Growing up in Watts, Ralph Jackson was no stranger to the consequences of violence and crime. He saw friends and relatives run afoul of the law, and at a young age he faced the loss of his sister – who was gunned down by neighborhood toughs. After high school, Ralph escaped the desolation of Watts and began attending Long Beach City College. Later, he moved to Ft. Worth, where he was recruited to play for the Texas Christian University football team.
In 1983, Ralph joined the U.S. Marine Corps and quickly adapted to life in the military. Soon after enlisting, he was sent to Japan, where he worked hard, earned good conduct medals and spent much of his free time lifting weights in the gym. Although Marines are known for boozing it up, Ralph didn’t drink much while stationed in Japan – he was more interested in staying fit and working out.
Once he got back to the States, however, Ralph’s recreational pursuits began to change. Stationed in El Toro and no longer living on base, he began spending more and more time with friends from the old neighborhood – friends who frequently abused drugs and alcohol. Ralph became less interested in being a Marine, and increasingly fond of partying. After failing several drug tests and receiving multiple demerits, Ralph finally was ousted from the Marines, receiving an Other Than Honorable discharge.
At the time, however, Ralph didn’t much care. More than anything else, he was interested in feeling good and getting high. In order to make ends meet and support his addiction, he worked as a football coach for a while. Then, he joined an apprentice program in construction. After working on a number of construction sites, he found that drug use was prevalent, and crystal meth – the drug of choice – was very easy to come by.
“It was blow and go,” Ralph says about how many workers used meth in order to have more energy on the job. “A lot of guys were doing it.”
For years, Ralph continued to work in construction, gaining expertise in building freeways and bridges. Yet, he still maintained his addictions. Ultimately, his drug use began to affect his work, and Ralph’s boss handed him an ultimatum – either go to rehab or lose your job. Ralph tried a 30-day outpatient program but he didn’t take it seriously, and after completing the program he began to use again.
After years of substance abuse, Ralph’s problems with drugs and alcohol eventually spiraled out of control. He lost his job, his wife and his house – and finally his freedom. After several skirmishes with the law, he was sent to jail at the Lynwood facility south of Los Angeles. It was during this period of confinement that Ralph decided to turn his life around. A veteran’s representative had told Ralph about the New Directions program, and on the day of his release, Ralph’s brother picked him up from jail and drove him straight to New Directions.
“I needed a tough program,” he says. “I needed structure.”
And, New Directions was tough – much more difficult than his earlier rehab experience. Ralph had to wake up at dawn, do chores around the facility and work on his recovery in a disciplined, military-like atmosphere. But, he was eager to do what he needed to do.
“I just wanted to get my life together,” he remembers. “And, the longer you stay the more treatment you get.”
Ralph stayed at New Directions for 18 months, which is longer than the usual client typically spends in the program. But, when he finally graduated in May of 2003, he was ready for success. Ralph now works for the County of Los Angeles in their Public Works Department – a job he has maintained for more than 2 ½ years. And, in the coming months he expects to be promoted to a Crew Leader position.
“My greatest success in life was coming to New Directions,” Ralph says.
He believes that NDI’s program is successful because of its holistic approach, where the entire person is treated rather than simply the addiction itself.
“It’s not just about drugs and alcohol,” says Ralph. “Success comes from learning about yourself.”