KEALAKEKUA — James Haburt looked out at the courtroom filled with attorneys, probation officers, drug court members and a judge and saw a team of support.
After a year and a half of treatment, Haburt graduated from the Big Island Veterans Treatment Court on Monday during a ceremony attended by a field of supporters and mentors who helped the eight-year Army Reserve medic battle through addiction and return to his former self.
“I wouldn’t be here without you,” Haburt, 46, told the crowd.
The Minnesota native and former Alaska fisherman was the lone graduate during the veteran court’s 14th graduation. Drug and alcohol abuse led Haburt to three and a half years of living on the street on Hawaii after moving to the island after living in Alaska. He landed in treatment on Jan. 22, 2018, where, he said, he learned a “work ethic and a belief in yourself you can do anything.”
He had one relapse, met with 15 days in jail, then righted his way. He said he’s looking forward to working again, perhaps in landscaping or as an angler on the Alaskan waters. It’s a future he said he knows how to embrace thanks to the tools for life the program gave him.
Officials who worked with him said his willingness and honesty helped him on his road to recovery.
“That’s a long time, that can change people,” Mark Disher, deputy prosecuting attorney, said, referring to Haburt’s time spent on the streets. “I think we’ve seen him change back. He’s come a long way.”
“Fair winds and balmy seas,” Disher, a Navy Reserve member, wished the fellow sailor.
Veterans Treatment Court Judge Melvin Fujino said the value of rehabilitating a person rather than incarcerating them on the judicial system — not to mention the person — can’t be overstated. Haburt was honest and diligent adhering to the programs.
“It was you who did all the hard work,” the judge told him, presenting him at the end of the ceremony with a certificate signed by U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono’s office — a piece of paper, the judge said, that represents so much more than just a certificate.
“They can’t take that away from you,” Fujino said.
By Tom Hasslinger West Hawaii Today firstname.lastname@example.org