Do you believe people can change?
Patrick Carrigan does. He believes it because now he believes in himself.
That was a long time coming.
These days, Carrigan’s biggest problem is that most of the rest of the world doesn’t think people can change. Especially employers.
The 41-year-old Cuyahoga Falls resident is a man with two resumes, the longer of which is hideous.
Busted for making meth. Prison time.
Busted again for making meth. More prison time.
Nearly hit by a train while drunkenly running from police.
Multiple arrests for being drunk and disorderly.
Four DUIs. Or maybe five. He’s not sure.
What Carrigan does know is that his most recent DUI came in 2008, when he almost killed himself and his 9-month-old son, Jaccobb, a boy he had gained custody of just one month earlier.
At that point, even his immediate family gave up on him. “The people who loved me the most wanted nothing to do with me,” he says.
Carrigan’s life felt like an unmitigated disaster. And that’s why he found himself standing on the Y-Bridge one day, trying to sort out perhaps the most basic conflicting emotion a person can possibly have.
“I couldn’t stand living,” he says, “and I didn’t want to die.”
Carrigan had gone through rehab after rehab after rehab — so many places and so many different programs that he struggles to name them all. But he knew, right then, as he stood 250 feet above the ground, seriously considering jumping to his death, that something had to change.
Fast forward to his second resume, covering 2009 to 2014.
He stopped drinking
He stopped doing drugs.
He enrolled at the University of Akron (with financial help from the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation) and earned a bachelor’s of science degree in geology. Along the way, he wrote or co-wrote two research papers, Soil Magnetics as a Proxy for Pollution Associated with Railroad Tracks and Chemistry of Acid Mine Drainage at Three Sites.
He fell in love.
He got married.
He bought a house in the Falls, a “beautiful brick bungalow.”
He regained custody of his son.
He landed a blue-collar job that pays $32,000 a year.
Plenty of area residents would be thrilled to make $32,000 in today’s economy, particularly people with Carrigan’s track record. And, yes, he is delighted with how far he has come, and what he has, and the way he is treated at JRB Attachments in Akron, where he works as a welder and has been told he soon will be promoted to fitter. He says the folks at JRB, fully aware of his history, have been “awesome.”
What he really wants, though, is a chance to use the college degree he collected in May.
Four times he has been offered geology-related jobs, and four times the offer was rescinded after the would-be employer got a load of Resume No. 1.
A firm in Texas that does “mud logging” — analyzing the cuttings that come up from a well as it is drilled — said to him, “Put in your two weeks’ notice and we’ll bring you down here and train you. You’ll be based here, but you’ll be flying to rigs all over the United States.”
Then came the background check. Four years in prison?
Now, you certainly can’t blame an employer for being wary. If you look at the recidivism rates for felons and addicts — often one and the same — the numbers are staggeringly bad.
But how far does a person have to go to leave his original resume behind?
Granted, Carrigan isn’t angling for a second chance. By 2008, he had gone through about 15 chances. Still ... what if someone’s 15th chance transforms his life?
I don’t know the answer. I’m not an employer or a psychologist, and I barely know William Patrick Carrigan.
What I do know is that he seems personable, eager, likable and intelligent. He sprinkles his conversation with words like “coalescing.” He also seems brutally honest, fessing up to every indiscretion, his expressive blue eyes unblinking.
Decades of hell
“Addiction got the better of me for 20-plus years,” he says. “I was a hard-core IV drug user. I never made drugs to sell; I made drugs to keep myself high.
“If it wasn’t the meth, it was alcohol. I finally realized that if you get off alcohol, you don’t really get tempted by everything else.”
Carrigan says the reason he knows he will be able to resist is the awful night in January 2008 when he was driving home to Rootstown with his young son in the car.
On an unseasonably warm winter night, he picked up his son at the boy’s grandmother’s house in Green. He had consumed only a couple of beers, he says, but he had worked 12 hours, was fighting an illness and hadn’t slept much the night before.
About 10 p.m., as he was heading east on Interstate 76 between state Routes 43 and 44, he nodded off at 60 mph.
Fortunately, the crash took place next to a 35-degree embankment. Instead of rolling over when the car veered off the road, it just kept sliding. And sliding and sliding.
No one was hurt.
“Any time I think, ‘Hey, I can do what I want, I can go drink again,’ I just remember that feeling: terror and helplessness. And that little piece of me that wanted to jump off the bridge.
“I never want to feel that way again.”
If Carrigan doesn’t land his dream job, he says, he can stay with his current employer all the way to retirement and be just fine. But he hasn’t stopped trying to squeeze out every ounce of his potential.
He says he recently took a test to work as an environmental service aid with the city of Akron and finished 13th out of more than 50 applicants. He figures that will win him an interview. But what happens after the background check?
He assumes it won’t be good. It rarely is for a person wearing the “felon” label, even if he has been out of prison for 14 years.
Carrigan believes nonviolent offenders eventually should be given some legal slack. “We’ve got to change the laws so [the public record] only goes back a certain amount of time — especially for drug offenses,” he says.
“There aren’t many of me, but there are a lot of people like me. They were screwed up, but they’re OK now and still being dinged for something that happened all those years ago.”
Building a network
He is working toward assembling a website to connect with others who have traveled similar roads.
He also has a Twitter account, @breakingbetter_, and a Facebook page, “Breaking Better” (not the one called “Breaking Better Productions”), where folks are discussing their frustrations about lifelong labels.
Carrigan’s own path has been smoothed considerably by the re-embrace of his family and friends.
“I still can’t believe they forgave me for all that,” he says, shaking his head. “I didn’t do anything to them — other than tear their hearts out of their body every time I saw them for 20 years.”
Can Carrigan continue down his present path?
We have no way of knowing. After all, he is still very young. Reborn in 2009, he will turn 5 years old this year.
So far, the youngster seems to be a quick study.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com.