“I was born and raised in a small town in the Okanagan. I had a normal upbringing, but got involved with the wrong crowd and became an addict. I started to spiral out of control, and by the age of 14 I received my first conviction. I was in and out of juvenile facilities and rehabilitation programs for most of my youth. After discovering heroin at 16, my criminal charges got more serious and it got harder to get off drugs. At the age of 25, I turned myself in and decided to detox myself completely. That was the first time I had been clean in a long time. I wanted to change, but I never believed I could do it. While incarcerated, I realized that if I wanted to keep making the right choices once released, I needed to relocate and made a plan to move to Calgary. At this point, I didn’t have my family in my life, they had cut ties – it was pretty much me and my record.
When I settled in Calgary, I had no luck finding a job because of my criminal record. But I found an employment program at the Calgary Drop-In Centre (DI). I completed their three-week employment certification program and applied for their Woodworks program to learn to become an upholsterer, temping in the meantime to pay the bills. Unfortunately, my past interfered with my life again when I had to submit a criminal record check. They had strict guidelines about accepting people with certain charges and I was first told they will likely not accept me. A few staff members from the DI advocated for me and I called them every other week for three straight months to find out if they would let me take their program. I told them, ‘I have nothing in my life to this point. And if you just give me the opportunity, I will show you that I wanna be here and I wanna learn.’
They finally accepted me. I started off learning upholstery. Once I finished that program, I also completed their cabinet-making program. I was there for 10 months and applied for my Cabinetmaker apprenticeship. I am now working full-time as a Finisher for an employer who is understanding about my past. I am registered to attend SAIT next spring, something I never saw in my future before, and I will be a Journeyman Cabinetmaker in four years. I will celebrate my second anniversary in sobriety this summer and am proud of how far I have come. I now speak to my parents on a regular basis and they come out to see me in Alberta regularly – they are also very proud of me.
My dream is to save up and travel. I would also like to keep doing finishing work because I really enjoy it. I want to have enough money saved up to buy my own house – something I never thought I could have. I am determined and self-sufficient. It is nice to not have to rely on government assistance and be able to be a productive member of society. Coming home dirty and tired from a long day’s work is the best feeling. Better than any high I have ever experienced.”