Nonprofit Leadership: "The day I got arrested was the best day of my life"

I love meeting people. I love hearing their stories, understanding new ways of looking at the world and finding meaningful connection in the unlikeliest places. I am the one who has a 10 minute conversation with the parking attendant about parenting, or the deep conversation about theoretical linguistics with my Uber driver.

A few weeks ago, holding down a barstool and taking in some sports on TV, I met Justin. His story of pain, addiction redemption and the need to share your truth made me believe in humanity and the power of being a Courageous Communicator.

With permission, I share his story.

Justin grew up a lower class kid in a middle class world. He went to private high school with his ride or die BFF, Trevor. His family did their best as his dad struggled with addiction. Money was tight and mom did her best.

Like many people today, Justin found himself in the throes of heroin addiction. He tried to hide his truth from his family and friends. They knew something was off, they didn’t know what.

Justin’s job at the time was interior landscaper. Yes this is a thing. He went into people’s homes and cared for their indoor plants. A pretty sweet gig for someone who found himself with a $3,000 a day heroin habit.

What happened next would surprise no one. After years of addiction and theft, he finally got caught. His reaction, though, might surprise you. He was happy to be arrested.

Getting arrested allowed him to share his truth with this family and friends. He cried as the cuffs snapped around his wrist because he was finally free of holding a secret so deep he thought if anyone knew, they wouldn’t love him anymore.

Justin spent 18 months in jail, and with the support of his family and Trevor, is now living a full life. Last time we met, he had gotten a new job selling cars. His ability to connect to people and share his authenticity will serve him well in that job.

Meeting Justin made me realize that people are gifts that we get to receive, that there are stories all around us and you never know who is sitting next to you and what you can learn from them. He also taught me that there is prison worse than jail: holding a secret that makes you feel unworthy and unloved. Jail freed him from addiction and lies. He was behind bars, but his spirit was free.

Maryanne Dersch