From Prison to the Dean's List

        fter years of living for whatever felt right in the moment, and experiencing in chaos in life, this simple thought has brought structure and connection to my life. Jails, institutions, selling drugs, and living out-of-control were what I knew. But, recovery has brought a lot of change. I recently completed my associate’s degree, with a 3.92 GPA, and am pursuing a career in information technology (I.T.). Getting the letter that I had reached the Dean’s List in my program brought a tear to my eye, because it would have seemed impossible just a few years earlier.

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A New Perspective Led to a New Beginning

“Just do the next right thing.”

People have told me throughout my life that I was smart, that I could do more with my life than what I was doing. But I never believed them. I thought they were just blowing smoke. Now that I’ve set a new direction, and am excelling, I’m seeing that what they said was true. I’m doing things I didn’t know I could that are so different from where I’ve been before.  When I got out of prison after a couple years inside, I had no place to go, and no family to turn to. But I went back to school after prison, and now I’m building a new life.

Addiction Was What I Knew

My name is Shawn. I am the third-generation only child of a single parent. My mother worked two jobs to put a roof over our heads, but that meant that she was barely around. I had to cook, clean, and get to school on time on my own. I was also able to do whatever I wanted and make whatever choices I wished. I started experimenting with drugs and alcohol when I was young. Soon, I was barely attending classes and school became a distant priority. Because I was disruptive, the school I attended suggested I drop out or be expelled. At the time, I saw it as an opportunity to be free, but I didn’t realize how deep I was in.

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My mother spent her savings account to try and help me and I went into a lock-down treatment center. I was sober for a bit, but I soon went in a different direction. The more that I was pushed to do the right thing, the farther away I ran. I had legal troubles and ended up in a group home. This pattern of trouble, brief sobriety, addiction, and detention has been a pattern in my life, from the age of sixteen until recent years. I had a job for most of these years, because working was wired into me, but I was still addicted, and the income from the job is what helped fund and enable my addiction. Being in and out of sobriety, I got involved with support groups and other environments, but it was never really the right fit. I found myself using even in the midst of those environments.  I couldn’t put down the pill. When I received my sixth DWI, and saw the flashing lights, there was a strange sense of relief, because I wanted to get out of my life at the time.

A Turning Point

I ended up in prison, but I decided that it was time to do something different. 

I made the choice to obtain my high school degree while incarcerated, remembering how people would encourage me to apply myself, and that I could be anyone I wanted to be. So, I gave that idea a chance and let go of the reigns of control. It wasn’t just seeking my degree; I changed how I engaged with life.

After prison, and achieving my high school degree, it was not any transition. I arrived at a halfway house alone and afraid. I had lost everything. But I chose to trust the process, build relationships, and live with brutal honesty for myself and others, no matter the preconceived outcome. It was do-or-die time, and I wanted to live! I learned the phrase “do the next right thing” and it constantly reminds me to continue forward at all costs. Pursuing college at 49 years old was one of those ‘next right things’. I found people in the environment and community in which I lived with whom I could connect, and they helped me through the transition times.

Pursuing a Dream of Education

The first week of classes for my associate's degree, I felt fear, anxiety, and immense doubt. I was completely terrified that I would fail, and some of my ADHD and anxiety issues got stirred up, too. However, by putting all my effort and concentration forward, I pushed on and life became better. I formed new routines around my studies and before I knew it, the semester was over. I found myself succeeding in difficult courses that actually caused others to struggle, and my confidence grew.

In this process, I’ve realized that I can accomplish things I didn’t think were possible, and that seemed out of reach because of my childhood and my previous choices and addiction. Recently, along with making the Dean’s List, I received an award and prize funded by Fox Valley Technical College Foundation and Community First Credit Union for students at my college who have overcome adversity. A friend encouraged me to apply and share my story, and it moved me and the others involved in the process to be able to recount the growth and how things have changed. I was just featured by Microsoft for my successful transformation into a productive member of society, too.

Today, I have strong relationships and people that I can call when I have a challenging day, which happens from time to time. After struggling to find connection within the recovery environments I first tried, I found a place that worked for me, and still keep in touch with counselors and other staff. My educational pursuits helped me get an internship in I.T., and I am pursuing a career in that field. What was a major hurdle became the starting point of a whole new life, because I chose to buckle down.


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