Old, but Determined

Skip McDonald, Staff Writer

My first arrest was when I was 19 years old. It was 1977 and I landed in San Quentin State Prison for three years and eight months. It was no walk in the park. Still, it did not stop me from criminal and substance use behavior. I was young and dumb. On July 15, 2015, I had to do something different, and turn my life around. 


I’m 65 now and have been in long-term recovery from over 45 years of substance abuse. I came to the decision that I needed help, and I needed to help others avoid what I have gone through. This includes addiction to drugs and criminaI behavior. I want to be part of the solution, not the problem. Over five months of treatment at two different Veteran treatment facilities, I was taught cognitive behavior therapy, along with other tools to maintain recovery. However, what has helped me the most is mindfulness. Then I did nine months of cognitive work therapy, learning how to be responsible, dependable, and accountable. 


Through my experiences of trials and tribulations, I have learned that the only way to live is to love. I learned to love at an early age from my mother. She loves unconditionally. Therefore, through the example of my mom and my learning experiences, I want to become a helper. I was taught Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I did nine months of cognitive work therapy, learning how to be responsible, dependable, and accountable. I decided to do something with my life. I knew that I had to go to college and earn a degree in Human Services. I was living in Devens, Mass, and went over to the Mount Wachusett Community College campus, in Devens, MA to see about starting college in the spring of 2017. Open House at the Mount Wachusett Gardner campus, which is where I met the head Professor of the Human Services program. We clicked like magnets. I decided that I would register for courses in the spring of 2017. The staff, and students made me feel like a part of a  successful community college. I received a grade point average of 3.74.


Cheryle is “my go-to girl.”  We’re the same age. She now owns her own home and works for Harbor Homes out of New Hampshire where she manages a 1.5-million-dollar grant for recovery treatment. She has been my best friend for over eight years. When I fell, she was there to support me, knowing that I was worthy, guiding me with solid advice.


I’m not your traditional college student. I’m not fresh out of high school. I’ve seen the inside of a jail cell more times than many. College is more to me than a prerequisite to the rest of my life, it’s the start of a new one. For those out there who are questioning whether they belong in college, or if it’s too late to make a change or start something new, it’s not. I am proof of that. The day I walk across that graduation stage will be like walking through a life-changing threshold but I hope it will also be an opportunity for me to hold that door open for others like myself. Come on, you belong.