When I walk into the room, Chad is leaning over a math problem with furrowed eyebrows over his dark brown eyes. His teachers are teasing him. “So… do you think you are going to do that again?” They half scold, half smile.

Chad has just eaten a large amount of Ghost Pepper chili powder. His eyes water and he’s clearly still stunned. It was a dare, of course, at lunch. While his demeanor is seemingly serious, he surprises you quickly with his sarcasm and, now, his pepper-eating shenanigans. He has a warmth and sensitivity once he begins talking and he listens intently, regarding carefully those around and in front of him.

Along with his girlfriend Ashley, Chad was among the first of Landmark’s students. He says he decided to give the first orientation a try when the school was just opening. “I had dabbled on and off with trying to stay sober. When I heard about it here, we decided to check it out… and we wanted to stay.”

He frequented various high schools, from Sierra to the trades school, E3, through Harrison. He was trying to make it through and study mechanics. Overtime, his lifestyle and attendance left him with few credits to realistically graduate from a traditional school. “I’m getting my GED here. I have passed most of the tests and am working on math.” When I inquire about why he is willing to try to make it work here, he expresses sincerely, “Many teachers here are former users…They’re better now and they can relate.” He says this with a little more reflection. “I see myself in these kids,” he mentions after a moment.  

Chad, like many younger addicts, experienced drug and alcohol exposure at a young age. It was a matter of time before he would use regularly himself. By the time he was in his later teens, he saw himself absolutely deteriorating. “We were walking skeletons.” Even after a seizure, Chad had a hard time staying sober. “I’m just grateful, I’m here.” He explains that this “bottoming out” was hard to see partly because of his age. Now, he expresses he now has a hope about the future and that he sees a way to provide for himself or a family, if he can get his GED, study automotive mechanics, and stay clean. He discusses how others, like Ashley’s dad, went from being an enemy to a parent figure. “He sees potential in me.”  

When I ask what thoughts Chad would like to share with others out there, who may be struggling, he says, “I came close to death and I feel like my calling is to help others if I can…to tell my story.” He takes a moment, beyond how he has laughed and is nursing his stomach from his lunchtime hilarities, to regard the the sentiment more earnestly. “ I’d say, If you’re feeling hopeless, there’s always a chance, a hope, change.”