Remembering the Whirlwind

Monday, October 06, 2014

Last Friday, October 3rd, in Downtown Portland, the Clean & Safe District, managed by Portland Business Alliance, honored Kenny Cloughley as the 2014 Clean & Safe Cleaner of the Year. Jim Bare was announced as the Clean & Safe Security Officer of the Year. Michael Boyer was awarded the Crime Prevention award, while Howard Weiner was recognized as this year's Downtown Champion.

When Kenny Cloughley, Portland Business Alliance 2014 Clean & Safe’s Cleaner of the Year, starts talking, you can’t help but notice his impeccable memory. He peppers his stories with exact dates effortlessly, but with a sense of urgency, almost as if he has to.

September 10, 2012. May 7, 2013. February 2, 2014.

As it turns out, the act of remembering is essential not just to how he tells his story, but to the story itself. “I try real hard to not forget about my past, but the further I move away from it, the better off I am,” he says.

These days, Kenny, a Central City Concern employee, is known around Old Town Chinatown as an exemplary worker who ensures that trash is picked up and graffiti is erased. He goes out of his way to make sure all customers on the bus mall are receiving the best possible service. He mentors newly hired Clean & Safe trainees. And he does all this with unmatched positivity, pride, and a gentleness that belies his whip-smart sense of humor. This is the Kenny thousands of Portlanders saw when he hosted local news anchor Wayne Garcia for KPTV’s “Hey Do My Job” segment, during which Garcia tried his hand at the daily duties of Clean & Safe workers.

But not too long ago, the past he alludes to – multiple felonies, several stints in prison, substance abuse and addiction, and periods of success punctuated by disappointments – left Kenny doubting that his future held any hope.

“I definitely had thoughts like, ‘I’m just a felon. Maybe I’m better off committing crimes.’”

Kenny went to prison for the first time in 1994 and found himself in and out of incarceration over the next decade. In 2004, he went back to prison, but also entered a treatment program. On parole, but with an eye toward staying clean, he started the process of rebuilding his life, which included finding stable employment at a job he liked and getting married.

But in 2011, after five years and 10 months of sobriety, Kenny relapsed and was sent back to prison.

“I’d never had clean time before and I was feeling good. I forgot about how hard I had worked to build it all back. I forgot to be grateful.”

Kenny moved into Central City Concern transitional housing once he was released in late 2012. He knew he needed a job to get back on his feet. Kenny made a habit of leaving his apartment by 8:00 a.m. every morning to take advantage of numerous employment resources and sent out hundreds of resumes (417 to be exact), but he recounts that his past “kept me from gaining any traction, regardless of my work ethic and the direction I wanted to go in.”

Frustrated and filled with doubt, Kenny relapsed again. But, in an unusual move, he went straight to his parole officer. Remembering his past – what he had lost, what he had to rebuild, and not wanting to lose everything all over again – led him to admitting to his parole officer that he needed help with his addiction.

December 18, 2012 is the day Kenny entered treatment at Volunteers of America. He also counts this as his clean date. “It’s a four-month substance abuse treatment program, but it’s also a ‘life treatment’ program,” Kenny says. “I learned how to make good decisions.”

On May 7, 2013, his good decisions paid off. Kenny was hired at Clean & Safe for a six-month janitor trainee position, due in part to Central City Concern’s understanding that “employment is a key to becoming self-sufficient. They didn’t shun or judge me for my past.” Kenny excelled at his new job – always on-time, always positive, always going willing to go above and beyond. Once his training position ended, Kenny hit the job search again, this time with momentum on his side.

Then came February 4, 2014. He was called in to interview for a permanent street cleaner position and was hired almost immediately. Jay McIntyre, Clean & Safe Program Manager, says, “We were extremely happy to bring Kenny back to the team. Kenny is very personable, professional, and a wonderful representative of Clean & Safe.”

Reflecting on his whirlwind life since September 10, 2012 – the last time he was paroled – today, Kenny says, “I have almost two years of sobriety. I have a house, a job, a car, a family, a checking account.

“My life today is something I’m going to hold onto like a bull rider on horns. CCC’s done so much for me. They took a chance on me and that’s something I’ll never forget.”

Based on Kenny’s insistence on remembering his journey – which now includes October 3, 2014, the day he was honored as Clean & Safe Cleaner of the Year – it’s doubtful that he ever will.