In 2002, I hit rock bottom when I moved into a homeless shelter. For the next four years, I cycled in and out of one shelter after another. There, I saw how people can become passive and numb, with no life or hope left in their eyes. They smell bad, walk with their heads down, and are filled with negativity. Their only goal in life is getting a handout. I knew I couldn’t allow a sheltered life to become my life.
I was a Detroit police officer from 1985 to 1998. In 1996 I lost my mother and not long after that my 17-year-old son died of an asthma attack. In my mind, crying on someone’s shoulder was a sign of weakness, so I kept it all inside. I had been drinking before, but now I started drinking even more. I left the police force in 1998 and started a limo service.
Four years later, I was arrested for drunk driving and lost my license. When I couldn’t pay rent, the woman I was living with put me out, and I lived in my car for two months. That’s when I turned to a homeless shelter for help.
My first concern was to become self-supporting, but I wasn’t sure where to start. I went to a state employment service and told a counselor, “I want a college degree; not one of those low paying jobs listed in the job bank.” She told me about scholarships at the local community college, and with her help, I registered for classes in 2007.
I hadn’t been a student for thirty-plus years, and the thought of attending college scared me. But I had a goal. I wanted to become a computer systems security analyst, a career that starts at about $48,000. The money sure sounded good.
In my English Fundamentals class I encountered On Course. The book gave me insights into my past failures and successes and provided specific strategies for achieving success in college and in my life. I realized that many of my past problems were rooted in victim language.
When I was on the police force, I felt that some of the supervisors picked on me. I’d say they didn’t like me because I wasn’t in the right group. The truth was, I was missing a lot of work, but I always shifted the blame.
After reading about Victim/Creator, I told myself, You have to rebuild yourself. No one else is going to do it for you. I even started telling people back at the shelter about what I was learning in this class.
My greatest concern about attending college was how to organize my time. The newly discovered creator in me used the Four Quadrant Chart to prioritize my daily tasks. As I used the self-management tools in the book, I developed self-confidence that I would do well in college. I showed the Next Actions List to others and told them how important it is to have a list to keep you focused. If someone tells you they have tickets to the Detroit Pistons game, you have to say no and do what is important for your goals.
Along with how to organize my time, I discovered the beauty of interdependence. Two of my English classmates and I decided to meet in the Writing Center after each class and work on our assignments together. We encouraged each other and became teachers as well as students. Our newfound interdependence made us feel valuable and gave us increased confidence and feelings of self-worth. This confidence translated into academic success as well. I earned a 3.88 GPA, high honors, for my first semester.
In the next semester I got a part-time job in the writing center. I love to see a twinkle in students’ eyes when I help them do well on a paper. I also started volunteering at the Washtenaw Literacy program. I continue to use On Course principles in my daily life, and I share them at the tutoring center, in my volunteer work and at the shelter. These principles provide the best hope for people to lead successful, happy, and unsheltered lives.
Two of the men from the shelter are now enrolled at the college, and they come to me when they have a problem. One guy still has a victim mentality. I tell him, “Why do you blame your woe-is-me on everyone else and not look in the mirror and see yourself as the cause? If I can help you, I will. But you have to help yourself first.”
People have to learn to stand on their own two feet, and I now have the skills to help others do that. I’ve even changed my career goal. I plan to teach elementary school. For me it’s no longer about the money. It’s about sharing myself. After experiencing the lessons in On Course, I feel I have something to share.