When someone is applying for a new job, one of the many questions an employer wants to find out about is whether the applicant has any felonies in their past.
For some, checking the “No” box means being one step closer to gainful employment. For others, like Jeremy Martin, checking the “Yes” box means allowing someone into his past.
But Martin does not want to hide his past. He’s proud of it. He was deeply addicted to crystal methamphetamine, cocaine – and prison. But now, he is vice president of treatment and intervention services at LRADAC, one of the largest drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers in Lexington and Richland counties.
Martin attributes his success in the drug and alcohol rehabilitation field to his recovery from drug addiction.
“I understand where the people that we serve are coming from,” Martin said. “I have shared some of the same experiences with them and I can use those experiences to appeal to them.”
Did LRADAC Chief Executive Officer Gayle Aycock feel comfortable taking a chance in hiring Martin?
“His story is LRADAC’s story,” Aycock said. “These are the people we help, and because he has been so successful (in recovery) why wouldn’t we hire him?”
Some people might be critical of the decision, but Aycock says she has no regrets.
Martin’s addiction began at the tender age of 14 while he was attending Northwestern High School in Rock Hill.
Martin said he had a hard time fitting in with students and needed to find a way to escape the ridicule he experienced for being overweight. That escape came in the form of experimenting with a common “Trucker’s drug” called NoDoz, a pill packed with 200 mg of caffeine used to stay alert and awake.
“Often what we see, especially with younger people, is they go with what they have access to,” Martin said. “I didn’t have any access. I grew up in a house that had no drugs or alcohol. It wasn’t like I could go in my house and get weed from mom and dad.”
Martin began to start chasing the stimulating effects of NoDoz with other drugs like prescription pills and marijuana. But, it didn’t take long for him to begin experimenting with cocaine.
“I can remember thinking that it was the greatest thing ever and that I wanted more,” Martin said.
Even though Martin’s drug use persisted throughout high school, he was able to graduate with a high grade-point average and a scholarship to attend culinary school in Charleston. But it was when Martin was finally away from his parents’ supervision that his steep road to addiction began.
“The further away I got away from them the more I didn’t have guidance and a support structure in my life,” Martin said. “By then I was in really heavy use.”
Martin only stayed in school for a year before he dropped out and moved back in with his parents. They then had him court-ordered into treatment.
“We sent him to the Hazelden foundation in Minneapolis, Minn.,” said Martin’s mother, Vicky. “He did really well for a period of time, and then we sent him to a treatment facility in Louisiana.”
Asheville and more trouble
For a while, Martin maintained his recovery but stayed in contact with the same friends that allowed him access to the drugs that fueled his addiction.
After completing both courses of treatment, Martin came back and fell back into experimenting with drugs again, unbeknownst to his parents.
“Like I said, I am an addict,” Martin said.
After moving in with his sister in Asheville, N.C., Martin said his addiction continued to get even deeper. Working at a seasonal toy store, Martin had his first run-in with law enforcement. He was arrested for embezzling money from the store to fuel his drug habit.
After being bailed out of jail by his parents, Martin turned to selling drugs to support his habit, which he said at the time had reached to $2,000 a day of cocaine.
“I was using an astoundingly high amount of cocaine,” Martin said. “I overdosed several times, and one of my closest friends was shot in the head when he went to go pick up drugs for us on New Year’s Eve. I started to recognize, at that point in time, the major negative consequences of drug use and drug addiction.”
In March 2000, Martin received his first drug trafficking charge after police discovered he was carrying more than 10 grams of cocaine in Raleigh. A Wake County judge sentenced Martin to 30 months probation.
“I did fine those 30 months,” Martin said. “But, when my probation ended, when it was no longer hovering over my head, I went back down that road.”
For a little under a year, Martin continued to sell and use drugs, but his life was changed one night in 2004 when he as driving between two of his friends’ houses near Winthrop University.
Martin struck a telephone pole across the street from the university with his car while going 45 miles per hour. The pole stopped him from landing on other cars parked in a parking lot that was lower than the street.
“I was using GHB, and I drank too much and I left a friend’s house and I blacked out,” Martin said. “I don’t even remember hitting the telephone pole.”
When police responded, they found more than 10 grams of cocaine in Martin’s possession, leading to a second trafficking charge. Martin said the drugs were for personal use.
Vicky Martin said she remembers hearing a knock at her door at 3 a.m. the night of her son’s crash. She said her son gave police permission to search the residence listed on his license, his parents’ home, to search for other drugs.
“I fell apart because it was such a shock for us. I thought, ‘Now we are going through it again,’” Martin said. “We didn’t care if they search the home. My concern was they didn’t give us a lot of information of how my son was. They stopped me as I went up the stairs half way and told me he was okay.”
Jeremy Martin’s parents, again, had to bail him out of prison.
For 11 months, Martin awaited trial all the while maintaining sobriety. With the support of his family, he enrolled in an Alcoholics Anonymous program. He felt more comfortable with the 12-step program rather than treatments available in Narcotics Anonymous.
In 2005, he was eventually was sentenced to five years in prison, of which he would have to serve at least 21/2 years in a jail cell. But, the pull of drug addiction did not leave him while he was in jail.
“People think that prison will take you away from drugs,” Martin said. “In reality they are pretty available. It’s not that you’re in some secluded world when you get there. Unfortunately, in prison you’re around a lot of people who don’t necessarily want to change.”
“I call it crabs in a bucket,” Martin said. “Because other people are willing to pull you back in the bucket because they don’t want to see you leave.”
But, Martin persisted in sustaining his recovery.
He met with a prison chaplain who was also a social worker who advised him to pursue a career in social work.
“That was my avenue to take something that was so negative in my life and turn it around to something that could be beneficial not only to me, but to the people around me and the community,” Martin said.
Martin went on to graduate from Columbia College with a degree in human services in 2010. While attending the University of South Carolina to receive his Masters of Social Work degree, he began working part-time for Transitions, the largest homeless shelter in Columbia.
Transitions’ former director Lawrence Haynes said a colleague of his recommended he hire Martin. So he gave him a shot.
“I was a little startled when I first met him – within a few minutes he was laying out about his stormy past,” Haynes said. “But what I found is his background was a tremendous asset. You couldn’t fool him. There is so much overlay with drug and alcohol addiction in the the homeless community, and he had a leg up on all of that stuff.”
Haynes said Martin wore many hats while working as a lead clinical counselor on the weekends and attending school. He put his culinary background to work helping to cook for hundreds of homeless people and set up a computer resource room for the homeless to use.
It was then that Martin was hired as a quality assurance director at LRADAC, in May 2014. He was promoted to his current position in November.
He said he hopes his story will help break the stigma people have of those recovering from drug addiction.
“It’s not all about the anonymity and the shame and guilt that is associated with it, but it’s also about the stories of perseverance,” Martin said. “They can be some of the most successful people if you allow to show that, because they have learned that you have to go through hell before you find success.”