By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
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He met a woman with drugs in Junction City when he came back and hopped on a train with her to Galesburg, Illinois, for Christmas instead of going home, eventually finding himself in Houston. "I'm proud of what I do," he says of volunteering his time as a mentor. "It's a little embarrassing what my past is."
Madrzykowski, a thin, smartly dressed man with a full head of silver hair and round glasses, spent the decade following his decision to bolt the Army roaming about the country. Seven treatment facilities later, spread throughout various states including Arizona, Nebraska and Washington, Madrzykowski finally got sober from drugs and alcohol in the early 1980s, culminating with a trip to a treatment center in Klamath Falls, Oregon.
Madrzykowski says he planned to play golf upon his retirement as a bus driver for Greyhound Lines in 2004, but he met Snipes in 2005 while working on the campaign of Ernie White, who, like Snipes, would win his first term as state district judge the following year in a Democratic sweep at the polls in Dallas County.
"There was something about the way I connected with Mike Snipes that just struck a chord," Madrzykowski says.
So when Snipes took on the veterans court program, Madrzykowski saw himself as a natural fit as a volunteer mentor. "I've been there and I've done that," he says. "I can relate. I hear the same excuses I used 25 and 30 years ago."
One month after the program began in Dallas County, Madrzykowski flew to New York for two days to visit the country's first veterans court in Buffalo. Madrzykowski says his trip was an "involved learning experience," where he met with mentor coordinator Jack O'Connor and realized that problems with the veterans don't always happen between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Combining his personal experience with his training in New York, Madrzykowski quickly established himself as the lifeline to each of the program's participants. When he found out in July that Adame had gone AWOL from the Army National Guard upon his return from Iraq in September 2009, Madrzykowski drove him to Seagoville in an attempt to convince the first sergeant not to discharge him.
"You guys took him, and now you're going to dump him?" he asked the sergeant, eventually persuading him to transfer Adame to Ready Reserve so he could retain his VA benefits.
Madrzykowski has little to say on the record in defense of Adame's charge of assaulting his wife on June 11 in Mesquite. According to the police report, Adame, who is separated and going through a divorce, grabbed his wife and "lifted her off her feet" following an argument and threw her onto the bed, where she landed on the bed railing.
Adame then "placed his hand around her neck and began choking her" while she attempted to call 911 and didn't release her until she lost consciousness and dropped her cell phone. After she bit his stomach and tried to run away, Adame allegedly "kicked her to the floor" and then began kicking her chest and stomach.
Madrzykowski has also been a tireless advocate of keeping Marquez in the program despite three separate trips to jail for testing positive for marijuana. He says Carmack is a changed man since first appearing in court as a heroin addict in handcuffs fresh out of the county jail, thanks to his placement at Dallas LIFE. As Melendez struggles to stay financially afloat in the face of bankruptcy, Madrzykowski introduced him to a real-estate agent friend who is working with Melendez to sell his house in North Dallas.
Despite his best efforts, Madrzykowski knows there will be failures at some point. "My biggest fear is picking up the paper or turning on the TV and seeing that one of my guys has carjacked somebody, went through a stop sign and killed somebody."
Always on the lookout for more mentors, Madrzykowski also lobbied 28-year-old Aaron Dillon to volunteer while the two chatted about the program at Harrisburg International Airport in Pennsylvania. Dillon just so happened to be on his way home to Royse City when they met. He called Madrzykowski one week later to accept his invite.
An Army sergeant who was deployed twice to Iraq—once in 2005 to '06 and again from April '08 to June '09—Dillon experienced high anxiety around family members when he returned home the first time. He was diagnosed with service-related bipolar disorder, though after the same symptoms persisted when he returned after his second deployment, the VA diagnosed him with PTSD.
Dillon says it actually felt more normal to return to Iraq because of the need to always feel "on guard." When he got back the second time, he was excited but also depressed because he had no job or car and had to move in with his parents. "It was hard coming back."
His life has improved quickly, as he's seeking an associate's degree in science at Eastfield College and met his fiancee, a Navy intelligence officer, in May. And Madrzykowski has charged him with turning around the program's most troubled member: Marquez, who Dillon calls the court's "poster boy" and says "popped hot today on another UA."