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Finding yourself at rock bottom is not a situation anyone plans.
It’s not a calculated decision. But it happens. And it can happen to any one of us. Quickly too. One day on top of the world, nothing but the brightest of futures ahead. The next day, we suffer the disastrous results of bad decisions. Could have been drugs, alcohol, violence, crime or some combination. Could’ve been a lot of things. Last weekend at the Bark-N-Purr fundraiser in Bronson, I had the opportunity to trade stories with Jeff Bates just before he took the stage to perform for a host of adoring fans. Many people know Bates as the country music artist with popular radio hits such as “The Love Song,” “I Wanna Make You Cry” and “Long, Slow Kisses.” I’m not one of those people, though – a confession I sheepishly admit to Bates when we meet backstage. “I had to Google you,” I tell him apologetically. The good-natured Bates starts to offer his assurance that he completely understands. “Ah, but wait,” I interrupt. “I didn’t recognize you – until I Googled you. Turns out I know one of your songs quite well.” And it’s true. As soon as I realized Bates was the man behind “One Second Chance,” I couldn’t wait to meet him. “My dad has worked with offenders and re-entry programs for the past 11 years,” I tell Bates. “And ever since your video came out, he’s been using it as a motivational tool.” Jeff’s face lights up. That’s when I give my second confession. “So, I usually bring my husband to help me cover this event. But this year, because you’re here, I brought my dad,” I say as I re-introduce my assistant. “I’ve shown your video to thousands of inmates and released offenders,” my dad tells him, as he hands over a sheet of paper. “And I have it linked on my Web site.” That’s my dad – always prepared with a visual aide. The printout shows the reentry resources page of his site www.offenderhelp.com, and he points to the link: “One Second Chance” video – Jeff Bates. Jeff looks up from the sheet of paper to my dad, and I mean up (Jeff is about my height, and my dad is six-foot-nine) and smiles big. “Thank you,” he says. “Thank you.” “No, thank you,” my dad tells him. “Your video and your story are helping a lot of people.” For those of you who aren’t familiar with the 2006 song from “Leave the Light On” - Bates’ second album - “One Second Chance” tells a story about picking up the pieces of life after hitting rock bottom. There seems to be this drive in many of us who’ve been given that second chance Jeff sings about. Not only do we want to make ourselves better, we want to make the world better. If we can help others climb out of similar disasters and encourage them to find their own success – or better yet, keep them from falling that far in the first place – it’s a small portion of our debt repaid. Now a rising country music star, Jeff has traveled a long way to get here. He had everything going for him a decade ago, including a potential contract with Mercury Records, when he found himself in jail for stealing from friends to support his meth habit. Jeff’s desire to clean up his mess led him to work various hard-labor jobs, pay back his friends, and continue writing and making music. Next week, Jeff will celebrate his ninth year being drug free. It’s been 14 for me. I never found myself in jail as Bates did, but I fell hard in my own way at the young age of sixteen. As Bates and I exchange stories, I tell him how lucky I was that I made it out early – before it consumed my life, as it did some of my friends. “Not so great, though,” I say, “was the reason for my salvation – I got pregnant. It gave me reason to fix my life, but created a whole new set of issues to work out.” Jeff leans in conspiratorially, smiles, and offers a response both genuine and profound. “It doesn’t matter how you get out, just that you get out.” He’s right. It may not have been the solution anyone was looking for, but it worked. It’s been a long journey – nowhere near finished yet – but like Jeff, I think it’s important to share my story with others. People need to know there’s hope. When he isn’t making music, Jeff spends time speaking to schools and youth groups. “I tell them my story, and talk about self-esteem and confidence. I usually play a little music for them too.” “You know, there’s something else we have in common,” I say, changing subjects. “I heard you’re adopted.” His smile grows as he realizes he’s talking to a kindred spirit. “Ah. We’re special, you and I,” he says. “Yes, you are,” my dad tells us both. Unlike me, who knew I was adopted before I even knew what it meant, Jeff found out when he was 9-years-old from another child on the school bus. “It was a bad experience to begin with,” Jeff admits. “But my mom made it better over time – she was honest and she kept a sense of humor about it.” Jeff dropped out of high school at about the same age I did. “I sort of dropped out and got kicked out at the same time,” Jeff confides. “I was fighting a lot.” Being the educator-at-heart that I am, I apply my teacher voice, “Now, did you ever go back and finish?” “I did,” he says with a satisfied grin and head held high. “I went back and got my GED.” Me too, I tell him. “It took me a long time to realize that drugs and alcohol were just a symptom of the problem,” he acknowledges. “I hated myself for long while.” “But God doesn’t make mistakes,” Jeff continues. “And if we’ll do the work, He’ll take care of the rest.” “We’re blessed to live in a country where we can do anything that we want,” he tells me. And I nod knowingly. I ask Jeff one more question before he takes his leave to prepare for the stage. “What was it like meeting your birth mother?” “It was an enlightening experience,” he says wide-eyed. “It’s important to know where we come from.” I have a pretty good idea what he’s talking about. “Yes,” I agree, glancing at my dad with pride. “And it’s good to find out who our real parents are – the ones who raised us.” “Absolutely,” Jeff says. Kellie Parkin can be reached at editor@ cedarkeybeacon.com