Finding myself knee deep in addiction before I started high school, I dropped out shortly after because my primary focus in life was pursuing the ever elusive “perfect high.” For the next 13 years, I continued a downward spiral that eventually culminated with an arrest for manufacturing methamphetamine in January 2014.
I was a liar, a thief, a manipulator, and oddly enough, the fact that I was a high school dropout seemed to stick with me throughout my life among all the other nonsense that I was doing. Eventually, I ended up in solitary confinement, which is where everything changed for me. I was taken to my sentencing hearing directly from solitary and sentenced to three years for my crimes. I had never even been to jail before, but now I was going away for three years. Walking back to my cell, I was numb, the clink, clink sound coming from my shackled hands and feet was the only thing breaking the eerie silence ringing in my ears.
After being placed in my cell, I heard a country song playing on the little, built-in radio in my cell wall. I blindly changed the station and the radio happened to stop on the local Christian station. I felt the presence of God fill the room. I grew up in and out of church, but at that moment, for the first time in my life, I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. While I didn’t know it at the time, the revelation I had in that moment came straight out of Scripture. For years, I had been a foolish man who built his house on sand. That moment was my rock bottom, and I dedicated myself to rebuilding on a new foundation. I told Jesus that day that I would trust him with my life and stop trying to find my fulfillment in everything but Him. Little did I know that one of the main tools He would use to mold me to be the man and leader I am today was education.
The moment I got to my parent institution, I signed up for GED courses and started studying. My incredible teacher, Mrs. Shaw at Grafton Reintegration Center in Ohio, quickly realized that my reading comprehension was strong, but my math skills needed work. I found the smartest man in the education wing and paid him in potato chips to tutor me five days a week for up to two hours per day. I took my GED test and passed on the first try.
After clearing that hurdle, college seemed like a possibility for the first time in my life. I saw one of my friends carrying around a tablet and asked him about it. He told me he was working toward a college degree through Ashland University on a Securus Technologies tablet. After completing some prerequisite classes, I promptly enrolled in college through the innovative technology of the Securus tablet. Two short years later, thanks to this important technology and the Lord’s grace, I walked across the stage and received my associate degree from Ashland University. The Lord took me a long way and my future seemed quite different. I went from a 15-year drug addict, high school dropout with no future, to a man with a college degree who had the potential to contribute positively to his family and his community.
And, it wasn’t always easy. When I was first released, many of the same temptations and bad influences were waiting for me on the outside. Going back to the person I was, however, wasn’t going to happen. I’d spent 15 years heading down the wrong path. Instead, I used my newfound relationship with Jesus to respond differently to my circumstances and transform my future.
All these accomplishments, and yet, my past still haunts me. After release, my wife and I were finally financially prepared to move into a nice condo and everything looked good for approval until it came time for the background check. I was upfront about my record, and yet, they denied us the home. But God had other plans. Through an appeals process, we eventually got our home. The reality, however, is that no matter how much I worked, I’ll always carry the stigma that comes with a felony record.
I have been clean and sober since my release in 2017, I got a job at Christian Healthcare Ministries, became an ordained pastor, and even went back to school and obtained my bachelor’s degree in religion/ministry leadership. The secret to my success started with my newfound faith in Christ. With that inspiration motivating the changes I needed to make in my life, I’m grateful for the technology made possible through the Securus tablet helping to facilitate my transformation.
Ronnie Hopkins lives in Akron, Ohio. He is a husband and father and invests in his faith community as the interim pastor for Springfield Baptist Church.