my unit,” Brandon concluded.
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