Winning Rebound

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Carl Appleton, Jr., slides his 6’ 3” frame into a small arm chair at a local coffee shop and begins speaking softly about his journey to Oregon State University as a recruited tight-end for the football team, his turn into addiction and trouble, and his rise back as scholar, athlete and potential basketball recruit for one of Oregon’s most prominent private schools.

“I decided to go to more parties than classes,” Carl reflects. That lifestyle, plus a high-profile incident, got Carl kicked off the team and resulted in jail time. Once released and without his identity as a revered athlete, he drifted in and out of addiction. “I never had an adult male in my life with no strings,” he says. “Everybody involved wanted to be attached to my athletics or attached to my successes in some other way. It was hard to fill the football gap in my life.”

His mother watched him warily for 10 years as he struggled to find his way. He deftly avoided tough conversations with her. His sister, with two young children, cut him off entirely. Intermittently, he slept on friends’ couches and under bridges on the east side of Portland. From the ages of 18 until 28, Carl committed petty crimes to support his addiction and he was never out of jail for more than six months.

Two years ago, after another arrest and release, he entered an inpatient drug treatment center. While at the treatment center, Carl attended a group meeting where he met guest speaker, David Fitzgerald, a Recovery Mentor at Central City Concern. David laid out what it takes to achieve long-term recovery. Carl was excited to learn that CCC’s  Mentor program combines clean & sober housing with, regular meetings,  one-on-one counseling and access to employment services. “We work on the transitioning people from treatment back to the community,” says David. “Carl had never had that kind of support before.”

Over a few one-on-one conversations with David, Carl was convinced that he would benefit from the Mentor Program. (Carl is flanked by Mentor staff in photo below.) He says “I wanted this to be the last time that I got my life together.”

Living in Central City Concern housing with other participants in the Mentor Program was key for Carl. “The Mentor Program gave me an opportunity to take the steps in a controlled environment instead of just talking about it,” Carl says. He also joined CCC’s Community Volunteer Corps, participating in 80 hours of mentored volunteer work in the community.

After completing the Mentor Program, Carl moved into a clean and sober housing environment and began taking classes at Portland Community College. He has a 3.3 GPA and is focusing on sociology with an eye toward earning a masters degree.

He has also been a leader on the school’s basketball team that recently won the NW Athletic Association of Community Colleges Championship. Carl was named the tournament’s most inspirational player.  At age 29, he says, “I’m the old guy on the team.” His coach credits him with being a continual, level-headed inspiration to the younger members.

Carl grins as he recalls the Championship game and the options for his future. He smiles as he talks about how his sister’s young children (ages 2 and 4) now run to hug him with cries of “Uncle! Uncle!”

“It’s amazing how much traction you can make in your life when people give you another chance.” he says.

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This blog post also appears in our Chronicle newsletter, available online and in print format.
Read more about Carl's basketball success in this article from the Portland Tribune.