By Celine Klosterman
Jeremiah Bass never sits with his back to the door.
When he walks with others, he hangs a few steps back to keep his companions in sight.
For the 34-year-old combat veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, life is full of potential threats. A few years ago, the world seemed so dangerous that he feared leaving his house. He got hooked on meth to cope.
But today, Bass is sober. He gets out more often, even to a one-hour meeting with a reporter at the Burlington Public Library. Someday, he hopes to offer support to people facing obstacles like those he’s battled.
Bass has improved thanks to a drug court program in Fort Madison and mentoring he received through the Diocese of Davenport’s Catholic Charities, according to him, his mentor and the judge who oversaw his drug court case. Without help, Bass fears, struggles stemming from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) would have consumed his life.
A native of Wapello, Bass had a relatively small issue on his mind when he decided to enter the military after graduating high school in 1995. Then, he and his girlfriend had just broken up. “I thought I’d show her, so I joined the Army,” he said.
For eight years he served in transportation, driving semi-trucks in non-combat zones. But after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, he requested a change of service. “If the other guys were going over there, why shouldn’t I?”
Bass spent 13 months overseas with a Quick Reaction Force that escorted and guarded convoys carrying cargo to and from military bases in Iraq. His post was in the gun turret on top of a Humvee, and as a sergeant he was often in the lead vehicle — two factors that made his duty particularly dangerous. He learned to see potential enemies everywhere; his body was constantly in “fight or flight” mode.
When he returned to Iowa in 2005, he couldn’t shake that way of responding to his surroundings. The military offered a two-day course to help him and other troops readjust to civilian life, but Bass found the brief program woefully inadequate. He missed his former comrades who could understand what he’d been through. Depression set in, then anger and nightmares. He tried venting his anger through cage-fighting, but it didn’t help. So he turned to meth.
“I figured, I’m tough; I can take care of this myself,” he said.
When high on meth, Bass forgot about his problems. He didn’t sleep for days at a time, so he had fewer nightmares.
But he was forced to rethink his coping strategy after police arrested him in September 2009 for manufacturing meth. “I wondered, what happened? I went from being a soldier to being a felon,” he recalled. “It broke my heart when I read my name in the paper. I was breaking the laws I’d fought so hard to uphold.”
Bass spent eight months in the Des Moines County Jail before receiving an opportunity to enter a three-week substance abuse treatment program at the VA Illiana Health Care System in Danville, Ill. There, he was told his root problem was PTSD.
After returning to Iowa, he was sentenced to drug court — a turning point in his life, he believes.
Drug courts offer an alternative to prison for nonviolent substance abusers. The program combines treatment, rehabilitation efforts and accountability, with the goal of reducing recidivism and crime.
The Iowa Department of Corrections introduced a drug court program in 2010 in the 8B Judicial District of Iowa, which includes Des Moines, Henry, Lee and Louisa counties. To take part, offenders must have committed a nonviolent felony offense, plead guilty to charges against them, express motivation to change and meet several other eligibility requirements.
In November 2010, Bass became one of the drug court’s first participants. He found a support system in the drug court team, which included a probation officer, substance abuse treatment director, prosecutor, defense attorney and judge. A social worker with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also assisted Bass in his journey. In addition to undergoing treatment, he was expected to perform community service, look for work, adhere to a curfew, and meet restrictions on where he lived and with whom he associated.
But as Bass discovered, the threat of relapse still loomed. While he was receiving treatment for PTSD and substance abuse in St. Cloud, Minn., in early 2011, a veteran introduced him to K2, also known as Spice, a form of synthetic marijuana. The drug numbed Bass.
After he graduated from the program at the St. Cloud VA Health Care System in May 2011, Bass underwent a urine test for drug court which showed a positive result for K2. He was sanctioned with seven days in jail.
The week behind bars renewed his focus on graduating from drug court, he said. Judge Michael Schilling, who oversaw Bass’ case, later announced that the veteran would be getting some help from a Catholic Charities mentor.
The man who had volunteered to mentor Bass is Bob Glaser, who worked for decades as a prosecuting attorney and, like Schilling, belongs to Ss. John & Paul Parish in Burlington. Before Glaser retired in 2010, a colleague suggested he’d be a good fit for restorative justice ministries.
“I grew up in a deeply Catholic family,” Glaser said. “If somebody came to the door and needed help, you didn’t think about it. You did it … That just stuck with me.” Glaser went through mentor training offered by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Catholic Charities and began sitting in on drug court sessions in Fort Madison to learn about the program.
Schilling, a former defense attorney who argued a few cases against Glaser, said he couldn’t imagine a better mentor than his former courtroom opponent. “He served with high distinction as an assistant attorney general. In that role he prosecuted hundreds of people so he has an excellent feel for people, and knows the importance of the legal system holding people accountable for their behavior. At the same time, Bob is compassionate, a true believer in the fundamental goodness of people. He has an excellent command of how people under stress and pressure think.”
The judge asked Glaser to mentor three drug court offenders who have unusual needs. Because Glaser is a military veteran, Schilling thought he’d be a good match for Bass.
Bass wasn’t so sure. “I don’t like people,” he told the Messenger. “I didn’t want religion thrown in my face.”
When the two men started meeting about seven months ago, he answered Glaser’s questions with one or two words. But Bass warmed up as he discovered his mentor wasn’t judgmental.
“Bob’s a good listener,” he said. Since crowds make Bass nervous, the retiree offered to join him on a shopping trip to buy his girlfriend a Christmas gift. Glaser also helped write a letter to the Iowa state court administrator sharing Bass’ interest in speaking with veterans who are battling issues like those Bass has faced.
“If I need anything, I feel like I can contact Bob,” he said. “That’s a tool in my tool belt that I never had before. I never could trust anybody.”
Glaser and Schilling described Bass as a respectful, disciplined man. He has the potential to be a leader and role model for other combat veterans, the judge said.
At Bass’ drug court graduation ceremony in March, Schilling recalled a war story the veteran had once shared. Bass had been at the head of a convoy in Iraq when his vehicle malfunctioned, so he pulled off to the side. Another vehicle moved up to take his place — and detonated an improvised explosive device that killed a man.
Perhaps God planned for Bass to avoid injury that day, knowing the soldier would go on to help others, Schilling said.
Bass would like to, though he’s still making progress of his own. He deals with guilt over his actions during combat, participates in a PTSD support group and undergoes exposure therapy to relieve anxiety about going out in public. But Glaser noted he’s grown calmer over the past several months. And he no longer feels the pull of meth or talks to friends who use the drug. His goal now is to find work, preferably away from people.
He wants the public to grasp what he believes Glaser and drug court team members understand: “Just because someone does something wrong doesn’t condemn them,” Bass said. Consider a person’s background instead of simply labeling him or her a drug addict, he added.
Though he’s completed drug court, he’s chosen to keep meeting with Glaser. Bass also sometimes sits in on current drug court sessions, where he’s told participants how the program helped him.
“If they had sent me to prison — I was facing 45 years — I would’ve never come back out. My screws were loose,” he told The Catholic Messenger. “I would’ve established right off the bat that I was not to be messed with.” If that had meant getting into a violent confrontation that ended badly, so be it, Bass said.
“I thank God there was drug court and that I had to see Bob.”
Catholic Charities developing mentoring program
Drug court in the 8B Judicial District of Iowa is stronger because of Bob Glaser and could use more mentors like him, said Michael Schilling, drug court judge. Glaser is currently the only drug court mentor under Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Davenport. Kent Ferris, diocesan director of social action, is developing policies and procedures to allow for future mentors. Glaser is willing to train volunteers, who need no legal background.
The mentoring program will be open to people of various faiths. Drug court cannot promote religion or one faith over another, Schilling said.
For more information, contact Ferris at (563) 888-4211 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Drug court has grown from one offender in February 2010 to 25 active participants, the program’s capacity.