AUGUSTA — Jesse D. Nichols, who had no prior criminal record, was apprehended after he robbed the Big Apple convenience store on Civic Center Drive in Augusta in 2019 and faced a felony conviction that would follow him for the rest of his life.

Jesse D. Nichols has completed two years in the Kennebec County Co-Occurring Disorders Court, enabling him to receive substance abuse counseling and other services while pleading guilty to a lesser charge in connection with a 2019 robbery in Augusta. Contributed photo

At the time, he was unhoused, isolated, and suffering from both drug addiction, which he says played a major role in his actions at the store and depression.

Now, following about two years in the Kennebec County Co-Occurring Disorders Court, the 32-year-old man says he’s none of those things. He has stable housing, a job, is self-confident and is active in the area recovery community, which he said has embraced him.

He pleaded guilty Monday to a Class D misdemeanor charge of criminal threatening. The Class B felony charge of robbery, which he had pleaded guilty to in 2019 as part of his participation in the state’s only Co-Occurring Disorders Court, was dismissed as a result, leaving him with no felony conviction on his record.

To be eligible for the court program, participants must have substance use disorder and a mental health diagnosis.

Also Monday, he completed the court’s requirements and “commenced” from the disorders court program, a term the program uses instead of graduated because graduation implies completion. As Judge Matthew Tice told Nichols on Monday, completion of the program represents a new beginning, not an end.


Nichols acknowledged he had some ups and downs while in the intensive program, which requires participants to check in with court officials at least weekly and take part in substance use and mental health treatment. But Nichols said he never gave up in part due to the support he found from his peers in the recovery community.

“I had my ups and downs but one thing that was constant throughout this whole entire thing was, as much as I wanted to, I didn’t give up,” Nichols said in the Zoom-based court session Monday that served as both his sentencing and commencement. “I didn’t realize, until being through this program, that I was capable of having confidence and forgiving myself. It was really hard because I suffer from severe mental health issues and all my life I’ve been down on myself. … I am worthy of all the great things and I have friends in my life now I never used to have. I am the underdog of this story. I succeeded in stepping forward in my life, in recovery. I may not be perfect but I’m doing pretty good, and that’s all that matters to me.”


Tice, the judge who oversees the disorders court program, agreed that Nichols had persevered in his journey and said he was proud of him. The disorders court program currently serves 29 people.

“You had that moment where you sort of figured it out and decided what you had to do,” Tice said as more than a dozen other defendants also in the disorders court program looked on, and offered their own words of encouragement, via Zoom. “And you met that challenge. I think you figured out you have self-worth. A lot of us beat up on ourselves, and I think you’re one of those people. But there comes a moment you have to forgive yourself and move on. I think it finally came to that and that’s why you’re sitting here at commencement.”

If Nichols hadn’t met the requirements of the program, which includes random drug testing, he could have been sentenced on the Class B robbery charge, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.


District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said that holds participants accountable and protects the community.

Instead, because Nichols successfully completed the program requirements, which include that participants either enroll in school full-time or secure a job, he was sentenced to 364 days imprisonment, with all but 188 days suspended. He’ll be on probation for a year, with conditions including that he not use alcohol, illegal drugs or prescription drugs unless prescribed.

Officials said they have not been able to reach the clerk who was working at the store during the robbery to ask whether the person wants to take part in a restorative justice program that enables victims to express the harm caused to them by perpetrators of crime. Nichols was apprehended while leaving the store by an Augusta police officer who happened to be passing by.

Andrew Dawson, Nichols’ Augusta-based attorney who also represents participants in the disorders court program, said Nichols had acknowledged his drug addiction played a primary role in the theft. He said Nichols was unhoused at the time, and facing serious health issues. He said now Nichols has stable housing, is working and has taken charge of his personal health. He said it’s his opinion the program saved Nichols’ life.

“You are my success story here,” Dawson said to Nichols at his commencement. “Because you worked so hard to get here, we watched you try and watched you do everything you need to do. I look forward to you being a member of this community.”



Community connections is something the program seeks to build, according to Assistant District Attorney Jackie Sartoris, who oversees the program for the district attorney’s office. She said many participants have found those connections in the growing recovery community in the Augusta area.

“People of the addiction mindset, I learned as a prosecutor, are not fully in the community,” she said. “They’re about immediacy. At some point when the fog has cleared, they’re able to look at longer-term goals, able to restore family relationships and be fully embraced as a member of the community. That creation of community is what helps people stay in recovery.”

A 2020 evaluation of the program by an independent consultant found significantly lower reoffending rates for those who complete it compared to defendants who do not enter the program and are given more traditional sentences.

Recidivism rates for participants, at six months out, were 12%, while for the comparison group not in the program were 31%. After 24 months, 19% of participants had been rearrested while 45% of nonparticipants were rearrested.

The 2020 study estimated case management and treatment costs for each person at $8,500 per year, or $11,000 for 15.5 months, the average duration of treatment court. Average probation and incarceration costs for each participant is $27,300 per person from entry to discharge, for a total of about $38,000.

The average cost for nonparticipants from entry to discharge, according to the study, is $43,000 — counting prison, jail and probation costs.

“It’s quite expensive per person, but not as expensive as incarceration,” Sartoris said. “And given the recidivism rate, we know it’s a better deal for taxpayers, for our community.”

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