Guest Profile: The Courage to Succeed

Kevin never dreamed he’d become a role model for men and women who are recovering from addiction, abuse, and trauma. For years, he struggled just to survive in an environment that was defined by poverty and despair. “I saw a lot of hopelessness,” he says about the Boston neighborhood where he was born. “Drinking and violence. People being shot and stabbed in the street.”

Home wasn’t much of a refuge because Kevin’s mother struggled to pay the bills and raise two kids alone. The only stability in Kevin’s life came from his boisterous uncles, who loved to play poker and always had beers in the fridge.

When Kevin was 9, he moved with his mother, sister, and favorite uncle to Brockton. There, his mother worked long hours, and Kevin spent more and more time around people who drank and gambled. Within a few months, he had his “first sip,” courtesy of a young friend. One drink led to another, and by age 13, Kevin was skipping school and getting into trouble. “My mother had police coming to her door,” he says.

A year later, Kevin’s frazzled mother kicked him out. So he moved in with friends who seemed to have everything he wanted – independence, money, invincibility – and were willing to teach him everything they knew. By 15, Kevin was using and selling cocaine. By 17, he was addicted to alcohol and crack and he was arrested for auto theft. “I did 24 months on that first sentence,” he recalls. Kevin occupied himself in prison by earning his GED and reading motivational books. “I wanted to turn my life around, but I wasn’t ready to deal with my addiction,” he says.

As soon as he was released, he returned to the lifestyle he knew. Thus began a cycle that was difficult to break. “Every time I went to jail, I tried to educate myself,” he explains. “I learned as much as I could about behavior modification. But when I’d get out [of prison] and have a job interview, it was like hitting a brick wall.”

Kevin’s difficulty finding a job fueled a growing sense of frustration. “My first emotion was usually to get pissed off and then go backwards,” he says. “I’d think, ‘If they want me to be a criminal, I’ll be a good criminal.’” Over time, Kevin got some good positions – prep cook, restaurant shift manager, sales manager – and would do well for a couple of years. Then his addiction would take over, ruining all of the progress he’d made.

In 2006, Kevin was staying at Kingston House (a halfway house) and told a staff member he wanted to find steady employment but had difficulty because of his criminal record. That person suggested the Moving Ahead Program at St. Francis House, which teaches business and life skills, provides 16 weeks of housing, and gives students a weekly stipend to cover transportation costs. Kevin was delighted to enroll a few weeks later. “When you come out of jail, having a roof over your head and transportation is huge,” he says. With the help of MAP staff, Kevin identified his strengths and fields in which he might excel – such as sales or real estate. He also tackled the underlying issues that had dogged him for so long: “When you keep getting shot down, you become depressed and angry about it. You think, ‘Why won’t the world give me a chance?’”

MAP helped Kevin see that his drug use masked depression and traumatic memories that had never been addressed. Medication and unwavering encouragement helped Kevin finally move forward. “My instructor, Tony Rello, taught me that you have to work hard, and when you hear a no, just move on. Don’t focus on it, don’t dwell on it, just keep going, and eventually someone will say yes,” he explains. Kevin did just that, and toward the end of the program, he began an internship with a local attorney who specializes in real estate and is known for being a tough boss. Kevin excelled there and was offered a full-time job after he graduated from MAP.

Kevin thought he had his happy ending and looked forward to earning his real estate license and opening his own business. Yet with theft convictions on his record, that would not be possible. Kevin was so disappointed that he wanted to numb his pain, and soon he was back in prison, wondering if he had the strength to start over after 20 years of mistakes. As he sat in a cell yet again, Kevin remembered the lessons he’d learned in MAP. “I had expected a yes right away, but nobody is just going to hand you success,” he says. “You have to do the work, the research, and you have to learn to be comfortable in your own skin.”

As months passed, Kevin identified a new goal: becoming a drug and alcohol counselor. “I wanted to help people, and that’s one field where having a criminal record is a bonus.” When Kevin was released in 2008, he was accepted into the drug and alcohol counseling program at UMASS Boston. He also began working with Ivor Edmonds, MAP’s Job Coach for alumni, who helped Kevin stay focused on his goals and, near the end of the curriculum, get a part-time job at Kingston House, working with people who want to rebuild their lives. Kevin graduated in 2011, and today he works as a case manager at both Kingston House and Safe Haven for Homeless Veterans, and as a coordinator at Access to Recovery. “I tell people, ‘Once you work on yourself, you’ll be able to do things that you won’t believe could happen.’” “I’ve never met anyone who works as hard as Kevin,” says Ivor. “He achieves every goal he sets.”

Kevin’s next challenge: passing the LADC/CADAC exams, which will license and certify him as a drug and alcohol counselor. “Everything can change with time, if you put the work in,” says Kevin. “MAP is the best program I’ve ever done.”