When Jake Ferguson heard a strange voice yell, “Mr. Ferguson,” he knew he was busted.
“There was a wave of fear,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is how it’s all going to end.’”
Ferguson, a Marine recruiter in Bowling Green in 2012, had forged a prescription for painkillers at a Meijer pharmacy, and 15 minutes later, local police charged him with deception to obtain a dangerous drug, a felony.
If convicted, the Middletown native faced a court-martial from the Marines with a possible penalty of up to 18 months in prison, the loss of his military rank and pension and probably his marriage to Nicki.
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A forged signature that nearly cost him everything seemed to be his final chapter. Instead, it was the opening sentence.
He confessed his crime to Bowling Green detectives, was released that night, and when he faced the judge, he was “open and honest,” he said.
“I need treatment,” he told the judge. “I need help.”
The judge listened. The charge was suspended, and Ferguson was placed on one-year probation and told to seek therapy through Veterans Affairs.
“Very blessed,” he said of his reaction to the judge’s leniency.
Since then, Ferguson has received 2½ years of intense therapy — one year in Bowling Green and 18 months with the Wounded Warriors East Battalion in Jacksonville, N.C. — medically retired from the Marines in 2015, “surrendered his life” to Christ, worked as a counselor for more than three years with his wife at a church in North Carolina and recently was named Life Care Pastor at Berachah Church in Middletown.
He called being arrested “one of the biggest blessings of my life. I’m glad God cut me down that day. God was fed up and he gave me over to the authorities.”
His introduction, then addiction, to painkillers started after Ferguson, 34, a 2003 Middletown High School graduate, had oral surgery following an infected root canal. The pills masked the severe pain, but as Ferguson found out, they also blurred his past, the violence and death he experienced during his two seven-month tours of duty in Iraq in 2005 and 2006.
“My demons from Iraq had not been dealt with in a heavy way,” he said while sitting in his Berachah office. The pain was “numbing a lot of the things I was dealing with and trying to suppress. It was numbing it and making me feel good. It was an escape for me. I felt like I wasn’t fighting every single day.”
Ferguson said he enlisted in the Marines just a few months after high school graduation. It was 2003 and the invasions were “heavily on the news,” he said. While watching the news reports, he told himself: “Those people over there are risking their lives for me and I’m here doing nothing with my life.”
His two tours of duty in Iraq were separated by eight months, just long enough for more combat training. When asked to describe life in Iraq, Ferguson said he has two versions: G and R rated. He said it was “violent and chaotic,” but Iraq also featured beautiful culture and artifacts.
His Marine mission: “Defend ourselves or offend others.”
Ferguson doesn’t answer how he felt the first time he killed.
“That’s between me and them,” he said.
His mission has changed. Several months ago, at the urging of relatives, Ferguson emailed his resume to Berachah. He and his wife of 11 years wanted to return to their roots. At the same time, Berachah was looking for someone to lead small groups, said Pastor Lamar Ferrell.
“God truly brought him to us,” Ferrell said. “Our prayers merged.”
Ferrell said Ferguson is “compassionate and empathetic” as his counsels people around the community where he was raised. He said the Fergusons, who live in Lebanon with their children — Hunter, 9, Addelyn, 8, Asher, 1 — are “a gift to this city and our church.”
This for a guy who could have been a convicted felon. He often wonders how that day in Meijer, and the events that followed, changed the path of his life.
“I’m shocked every day who God has made me,” he said. “No matter how broken you are, God can always redeem. You’re never too far gone. I thought I was too far gone.”