A former drug dealer from Portland, OR, Mitchell Jackson has transformed his life to become a published author and writing professor at New York University.
Jackson, 38, returned home last week to speak in front of nearly 100 adults who are currently on parole or probation. He could relate to their struggle; Jackson began selling cocaine at the age of 15 before getting caught shortly after and spending 16 months behind bars. After focusing his energy on school and receiving a scholarship to attend Portland State University, he was arrested before his junior year when police found drugs and a loaded gun in his car during a routine traffic stop.
Despite the setback, Jackson remained determined to complete his education. After his release from prison, he returned to P.S.U. to finish his bachelor’s degree in speech communications. Jackson has since earned two master’s degrees and a professor title at N.Y.U. His novel The Residue Years is now available, and a documentary film about his life is currently in the works. (right)
“I wanted to do something more constructive than playing dominoes,” he said. “Writing had power and I had a talent for it.”
Five other unique individuals have also overcome their addictions to accomplish great feats in life. Get inspired by their stories:
Noah Levine: This heavily tattooed and self-described “Buddhist punk” was once behind bars due to his addiction. He eventually got sober and began fusing Buddhism with 12-step teachings, putting a punk spin on it with his 2004 book Dharma Punx. There have since been Dharma Punx chapters created all across the U.S. and internationally. He has since published two books, co-founded a nonprofit that works with people who are incarcerated and started two meditation centers.
Scott Silverman: Back in 1984, Silverman was so deep in the throes of an addiction to meth, cocaine and alcohol that he thought about jumping off a high-rise building in New York City. But after going into treatment and getting sober shortly after, he went on to create what is now a multi-million dollar non-profit organization called Second Chance. The organization helps poor and homeless people quit drugs, leave gangs, find employment and start a new way of life. It’s become so successful that San Diego even recognizes February 19 as “Scott Silverman Day.” (right)
Matt Ganem: A former heroin and Oxycontin addict, Ganem’s drug use eventually left him losing all will to live. He went through detox after realizing this and has now been sober for the last eight years. These days, Ganem is a poet, father to two children and the outreach coordinator for an organization called Wicked Sober. He recently released Shadows of an Addict, a book of poetry about his drug addiction.
Laura Walsh: After blowing more than $1 million on drugs and alcohol and destroying her marriage in the process, this mother-of-two from Britain hit rock bottom and got sober in 2005. In early recovery Walsh offered housekeeping services to friends and neighbors; she now runs Advanced Cleaning UK in Bristol and employs more than 60 people, becoming a millionaire in the process. She gives motivational talks across the U.K. and has written a book about her life called Ashamed. (right)
Dani Johnson: At the age of 21, Johnson was homeless and so addicted to cocaine that she had considered prostituting herself for the drug. But after an unsuccessful suicide attempt, she quit drugs and alcohol on the spot. Johnson pursued the weight loss industry and was successful in selling a diet program. She opened up 18 weight loss centers across the country, and became a multi-millionaire when she sold the business in 1996.