MANSFIELD, Ohio--"If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you." Mansfield native Anthony Taylor, Sr. lives by this motto.
Taylor, a recovered drug addict, knows how it feels to be challenged, to be inundated with obstacles standing in the way of victory. But, more importantly, he's learned how to overcome those obstacles and be an inspiration to people who have encountered similar situations.
This is his story.
What started as fun...
Taylor grew up in Mansfield with his five siblings. Though his family didn't have much money, "we were happy," he said.
His mother would often hold parties at their home when he was a child, exposing him and his siblings to gambling, drinking and drugs.
"With those parties came an environment, came a lifestyle, came a glamorization of something that as a young kid I wanted because when these people came to the parties, they wore big fancy hats, pulled up in Cadillacs, and I would always say, 'Man, I want to be just like that,' because I had no other role model," he said.
When people weren't looking, he'd sneak a couple beers up to his room because he saw everyone having fun and figured beer must have been the catalyst to having a good time.
"It all started out as fun. It was my only intention to have fun," he said.
As an eighth grader at John Simpson Middle School, he began selling marijuana.
"It was the beginning of a part of me getting a type of satisfaction--being able to go out and buy stuff my mom couldn't afford, being able to be with different people and different cliques of guys and to look important, feel important," he said.
He continued to sell drugs while at Malabar High School. Most weekends he would indulge in similar behaviors he witnessed growing up by drinking and using drugs.
When he graduated from high school in 1986, he wasn't sure what he would do, "but I did know that I couldn't continue doing what I was doing. I wanted to do something with my life," he said. He joined the Army Reserves and later tried to find a job but couldn't get employed.
To make ends meet, he began selling cocaine. "And what comes with that lifestyle," he said, "is glamorizing, more partying, and it all started as just having fun--making yourself feel like you're living the big life...But with that glamorization came other stressors. You never knew who was going to try to rob you, who was going to try to jump, who was going to try to beat you up..."
At one point, he realized he had a problem. He used to tell himself, "At least I'm not like that guy who's stealing, lying and cheating." But when he committed similar acts, it was hard to admit to other people that he needed help.
"I couldn't tell anybody, and the only thing I had to turn to was my disease," he said.
...Shifted to disaster
In 2000, he was charged with drug trafficking and sentenced to serve three years in the Richland Correctional Institution. He was placed on probation in 2002 and got a job at a local restaurant. "But I hung out with the same people I used to get high with because they were the only friends I had," he said.
Every now and then he would have a beer, but wouldn't get drunk or get high.
However, one day, he ran into his cousin who gave him some marijuana. "I shouldn't have taken that hit," he recollected.
"It released something inside of me...And I liked it."
Every Wednesday he was required to meet with his probation officer. "I knew cocaine stayed in my system for three days, so after I'd see my PO on Wednesday, it was mandatory that I got high Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and I didn't pick up after that until after I'd see him on Wednesday because I'd be guaranteed to be clean," he said.
"This is when I thought I was more powerful than the disease of addiction."
Eventually, he didn't care if he got caught.
"It didn't matter if I went back to prison," he said. "My thought was they had to catch me--and that's what happened."
He returned to prison and was released in 2003.
From 2003-2009, his habits remained the same, and his relationships with family and friends suffered.
"My family basically disowned me," he said.
He was kicked out of his home and found shelter in an abandoned house.
One day, a friend visited him. Taylor shared with his friend that he hadn't eaten for a week and his friend gave him a stolen check. Taylor ordered $30 worth of pizza, using the check as payment.
"I knew I was breaking the law, but I didn't care," he said.
Hours later, he heard a knock at the door. It was the police.
"I didn't even want to fight," he said, so he opened the door, greeting the officers who asked about the stolen check. Taylor said a friend gave it to him and didn't realize it was stolen. The officers issued him a summons, requiring him to appear before court in two weeks.
The night before his hearing, he got high with friends. He told his lawyer the next morning that his mother was in bad car accident and that he wouldn't be able to make it. He got high again the night before his rescheduled hearing, so he tried to excuse himself, but his lawyer told him a warrant would be put out for his arrest.
"So I go into the bathroom and throw water onto my face and I go to court. I'm sitting there tired and exhausted. I didn't sleep at all last night," he recollected.
His lawyer told him he'd probably get 30 days in jail. Taylor said, "I was thinking 30 days in jail, 'Hey that's great. I'll get three meals a day, I'll get my weight back up...'"
But his failure to appear in court made an impression on the judge. Taylor recounted, "He told me, 'We're going to sit you down for a little while because you missed court and didn't think this was important...' And he looks at says, 'Well, Mr. Taylor, I'm going to sentence you to a year in Mansfield Correctional Institution.'"
"And I say, your honor, for $30?"
"He was like, 'It didn't belong to you. And you didn't see a need to show up here when you needed to. Maybe you can get some help while you're there.'"
Road to recovery
Although Taylor wrestled with the outcome of his hearing, he was able to participate in a recovery program for addicts during his sentence.
The program was taught by a woman who went by the name "Mrs. R." "She taught us how to use our experiences in the past against our future," he said. "She taught us how to make better decisions and have some kind of idea what our consequences would be based on our decisions."
Taylor was glad to have finally received the help he had heard about from other addicts. "I heard people talk about getting help, but I never heard anybody say where to get it, or how to get it, or who to get it from," he said.
During this time he was also introduced to Narcotics Anonymous. "Guys would come in and they were a part of what we call H&I, a different committee in Narcotics Anonymous, where they come into prison and speak to us," he said.
Though inmates would sometimes smuggle drugs into the facility, he didn't touch them and managed to stay clean throughout the entirety of his sentence.
"I really wanted to make a change in my life," he said.
Paying it forward
When he was released from prison, he attended NA meetings every day. "I was trying to do 90 [meetings] in 90 [days]," he said.
He rented an apartment in Mansfield after separating from his wife and began taking classes at North Central State College to earn a degree in human services.
Weeks before his graduation, he landed a job at the college as a recruiter. He credited Cheryl Carter, director of the Urban Center, with getting him the job.
"She gave me courage when I didn't have anything else to reach for," he said of Carter. "She's been an inspiration in my life and still is today."
In 2013, he earned his associates degree from NCSC and spent the next several months working at the college.
Later, he became a member of the Richland County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, and still serves on the board today.
He applied for a position at the Northern Ohio Recovery Association and was hired as a chemical dependency counselor.
As a counselor with NORA, he enjoys being able to help those who are dealing with similar problems that he faced in the past. "I'm doing to them what was done to me," he said. "I am encouraging them that they can do this, that they can overcome their challenges."
He's in the process of starting his own treatment center, "Recovery @ Work," in Mansfield. He's also on track to earn a bachelor's degree in substance abuse counseling from the University of Cincinnati. Afterwards, he wants to get a master's in social work.
He hopes to continue growing, learning and making a positive change in his community. In order to do so, he said he must maintain a positive perspective.
"A lot of people in recovery, a lot of people period don't understand that we're faced with numerous opportunities disguised as impossible situations," he said. "But I don't see them as impossible situations--just as opportunities."