“My mom let my brother and I do pretty much whatever we wanted. I started using drugs at age 14 and it wasn’t long after that I started selling drugs as well. I went to Dundalk High School. I made it through the 11th grade. At that point, I realized I was making more money selling drugs than my teachers were making so I decided to drop out of high school.
“I served my first jail time when I was 18 years old and I got my high school diploma while I was behind bars.
“When I was 24, I was sentenced to 10 years in prison for a possession with intent to distribute charge. I did eight years of that sentence and was released when I was 32 years old.
“I started using and selling drugs as soon as I got out. My heroin habit got bad very quickly and that affected my sales. Things went downhill from there. I was staying here and there with relatives and anyone that would have me. I was weary of trying to come up with money to get high and places to stay.
“I started searching for God. I started reading the Bible and other religious materials looking for God. I sat at a bus stop and prayed and asked God to help me.
“I went to Johns Hopkins Bayview in search of help. They admitted me and I stayed there for a week and a half. When I was discharged, they recommended that I come to Helping Up Mission.
“On the cab ride to the Mission, I started to put myself into a survival mindset like I would on my way to jail. When I arrived at the Mission, I was completely surprised! I had no idea anything like this existed around here. I grew to really like the place and I could see miracles happening around me.
“Unfortunately, I started wanting to hang out with girls and old friends. I had some money in my pocket and thought I didn’t need HUM anymore. I went out with a girl and got high. I came back to the Mission 2 days later to pack up my stuff and leave.
“After I left the Mission, I was back on the streets – selling and using. Staying at HUM had been part of my probation. Six months after I left the Mission, I went to see my probation officer. She said if I didn’t get back to the Mission, I was going to jail.
“I came back to HUM in July 2013. The first time I was here, I wasn’t focused. I didn’t really work on the things that I needed to deal with. I didn’t stay away from the things I should. This time, I actually gave myself a chance to do something different. I knew my triggers and avoided them.
“For the first 6 months, I only left the Mission to go to meetings. I stayed focused on my recovery.
“I started thinking about what to do with my life. I didn’t want to do manual labor for the rest of my life. I realized my best option was to get training and I decided to go to culinary school. I received grant money and a loan and enrolled in Stratford University in Baltimore in January 2014.
“I have done very well in culinary school. In September, I learned that I was the recipient of a scholarship that was awarded based on an essay I had written on the topic of how culinary school had changed my career.
“I started running with the Helping Up Mission chapter of the Back on My Feet running team. I run a few miles every day and participate in every race that I can. My goal is to run a marathon.
“I was asked to speak at the annual Back on My Feet Bash in November. The Bash was held at the Marriott. After I left the stage, two Marriott executives approached me and asked me if I would like to interview for a position as a chef. I was in shock—I had never held a job before. All my life, all I’ve ever known is selling drugs.
“As I was sitting there, taking it all in, another man approached me. In my speech, I had referenced being self-conscious about my poor teeth and how I feel they are a hindrance to my career. This man offered to set me up with a dentist and pay for my dental care.
“That following Friday, I got information about my scholarship, I interviewed for, and got the job at Marriott, I received the information about the dentist and got an e-mail telling me that I had made the honor roll! What a day! I can’t believe how everything is coming together for me. I now know that God is guiding me and He has a plan for me.
“I am reconnecting with my family. I enjoy visiting my mom and cooking for her. My brother is in prison and I send him money when I can. I visit his kids and go to their sporting events.
“I am thankful for Helping Up Mission and call it my home. They basically gave me the chance to save my life. They are the reason I have the chance to do all of this!”