“I feel like a changed person”

Here’s a quick post at 10:00 p.m.

Why? I’m so proud of my neighbor.

Several years ago, one of our neighbor’s kids got into a significant amount of trouble. We’re not talking about “I got caught with pot at school” trouble. We’re not talking about “I shoplifted something at Target” kind of trouble.

We’re talking about First Degree Aggravated Robbery kind of trouble. Exposure to life in prison kind of trouble. The prosecutor’s first offer was 20 years in prison kind of trouble.

When you meet this kid, he is the last person on Earth you would ever think could get in this type of trouble. He’s like a Mexican version of Steve Urkel.

However, some of his friends were like the Mexican version of Ice-T, and poor decisions were made when they were under the influence of illegal, mind-altering, and judgment-impairing controlled substances. He might have looked like Urkel, but he had dropped out of high school, had a terrible social circle, and was suffering from a serious chemical dependency issue at the ripe old age of 17.

Although our social work team typically works on life coaching and therapy, because he lives two doors down Corinne and I spent most of our time working with him individually.

It wasn’t pretty.

For nearly a year he still had too many excuses why he couldn’t go to school or get a job, and he avoided us when walking to his house out of fear that we would smell the marijuana on his clothes. Things improved the next year: he got a job at Taco Cabana, and he actively pursued his GED with a real appreciation that he didn’t want to work in fast food forever. Corinne made him pay off part of his very large legal bill by mowing the lawn and helping with odd jobs around the house. I came home to many occasions where she gave him a stern talking to when he failed to follow through with his obligations or commitments.

Week by week, month by month – he was getting his sh*t together. We’d come home to find that he dropped off a cake mix for our kids, or washed Corinne’s car because he already had everything handy after washing his dad’s. Our kids would rush to the window when he’d knock at the door, and he’d waive to them in his humbly, shy, awkward way.

There was a quiet knock on our door around 9:50 p.m.

“I’m sorry to bother you, David, but can I show you something?”

He brought over his graduation certificate for completing his Intensive Outpatient Treatment Program. He told me that 27 people started the program. Only 8 graduated.  It was one of the first things he’s successfully completed in his life.

“I don’t know what to say. I feel like a changed person. I’m sorry to bother you, but I really just wanted you to see this graduation certificate.”

And he was so happy and proud of himself. He talked about quitting the program so many times because it was so long and so many classes and he didn’t really know if he had a drug problem and he didn’t have a car and it took forever to get there on the bus.

But tonight, he was smiling from ear to ear because it was absolutely worth it.

My hat’s off to you, J.

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