Nathan’s story: A life turned around

Past addiction and trouble with the law aren’t holding back aspirations of a better life

Nathan was a 4.0 student and a 3-sport star athlete at Preble High School, but growing up very few people knew the dark side he was hiding. It was a side he wasn’t proud of and he didn’t know what else to do. It was a life he was forced into by a troubled family. He has since separated from those closest to him for the betterment of his life.

On the surface, he was doing everything his coaches and teachers were asking of him. He studied during school to achieve high grades and had athletic plaques on the wall. Nathan was even a member of the National Honors Society. What people didn’t see was him smoking weed at age 5 and taking ecstasy at 9 years old.

Or the fact that he was selling drugs while standing behind the persona of being an exceptional young man.

“The people I was around, like my family, they were pretty toxic for me,” Nathan explained. “I grew up in a very middle-class neighborhood and had everything I wanted. I did a lot of things I shouldn’t of in my life. The best thing I can do now is make myself happy.”

Life early on was set up for failure

His path to a difficult life began almost immediately and at age 7 he began raising his little sister because his parents worked all the time.

“I just did what my parents wanted,” he said. “If my bedroom wasn’t picked up or the garbage wasn’t taken out, I got screamed at. I did what they wanted so they wouldn’t bother me.”

His parents and family also face untreated mental health issues and it affects the way he views his family. Nathan has been chased through his house by his sister wielding a knife. His father was never involved in activities he liked. His parents would express disappointment when he brought home an A- on his report card. The list of challenges goes on and on.

“I used to blame everyone but myself,” Nathan said. “Nowadays, I just try to take accountability and be more responsible for myself. I guess my parents raised me to feel like I was never enough.”

The wrong crowd wouldn’t go away

Throughout high school, he continually got more and more involved with a crowd of friends and associates making the wrong choices. Those decisions involved weed and selling it, of which Nathan became a go-to contact for the drug.

“The struggle was hiding the fact that I was a drug dealer,” he said. “I remember driving around in high school and my car always smelled like weed. I told myself it wasn’t a good idea, but people saw me as an important guy.”

His parents found out he was selling drugs at age 16 and he subsequently left home. Nathan spent the summer living at a friend’s house doing whatever he wanted without any consequences. He never returned and would be on his own from then on.

Mindset was more powerful than actions

Deep inside Nathan knew what he was able to achieve, but it was the actions that were dragging him down. He studied his academic work for other classes during school while listening to his teacher’s lecture on another subject.

There was a moment of light during high school when his culinary arts teacher noticed something. She pulled him aside and told him to not let the drugs and weed get in the way of his future.

“She said I wasn’t that sly guy everyone thought I was,” he said. “I vividly remember that conversation to this day. I was juggling so much back then and I didn’t think I would ever get caught. It just wasn’t going to happen. She was straight with me and told me what I really needed to hear.”

Despite all the law-breaking he was involved in, Nathan was accepted into several universities including UW-Madison and had big plans for his future. His actions, however, again sidetracked his potential. After getting deeply involved with his girlfriend, it derailed his educational future and sent him into a spiral of drug dealing and addiction.

There is a light of hope

Nathan experienced more than a decade of his life in and out of jail and prison for drug and related issues. He was released on December 26 from Green Bay Correctional Institution with only the clothes on his back and no direction in life.

That day’s weather was a high of 25 degrees and the low that night fell to 14 degrees. Those weren’t the conditions to be walking around town cold, wet and hungry. After walking miles and miles to the downtown area, Nathan eventually learned of St. John’s Ministries.

“I was in fight or flight mode that night,” he said reflecting on what could have been. “My mind was racing and I was just trying to survive. I didn’t want to freeze to death on the streets. St. John’s let me in and gave me hope. They gave me guidance, resources and feedback to get my life in order.

“I didn’t have a single dollar, bus pass, bike, or documentation on me. I had a garbage bag with the little belongings I owned and a beard down to my chest. I was cold and my shoes were soaking wet. It felt amazing to be let into the shelter, get warm and eat a meal. It was freaking amazing. It was an emotional relief.”

The following morning, he met with his case manager Eugene Smalls for the first time, who figured out what barriers were in front of him and crafted a plan for the future. That plan included finding employment and fixing his finances.

A smile says 1,000 words

Nathan is now filled with happiness despite the life struggles he has gone through. He knows the challenges ahead won’t be easy. His work ethic and sobriety will keep him self-sufficient. It didn’t take long for him to become employed and is holding down a position at a local manufacturer.

His thirst for education and learning has always been there and is now paying off. During his time incarcerated, he taught himself about financial investing and debt reduction. He has since paid off over $2,500 in restitution during the past 4 months and is nearing the end of that self-inflicted burden. Near the end of the shelter season, he worked with Eugene to find an apartment. That transition was made easier through funds from the St. John’s Ministries Guest Grant Program. After a review of Nathan’s application and because of his exemplary forward movement, he was awarded funds to overcome the barrier of a security deposit and the first month’s rent.

“I now have my own queen mattress, food in the cupboards, steady job and my own vehicle,” he said. “What more can I ask for?”

Past shelter guests have said that the most difficult part of their journey is the transition to their own place from shelter life. It isn’t any different for Nathan in his journey.

“I don’t want to be homeless again. I don’t want to be a drug dealer again. I don’t want to be a junkie. There are a whole bunch of things I don’t want to do. I do, however, want to focus on things that make me successful and happy. Fishing is one of those things that keeps me at peace and I use it as a coping mechanism. If I am not happy, I start to slip into bad habits.

“There’s something that just makes me want to do better in life. I don’t know what it is. The more you get a taste of success the more you want it. It might be ambition or motivation. I don’t know exactly. There’s no ceiling to what I can do in life.”

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