Jordan Holter only revisits his criminal past when he can use it to inspire others.
For years, he was committing crimes while addicted to methamphetamine. He had lost his way.
Jailed again in 2014, Holter took advantage of programming that led to a college education. He hasn’t lost his away again, even after a significant setback.
“I was ready to close that chapter,” he said.
Sober now for 2½ years, he’s a college graduate, working, married and raising four children.
Holter, 32, of La Crosse, in December was one of two people statewide to earn a Wisconsin Job Honor Award that recognized his efforts to overcome obstacles to employment, including 15 convictions over a span of 11 years.
“He is an inspiration to job seekers trying to overcome barriers,” said Kyle Horn, who founded America’s Job Honor Awards in 2014. “We want people to think, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’”
Holter tried meth for the first time at a party in 2006. Using led to selling, at first to support his habit and later to support himself when he lost his job in customer service.
“It was super easy,” he said. “Everyone wanted it.”
At his worse, Holter was using hundreds of dollars worth of meth every day. He won’t say how much he was selling.
“It was enough,” he said.
Jailed on his 11th criminal case, Holter said, he decided it was time to change. He was sick of the lifestyle, sick of missing the little things, sick of being stuck on a dead-end road.
“I was done with it, done with everything,” he said.
Holter in September 2014 enrolled in Project Proven, a program offered by Western Technical College at the La Crosse County Jail that helps inmates transition into academics and back into the community. Instructors help inmates explore career paths, and search for jobs and housing, and get them enrolled in education, said Tonya Van Tol, who oversees the program.
“I was worried about how I was going to live and not commit crimes anymore. How was I going to hustle the right way?” Holter said. “Project Proven helped me build a sustainable life.”
Holter also was enrolled in the county’s Drug Treatment Court when he left jail on Sept. 30, 2014, and walked into Western the next day to study welding.
He was sober, employed, enrolled in college and caring for his ailing grandfather when investigators arrested him on Oct. 18, 2015, two days before he was set to graduate from drug court.
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Holter was one of 17 tied to a massive drug trafficking ring that police estimate was responsible for two-thirds of the meth distributed in the region. His role in the case predated his involvement in drug court, although Holter realized the new charges put everything he worked for in jeopardy.
“My counselor came to the jail and told me, ‘Don’t let this define you. Even if you do go to prison, don’t digress,’” Holter said.
Calling Holter’s an “exceptional case” during his sentencing in March, a La Crosse County judge adopted a joint recommendation from attorneys and placed him on 18 months of probation.
“I am so grateful,” Holter said.
Holter in May landed an apprenticeship at Great Lakes Cheese in La Crosse as a maintenance technician, where he’s respected by his colleagues and emerging as a leader, said his supervisor, Harley Heinrichs.
“If someone goes through what he went through and preserves, it shows what he can accomplish,” Heinrichs said.
Holter was honored with his state award on Dec. 15 in front of his wife, mother, probation officer and Van Tol, who nominated him, plus a few hundred others during a ceremony in Madison. It is Holter’s determination to overcome enormous obstacles that can serve as an inspiration, Van Tol said.
“Jordan has continued to overcome challenges that have swallowed thousands of people before him and exemplified the American dream,” she wrote in her nomination letter. “Jordan’s story is one of severe struggle and challenges, but also one of determination and hope.”
The day after the award ceremony, Holter finished his coursework at Western with a 3.7 grade point average and a Manufacturing Systems Maintenance Technician diploma.
“It’s been a blur,” Holter said of his path to success. “I don’t want to look back anymore.”
But, at times, he does. He still attends drug court weekly to show his support for participants. Sharing his story of recovery, he said, keeps him grounded. He has a different message for the audiences he can reach.
To at-risk youth: In the drug world, your friends turn to foes and your loved ones will leave. You’ll end up alone.
To dealers: It’s OK to leave the game.
To users: Quit. It’s worth it.
To employers: The recovering addict with a criminal record could turn out to be your most dedicated employee. Give him or her a chance.
“People can change. I did,” Holter said. “If someone is ready, they’re ready. Nothing will hold them back.”
“He is an inspiration to job seekers trying to overcome barriers. We want people to think, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’” Kyle Horn, founder of America’s Job Honor Awards