MC grad overcomes incarceration and mental illness

MC grad overcomes incarceration and mental illnessJuly 10, 2018

The image to use for this article. Listing image managed through RSS tab. Justin North

“It took four trips to prison and about 15 years before I finally got my crap together,” said 37-year-old Justin North.  “2016 was a life-changing year.  My older sister Alex died of cancer in June.  In August, I enrolled in the ADAC [Alcohol & Drug Abuse Counseling] program at Midland College.  It was time to start giving back to the world, and especially my family.”

North also credits the Bridges to Life (BTL) program for his “attitude adjustment.”  BTL is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation headquartered in Houston with programs in prisons throughout the state. 

“The program taught me the meaning of empathy,” explained North.  “I had always justified the crimes I committed as ‘victimless’ because they were financial in nature.  Of course, that isn’t the case.  In addition to the obvious victims, my family and I are among those affected by my actions.  When a person does time, the family does time, also—they aren’t in prison, but the impact to their emotional stability is as much, if not more, than that of the person in prison.”

North said that he is been out of prison for two years and claims he is a completely different person—more calm and confident.  The crimes for which he was convicted include theft and forgery.  He was incarcerated in state prisons in both Snyder and Teague. 

He credits the BTL program with his increased awareness of the needs of others.  His focus has shifted from formerly only thinking of himself to now being more conscious of the world around him. 

This past May, North graduated from Midland College with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Alcohol & Drug Abuse Counseling.  In August, he will begin taking classes at Texas Tech, where he will major in Community, Family & Addiction Sciences and minor in Public Health.  His ultimate goal is to obtain a master’s degree in Social Work and become a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor. 

“I have a history of mental illness and drug use,” said North.  “This doesn’t mean that I can’t function in society.  I just had to learn how to deal with my illness.  I’ve never been an addict, but drugs caused me to make bad decisions, and I used drugs to excuse my actions.”

North stated that he wants to devote his career to assisting people who have been recently released from prison.  He claims that his past is one of his best educational tools.  During his last semester at Midland College, he interned in Midland’s mental health court with Judge Elizabeth Leonard.

“There are a lot of people out there who have some degree of mental dysfunction,” explained North.  “I want to help them become aware of it and learn how to overcome it so that they, too, can become a contributing member of society.  I have learned that helping others allows me to work through my own problems.”

North currently is employed part-time as a project coordinator for an oilfield service company.  He said that even though it is considered a part-time job, he is on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  To relax, North enjoys “Netflix binging.”  His favorite show is The West Wing, and he has now watched all episodes four times.  He also enjoys reading and all types of music.

“Reading and music kept me sane when I was in prison!” exclaimed North.

North also gives credit for his new-found emotional well-being to his support system of family and friends, some of whom he met while taking classes at Midland College.

“Being older, I’m classified as a ‘nontraditional’ student, and this caused me some apprehension when I first enrolled in classes,” admits North.  “However, Midland College made it easy for me.  Everyone has been very helpful.  Education is a bridge to something better, and my life is definitely headed in a better direction!”

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