Edward Martell, a 43-year-old man who was pardoned by a judge 16 years ago after pleading guilty to selling and manufacturing crack cocaine, returned to the same judge last month to be sworn in as a lawyer.

Martell could have spent 20 years in prison for the crime, but he found a second chance when Judge Bruce Morrow in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, only imposed a three-year probation and challenged the young man to make something of himself.

“Any other judge would have flushed me,” Martell told Deadline Detroit. "He said, ‘I challenge you to be a CEO of a Fortune 500 company instead of being out here selling drugs.’”

The high school dropout with a criminal record took on the challenge of doing something meaningful with his life. But he faced more hurdles as he was striving for a better future.

He violated probation before finishing his three-year probation and as he considered going to community college in 2008, the young man felt discouraged, The Washington Post reported

“They asked what I wanted to study, and I said I want to be a lawyer,” Martel said, reflecting on his conversation with school counselors. “They laughed at me. They said with your background you should go into heating and cooling.”

Still, the community college student proceeded with his education and obtained an associate’s degree before earning academic scholarships from the University of Detroit Mercy for undergrad and law school. He later found a clerkship with the Federal Public Defender for the District of Columbia.

After recently passing the character and fitness test required in the state, the 43-year-old stood in front of Morrow on May 14 and raised his right hand to be sworn in as a lawyer. 

“My tears started like a baby. I’ve been chasing this dream for 13 years not even knowing what’s at the end of this tunnel,” Martell said.

Morrow said this is just the beginning for the newly sworn-in lawyer.

“If you believe like I believe, that there but for the grace of God go you and me… It took some intelligence to get in and out of the kind of trouble he got into," the judge said. "I told him, ‘You could be my son. Let’s see how far you can go.’ And man, he hasn’t finished yet.”