CINCINNATI — Cherie Ferguson Andrews has stood at many thresholds over the past few years as she fought to rejoin the human race.
“You’re coming off the streets. You’re not feeling good about yourself, and you’ve not accomplished anything in years,” the U.S. Army veteran said of her years-long addiction to crack cocaine.
But today, with the help of Hamilton County’s Veterans Court, she has stepped across all of those challenging thresholds – and she was even carried over the ultimate threshold.
She and Daniel Andrews, a fellow veteran, recovering crack addict and Veterans Court graduate, were married Oct. 11. They waited until Oct. 30 to hold their wedding reception, though – just moments after she became the first female graduate of the Veterans Court.
It also was the first time two Veterans Court participants married, said Judge Ethna Cooper, who presides over the court.
“We weren’t here to be Match.com, but I can’t think of two better” people to find each other, she said.
Cooper has presided over the historic court since its 2011 inception, the first felony court of its kind in the country. Twenty-three veterans have so far graduated from its three classes.
The Veterans Court unites in the courtroom all of the components needed to serve military veterans charged with crimes that can result from self-medication and addiction, often as a result of their military service. The Veterans Administration and the mental health and addiction programs are present to make it a seamless transition for veterans.
For Cherie and Daniel Andrews, it was a life-saver and rebirth.
Daniel Andrews, 54, who served in the U.S. Air Force as a security officer from 1977-1987, was sitting in one of the court’s sessions when he turned and saw a woman who, despite the oxygen he uses to combat respiratory troubles, took his breath away.
Eye contact led to an introduction. They chatted, found how much they had in common and continued to talk. When he needed help with his respiratory ailment, she was there.
And their pasts helped draw them closer.
“We are alike in a lot of ways,” he said of his new bride, “We talked every day about our addictions.”
Daniel Andrews worked at Ford Motor Co. in Sharonville and Louisville. His lowest point during his addiction was waking his 92-year-old grandmother in the middle of the night to ask for money so he could buy drugs.
“It took everything. Family. Job. Home,” he said of his crack cocaine addiction.
“Once you start using, that’s all there is. The only thing that matters is your next high. It doesn’t matter what you do to get it as long as you get your next high.”
He was before Judge Jody Luebbers for his crime. When she asked if he needed help, he told her no and was being taken back to jail when he had an epiphany.
“I stopped in the middle of the hallway and said, ‘Take me back,'” he said. The judge assigned his case to Veterans Court.
That’s where he met his future wife, who had entered the program, which can take about 18 months to complete, before him. She pushed so hard for sobriety and to leave her horrific life of addiction behind, though, that she became a star in the program.
“It didn’t start as a romance. They were going through treatment together,” Judge Cooper said. “One of the good things about this court is the camaraderie developed in the military carries over.”
The romance makes sense to Kieran Hurley, project coordinator for Hamilton County’s felony veterans court.
“It’s the only time we’ve seen (marriage) in our court, but when individuals go through their recovery, their life is dramatically changing,” Hurley said.
Recovering addicts stop hanging out with drug users and look for support, especially those with whom they have a lot in common.
Cherie Ferguson Andrews, 49, had a lot in common with her husband. She was a medical specialist in the U.S. Army from 1988-1993. As an addict, she’d been beaten and brutalized, homeless and hungry.
“The effects of my drug addiction … left scars that I thought I never, ever would get over,” she said. “You’ve been sucked in by a black hole, and there’s nothing to see but darkness.”
Until, she added, you see the light of your life sitting across the room from you.
“You can love many people but you have one true love and soul mate, and I truly believe this is my one true soul mate,” she said.
“If my life didn’t get any better than it is right now, that would be enough for me.” Article Link…