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From felonies to fitness (4 photos)

How a teenage drug dealer got clean

John Green put his life of crime and drugs behind him.

Hailing from Belleville, Ont., Green came to the Sault exactly one year ago Friday to stay at Teen Challenge, a residential Christian faith based drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre for young adults.

It was a long road to get there.

“Growing up I made a lot of dumb choices,” said Green.

Green grew up in Tracy Park, a part of Belleville that he says is “almost like the projects of Canada”, with a single mother who had severe mental health issues.

By 13 he was smoking pot and did his first jail stint when he was sent to juvenile detention for shooting someone with a pellet gun on his walk to school.

“Honestly when I was kid, the youth jails just felt like summer camp. We sat around and played video games, watched TV, and did a program once week… It wasn’t strict enough to have an impact on me. You’re going to hold me to watch TV? Sure, I’m sitting on a leather couch that’s better than I have at a home.”

When he was 14 his mother tragically died in the hospital - most likely it was a suicide but he’s still not sure.

Now parentless he became a ward of the crown passing from foster home to foster home – about 5 or 6 of them by the time he was 18.

“Each family is different, some treat you like you're their own kid, some treat you like you’re a source of revenue, you know?”

Unable to cope with everything he was going through, he moved on to heavier drugs like cocaine and MDMA as well as started hanging out with older kids who “gave him a sense of belonging”.

To support these growing addictions he got involved in crime.

He’d break into trunks of cars at Christmas time, steal things out of people’s backyards, and even straight up rob people.

Still a teenager, Green could basically have been described as a rough drug dealer on the streets of Belleville getting in trouble with the cops, sometimes going to jail.

“In my eyes I thought I was successful. I didn’t think I needed to go to school, I didn’t think it mattered if I had a record, I thought it didn’t matter if the police were looking for me. It was actually an honour to be in jail.”

Although it’s a serious topic, the story of how he got caught by police the last time is kind of funny. 

When he was 18 he found himself in the position of owing $300-$400 to a person he was selling drugs for.

Without a way to pay this drug dealer back, he and some friends cruised bars looking for people to rob using a can of a bear spray - a heavy duty pepper spray designed for, you guessed it, bears.

“We walked up to this one group, I pulled the spray can on them and said ‘give us your wallet’. The guy wasn’t going to do it so I sprayed the can but the wind came back on us and the bear spray went all in my face. ”

Then the cops showed up and with burning eyes Green found himself darting through backyards desperately using birdbath water to try and flush out the bear spray all the while officers were in hot pursuit of him.

“It’s designed to take down 500 lb bears, it burned!”

The police got him and back to jail he went, although this time something changed.

While incarcerated Green had a copy of the Bible and, out of interest, he thought he’d try reading it from beginning to end however after only he few books in he found the text too dry.

“I got fed up but one of the guards suggested I try skipping ahead to the New Testament.  It’s then that I read about who Jesus was and decided I was living my life wrong.”

He quotes two passages from Romans as being particularly powerful for him:

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” - Romans 3:23

“The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life” - Romans 6:23

“These passages told me that, you know what, everyone messes up and nobody is perfect. Freedom is not something that we can work towards (but it’s) something only God can give us. It’s a free gift, and I took it.”

Green was released 10 months later with time served but he saw himself falling into his old patterns again.

“Everyone in Belleville knew me as this wannabe drug dealer, causing fights, etc. It's not like I had a new set of people to hang out with and I fell back to my old ways doing things I shouldn’t have been.”

He was saved from falling back completely when he got a part time job at an antique store and the owner told him about the Teen Challenge program, helped him with the registration fee, and even gave him a ride up to the Sault so that he could join.

After six months of Teen Challenge, Green said he felt strong enough to move on and work towards attaining his high school diploma.

He decided to stay in the Sault, get a job, and he entered into one of the local Adult Learning Centres while still keeping up with his faith.

On Friday, which was also coincidentally exactly one year to the day since he first got clean, Green received his Ontario Secondary School Diploma.

He attributes a lot of his success and his ability to stay clean to exercise, particularly a ‘Faith and Fitness’ program put on by the Bible Fellowship Church on Thursday nights.

“Working out was really a catalyst for me to break away from my addiction. I was getting the same rush that I was seeking when I was doing drugs, but now from lifting weights and it was making me healthier. After each workout I just feel better.”

Moving forward Green now has options.

The 22-year-old has an application in with the Canadian Military and he’s been accepted into a Fitness and Health Promotion program at Sault College.

He hopes others struggling from addiction learn from his rough ride and find their own path to getting clean.

“If my story can help one person, then it's good. I know I didn’t go through this for nothing. Everything happens for a reason and I hope my story can inspire people.”


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Jeff Klassen

About the Author: Jeff Klassen

Jeff Klassen is a SooToday staff reporter who is always looking for an interesting story
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