One of the students at Literacy Nipissing has kindly offered to share his story to help in our efforts of getting people to understand the importance of adult upgrading. This student has been coming to our centre for a few months now, and is very dedicated as a student. He comes to school every week, even when his tutor is not there. This student is a thoughtful and friendly man, always sharing a warm smile and never forgetting to thank you for helping him. Our hope is that when you read his story, you empathize with him and truly feel the emotion that is radiating from his words. We want you to understand the complex nature of why he struggled in school, and the factors that affected his actions. This story shows how truly important it is to give people another opportunity to be given that education. This student once told me, “It’s not just the employable aspect, it’s the therapeutic value of reading and writing,” and he speaks to that in the poem he wrote at the end of his story. We appreciate you taking the time to read this. Please remember that this is his personal writing. We have edited this if certain parts were unclear but for the most part, these are his words. It will be the only time you hear us say, “Don’t worry about the grammar and spelling
“Today is September 15,2016 I am in school which means I am having a great day at this time in my life school is not just the most important thing for me to do its my very favourite thing I never imagined this would be possible me being able to learn the very basics of reading writing the fundamentals of the understanding of all the things this in encompass I had been put into such a very small boxes as a child as far as being able to learn. And I believed that this was true about myself because As a child i never had anyone tell me anything different or take the time to show me anything different so I had expected this analogy of myself as such the possibility to be able to achieve the goals most people take for granted were always going to just be a dream for someone like myself a impossibility. So when the impossible become reality to me the dream became tangible myself a esteem went through the roof my self drive increased to levels of determination that I can’t believe I know now that all things are possible for me I know every day I learn a little bit more so every day I become a little bit smarter if I had my way I would attend some form of schooling for the rest of my days I have to live.in short I live to learn, and learn to live. .wow what a great way to spend the rest of my life Just learning their are so meany great philosophers, poets, authors, and one day I will be able to say I have read and understood Them all.. Cowboy.”
What you just read was written about six months after first starting the Adult learning program in Toronto. Today is January 31, 2017 I now am living in North Bay, Ontario and continue to attend adult learning. A big part of why I do this is because I had never in my past experiences in schooling had the support I do now in this program from the people that work here to the people that volunteer their personal time do this for no other reasons but because they’re caring heartfelt good people who are in the business of helping people like myself who have slipped through the cracks of traditional ways of learning in school. There are many reasons this had happened to me, it’s not as simple as saying if we just fixed one thing this wouldn’t of happened such as learning disabilities, the need for glasses, the many different times I changed schools and many problems at home and challenges I faced a child. I have been asked to write about my past experiences about what school was like for me growing up as a child. This is my story.
My first memory of attending school was about almost five years old and my mother had taken me to sick kids hospital in Toronto for reasons I still am not sure about. For a few weeks I had many different tests done, EKG, and there was one test in particular that to this day upsets me. I don’t know what it’s called, but they lay you down and stick, I can only describe as sharp tacks attached wires, everywhere in your head you are told to look up at the ceiling and stare at a kaleidoscope of lights, it was a very painful experience. After all my tests were done I was brought up to a wing of the hospital where I was given a room, there were many kids there. I didn’t understand what was happening, where my mother was and why she had not come back for me. The next day I was brought by a staff member that worked there to a room and told this is where I would be going to school, I was so confused and so scared. I remember the people working there being very nice to me, so kind and at times that when I would cry, they would cry with me and tell me everything will be ok, Joel, they’re going to find you a new home to live in with nice people to take care of you. In that instance I knew I would not be going back to my house, and no one I loved and knew was coming for me. I have an older sister and a younger brother, they are still at home with mommy so I must be bad that’s why my mommy doesn’t love me anymore. I became very shy and withdrawn, I hardly spoke and would spend all my time in my room by myself. They also had Cub scouts and swimming there, but it was a struggle for the ladies working there to get me to participate because I only wanted to stay in my room looking out the window.
I am not sure how long I was at sick kids hospital, but it seemed like very long time to me. Eventually I was sent to a group home in Toronto which is different then a foster home, there were many older teenagers there and no parents just staff members. I remember how the staff would do random drug searches, and how the teenagers there became my friends, as bad as the staff would treat them they would often give it right back to them without hesitation and without fear. I remember they would always take me out to the park to play. I remember feeling so protected with them, that nobody would mess with me or hurt me when I was with them, they would tell me, “Joel it’s not fair you’re here but you are. Life is not fair you will have to grow up fast you need to stop crying all the time because nobody cares you need to get tough. Being here will not last forever, one day you will be free okay?” I also learned a great deal about swering, and how when we went into stores stealing, it was okay. The only way to get what you want is to take it, no one is going to give you anything, and the older boys would wrestle with me and show me how to fight and tell me, “never fight fair, Joel. Fighting fair is stupid and its how you lose, always fight to win and never cry be tough. Never ever rat on anyone, especially us ever for any reason we can’t be friends with rats we can only trust each other, Joel. The staff here will lie to you and try to trick you because they don’t care about you or us.” My room became a great place for my friends to hide their drugs because my room was never searched. I would never rat on my friends, in my young mind they were heroes to me and I knew I wanted to be just like them. The time I spent in this group home was about one year, I remember everything my friends said and taught me, but I can’t remember one thing I learned that year from my home schooling I received from the staff there. Then came the day it was time for me to leave to go to a foster home. I remember the guys there that became my friends being just as sad as I was leaving. I remember the girls there hugging me crying saying how much they loved me and would miss me. I don’t remember one single staff member caring at all or showing it. I remember my friends going over again and again my last night there, “Joel, remember don’t trust anyone, be tough don’t ever let anyone see you cry, be strong and don’t be afraid. One day, Joel, you will be free okay.” I was so sad the day I left but I didn’t cry, not one tear, the things and lessons my friends taught me stayed with me through the many foster homes I was in and many schools I attended. In fact, the many horrible foster parents and horrible things they did to me and put me through just reinforced what my friends had said and thought. My anger became my very best friend.
Eventually I was placed in a foster home in Cambridge Ontario. I was just over eight years old, it was by far the best home I had been in even though I didn’t feel much love from them. I liked that I was fed, had nice clothes, went to church and was allowed to wander as much of the country side as I wanted. When I started school I was placed into a special education class. I had attended so many different schools from moving around so much I had become so far behind in my education. In these classes I was identified as having both forms of dyslexia with letters and numbers and found it very difficult to concentrate I remember getting in trouble for that a lot, not sitting still, being told to stop misbehaveing and to just pay attention for once because if I didn’t I wouldn’t learn what I needed to catch up and would never get to go to a normal class with the other kids. “Do you want to grow up stupid Joel ?” The teacher would say. But what the teacher didn’t know was I had been trying and doing my best and I felt stupid already because I didn’t understand a lot of the lessons that were being taught to me and the teacher couldn’t spend all her class room time just on helping me and because my foster parents didn’t help me ether I just kept falling more and more behind. I got to the point where I just gave up. I would go to class and just do what I wanted and the teachers were okay with that as long as I was not bugging anyone or them. I was left alone, I was kicked out of two of the grade schools close to where I lived for fighting if other kids made fun of me because of the class I was in the class for you know dummies. My anger had no bounds, if I seen someone picking on someone else from my special ed class my anger was extreme. I dreaded going to school but at the age of ten years old that changed a lot for me. My gym teacher discovered I was a natural athlete. Being worked on farms a lot had made very strong that combined with a stubbornness to never give up or to never back down gave me incredible drive to win at any cost. I had absolutely no fear of being hurt I had already experienced every kind of pain that people were capable of doing to me and I had took it and kept my mouth shut. I refused to let them or anyone else know that I had been hurt in any way so I excelled in sports I lived sports I practiced every day. I was hooked for the very first time in my life I was told I was not just good at something I was great and when we would win a game on the merits of how I performed on the court or field the look on my gym teacher face and my teammates and our opponents was incredible to me for the very first time in my life I fit in somewhere. The team was my version of what a real family was I was treated good praised I had equal opportunities to excel. I didn’t even mind that no one from my home life came to see me games. I remember how the other kids parents would say, “great game Joel you were awesome out there,” and to me that was more than enough I would often skip classes and go to the gymnasium and help the gym teachers with other classes or just practice by myself. We had to huge gymnasiums that could be split into four gyms so there was always room for me and the two gym teacher were so incredible and supportive never was I told I could not be there or was turned away. I was so grateful they treated me like that but when I look back on that time in my life now I am even more grateful then words can express because I know now that they clearly understood me my home life and the secrets I thought I was keeping to just myself. I now understand that they knew me being there was not just because of sports it was much much more than that for me.
At the age of sixteen I was released from foster care I was a hundred and ninety five pounds solid muscle with no education, no real family, and no fears of hurting anyone I felt was going to try to hurt me or in my mind that deserved it like bullies people that lied or couldn’t keep their word. My resolve was simple, if you crossed me I was going to traumatize you in some horrific way and anyone else around you at the time. Because of this I was looked at and treated differently I easily moved through different gangs or clicks or circles of people that normally didn’t associate with each other I was known and excepted selling drugs to make money and support my drug habit became my way of life. The people I associated with became my family from the time I turned 18 years old till I was 35 years old. There’s very few years I was not incarcerated for fighting or something related to drugs. Jail was not a deterrent for me or from what I seen any of the other men I had come to know over the years of going in and out jail in fact most of us were very hard drug addicts, so a lot times we would be very physically unhealthy sometimes close to even dying. Jail was a place to get healthy again work out eat properly. Guys would come in to jail half dead we would often say we were not arrested we were rescued. Many of the men I met had very little education and were only able to express themselves through anger and violence. At the end of 2012 sitting in a jail cell once again for myself I had truly reached my breaking point I was so very tired of being angry all the time. I had got to the point where I knew there just was not enough drugs in the world to stop the hurting and anger that I been carrying for so very long. I was done, I didn’t want to live one more day and really felt I had no reason to. I had been sick before coming off drugs in jail, but this time was the worst I had been mainlining to the point of insanity for last five years and I was certain I had Hepatitis C or HIV. I remember praying to God to understand and to please forgive me for what I was going to do when I got out jail telling God, “I am suffering and things are only going to get worse if you want to send me to Hell for killing myself, fine, I don’t care anymore I am already in Hell anyways.” Shortly after I had made this decision one of the jail guards took me to medical to get my blood result. I had been in just over two months and was still pretty sick. The doctor looked over my results and said, “ok Joel, everything seems fine you can go.” I reacted angrily, “are you crazy?” I proceeded to call him a veterinarian and told him that someone scared up my blood work this just was not possible. I had to get more blood tests done, and both came back clean I was in shock. I knew God sent me a miracle and a message. That night laying in my bed in jail I said to God, “okay I hear you when I get out jail I will got to stupid rehab and I will do every single thing those people ask of me so when I stand before you I have no excuses that I did try everything else’s before taking my life but I know rehab isn’t going to help me. They’re not going to tech me anything about drugs I don’t already know.” After serving a 9 month jail sentence, I got referred to a treatment place in North Bay. I remember thinking just 21 days more to go and I can finally be truly free for the first time in my life and I made no bones about telling my rehab counsellor about this. I told her if when I leave here in 21 days and I am still a drug addict I am absolutely killing myself, “I refuse to live one more day like this anymore I am just not doing it anymore.” It was at this point God granted me my second miracle, my counsellor miss Cheryl. I truly believe this because if I had been sitting across from any other counsellor they would of said, “what I now know to be true now there’s no cure for addiction. We can’t cure you in 21 days,” and that’s all I would of needed to hear at the time to turn around and walk out of there and say, “see God I knew I was right,” but that’s not what she said. I remember her looking at me put her hand on my arm and just saying, “ok ok Joel.” The next few weeks became the most life changing weeks I had ever experienced I had always thought drugs were the problem but they weren’t. They had become my solution to the anger and hurting I didn’t even understand about myself. Miss Cheryl worked tirelessly with me to help me understand the why , by guiding me to my most serious problems, by walking me through my anger and pain, by helping me learn the tools I needed know to help myself find the answers to hard questions so I could clearly understand the why of it all. With every break through I gained understanding with understanding I gained solutions and answers with those answers came my willingness to live again.
I will always be so grateful to miss Cheryl and the many other counsellors that helped me find my way to the right path and be able to move forward in the right direction. I am so thankful to God for all the miracles and Earth bound angels he placed in my path when I needed them the most. As I sit here today in the adult learning centre reflecting on my past with and a good clear understanding of how my great future will be I can smile I can smile big because I know I am always welcome here as long as I am willing to do the work. The great people that work and volunteer here at the adult learning centre are more than happy and willing to help me and work with me. The sense of pride and accomplishment I get attending school here is beyond measurement because I have experienced miracles and I have met angels. I can clearly see God now in all the little details of my life, so I know all good things are possible for me and that this is not the end of my story but just the beginning of the very best part,
My heart was empty, But that’s okay
I fill it with my tears, each and every day.
I fill my heart with tears, because I must do what I can to carry on
In spite of my past And all it’s wrongs,
I will carry my tears well, I will carry them on through, because this is today,
and it’s a new,
Today I can show all of the world all great things that I can do,
Today I can show all of the word all the love that’s inside me too
it doesn’t matter if I am carrying the parts of a past broken heart,
it doesn’t matter if my tears are slowly dripping out,
into my life’s new start,
It doesn’t matter if I am wishing my sadness away,
On all my feelings of yesterday
People will see, I choose to carry myself well,
in spite of my past, when I stumbled and fell,
My heart was empty, but that’s ok I fill it with tears of joy each and every day.
I do this So that every person can plainly see, my tears of joy straighten me,
Those tears I cry, show how I really am inside, those tears of joy that have set me free. to say to the world yes please look at me, I do matter, please look and you will clearly see, all the great things that are inside of me,
Resourcefulness, courage ,strength, and above all love
it takes a strong creative person to accomplish all they set out to achieve
so when you see someone trying, to the point of crying, to stay on the right path
Look deeply into your own heart for compassion, for that person that you see,
Because you never know that person , just might be me.
Written by Cowboy …. inspired by Miss Cheryl,