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Childhood trauma and abuse robbed Jerry De Voe II of hope for most of his life. He turned to drugs, alcohol and crime, cycling in and out of prison multiple times until he decided he’d had enough. When Jerry decided to confront his past, it changed his future. Today, Jerry is a Certified Recovery Mentor and Health Assistant at CCC’s Old Town Clinic. This is his story — in his own words.
When I was two years old, my dad stole a semi-truck and crashed it into a TV station in Montana. My mom divorced him while he was in prison. From then on, my life was shaped by incidents that would lead me to also go to prison when my own son was two.
I was raised all over the place – Idaho, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Washington. My mom had several abusive boyfriends. My older brother Garvin and I always tried to protect her, and we had to fend for ourselves too. Safeway and all those big grocery stores were our best friends, because they always threw away their day-old food and we could find it in the dumpsters.
When I was eight, my brother and I went to his friend’s house. They went to the store and I got left alone with our friend’s grandfather. He asked me if I wanted $5, and of course being a young kid, I said yes. Then he asked if he could touch me. I said yes, but I didn’t understand what was happening.
That sexual abuse changed the way I felt about people in general. Way later in life, I realized I had this core belief: “I am going to hurt you before you hurt me.”
Different paths after trauma
Up until I was 12, chaos ensued. My mom and brother got stabbed. I was dragged down the hall by my hair. When one of my mom’s boyfriends hit my brother with a lead pipe, we’d had enough. We called my grandparents and went to live with them in Port Townsend, Washington. They were our saviors. They enrolled us in school and sports. They showed us unconditional love.
My brother graduated high school and went on to the military. He’s still there today. He was able to let the past go and move on with his life. When it came to me, I took the opposite route. Even though my grandparents provided a loving home, I just couldn’t shake the abuse I had endured. I left home when I was 16.
I turned to drugs, alcohol and the criminal lifestyle. From inhalants to heroin, I was self-medicating on anything I could find. I became a predator – victimizing a lot of people, selling drugs, carrying guns, drinking and driving.
Caught in a vicious cycle
In 2005, I separated from my son’s mother. He moved with me to Minnesota, but I didn’t have his birth certificate or anything that said he was mine. When I got my first felony DUI and went to jail, Child Protective Services took him. He was only two.
Between 2005 and 2019, I was in and out of prison. Each time I got out, I was clean and sober just long enough to make it off parole before going right back to my old behavior. Just when my son thought I was there to take care of him again, I’d wind up back in jail. Thank God for my aunt who took him in each time.
When I went to prison the last time, I was grateful because I wanted to stop this vicious cycle. I analyzed my past and asked myself, “What do I need to do differently? Who do I need to distance myself from?” I started working on changing my core beliefs. When I got out in 2019, I had a different frame of mind. Multnomah County’s DISP program for repeat DUII offenders was an immense help to me during my probation and they are still part of my support system today.
Never in a million years
My release officer helped me find transitional housing at CCC’s Hotel Alder building. CCC had their arms wide open. They said, “We’re willing to help you if you’re willing to help yourself.”
My housing manager, Dennis Mitchell, gave me a referral to CCC’s Employment Access Center and I started working with employment specialists Caleb Warner and Tammy Lee. I got hired by Clean Start – going around town picking up garbage and helping businesses keep their storefronts clean. Eventually, I moved up to a lead janitor position at CCC. I built a lot of good relationships with managers and went above and beyond what was asked of me.
Now I’m a Health Assistant at CCC’s Old Town Clinic. I’m also a Certified Recovery Mentor and earning my Alcohol and Drug Counselor certification. I would have never in a million years thought I would be working in the health field.
Before, the most interaction I had with doctors was as a patient in the ER. Now I’m working hand in hand with them! I’m slowly learning the medical terminology and I really want to be an asset to my coworkers. We all wear our hearts on our sleeves. Not everybody has had the same experiences, but we’re all here with open minds to help our patients.
If it wasn’t for CCC giving me this opportunity and seeing the value in employing me, I don’t know where I would be right now.
A newfound strength
Today, I have a good relationship with my three kids and the rest of my family. My son, Jeremy, who I left with my aunt so many times during his childhood, just got a full-ride college scholarship for Division I basketball. I’m really blessed that he didn’t take the road I took. He said, “You know what, I’m not going to do what Dad did. I’m going to take a different path.”
He’s still got some trust issues with me. But he sees me going to work every day and my bills are being paid. I’m studying my pharmacology books. He continues to watch me and wonder, “Is Dad going to mess up again?” Hopefully over time, his doubt will fade, but it’s going to be there for a while. I’ve caused a lot of damage.
Though I’ve been through the mire, I now have a strength that I don’t think I could have gotten anywhere else. Before 2019, I had never shared my story of sexual abuse with anyone. But when I met someone who went through a similar situation and was suffering, I allowed myself to be vulnerable and out the story came. It was like a ton of pressure had been lifted – like an elephant stepped off my chest.
Becoming a Certified Recovery Mentor, helping others navigate recovery – it’s a way for me to give back. If my tears and my hurt can help another individual open up and share their experiences to start the healing process, then that’s what I’m going to do. I’ll let them know, “Hey, it’s possible to move past this. We can do this, we’re not alone.”
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