As told to by Mandy Stanage Shoptaw | Photography by Dero Sanford

   Arkansas Department of Human Services Recovery Coordinator Jimmy McGill says his story isn’t unique. There are 23 million people in America in long-term recovery. Jimmy was incarcerated at 14 years old and became a gang member. On his 18th birthday, he was on his way to Varner Prison. More than once, Arkansas Drug Director Kirk Lane slapped handcuffs on a young Jimmy McGill. Today, the man Jimmy once thought of as the “Boogie Man” has given him a remarkable platform to help others. Jimmy is five-years sober and explains why he’s proud to be part of the Peer Recovery Support Specialist Program through the State of Arkansas, where those in long-term recovery can connect and counsel those living with addiction.

   My gateway drug wasn’t marijuana or alcohol, it was trauma. Some things happened in my life I didn’t like: my father was in and out of incarceration, my mother was gone, I was a victim of emotional abuse and physical abuse and I had experienced some sexual abuse. All of these things were in my head and the only thing that seemed to change the way I felt was a chemical. Through that pain, I discovered drug use. For a long time, that worked. But soon, my solution became my biggest problem. I blamed my life on circumstances but today, through the process of recovery, I know I’m a product of my decisions.

   It’s a common misconception that someone in addiction is reasonable. We are not. We can not be beaten up, locked up, reasoned over or prayed over – none of that stuff is going to work for us. We have to go through so much pain and misery that we become desperate for change. I understand people want to help. I would encourage family members to be supportive but not enabling. As a person in addiction, I was very crafty and manipulative. If you paid my light bill and bought me a pizza, that was one less responsibility I had. I could take the money I would have had to put on a light bill and go buy a sack of dope with it. You have to get to that point where desperation is actually a gift and you’re willing to do something different.

   Peer-to-peer recovery works. Texas released a report that 84% of the people the peer specialists worked with had either stopped using or reduced use. Our program at the Lonoke County Jail has a 74% success rate. These are people who would normally recidivate and cost taxpayers money – they are working, contributing and staying out of trouble. They’ve had a life change!

   Our program is different than any other program in the nation. To be a peer specialist you need to have two years or more of sustained recovery, register with the Arkansas Substance Abuse Certification Board as a peer-in-training, and apply to be trained through the State of Arkansas. Once training is complete, you have 500 hours of service, kind of like an apprenticeship, and then test to become certified which can lead to more advanced certifications.

   I don’t believe in recovering quietly. I speak up and speak out! I’m all over social media and jump at any chance to share my story because stigma is a killer – being silent contributes to that.

On Facebook at @jimmymcgilllive


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