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My GRCC Story: Jeffrey Carter’s journey from addiction to recovery leads to college and career success

Oct. 25, 2023 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Jeffrey Carter always figured he’d be dead or in prison by now.

Instead, the 38-year-old Grand Rapids Community College alumnus has dedicated his life to helping people like him suffering with substance abuse, mental health issues and legal trouble.

“Somehow, I managed to survive even after six overdoses and being in jail more times than I can count,” Carter said. “Thankfully, I’ve been clean and sober for seven years now and a big part of my sobriety is the joy I get from helping others … I know their pain.”

Carter is now a state-certified peer recovery coach and support specialist. He’s worked in that role for three years at Kent County’s 17th Circuit Court’s Treatment and Support Court. The program aims to help people who have been involved in the court system because they are dealing with a serious mental illness and unhealthy substance use.

“I speak their language and that really helps,” he said.

Carter graduated from GRCC in April 2023 with an associate degree in pre-social work. He’s enrolled this term at Grand Valley State University where he’s seeking a bachelor’s degree.

It hasn’t been easy.

“It was a 20-year journey from high school to an associate degree, but I made it this far,” Carter said.

Born and raised in Las Vegas, Carter was 12 years old when he began experimenting with drugs and alcohol. By late high school, his addiction was spiraling out of control.

“I did manage to graduate from high school and then it was just all bad from there,” he said.

Cocaine, methamphetamines and, eventually, heroin and bipolar disorder fueled his criminal activities. He spent much of his 20’s in jail or homeless.

In 2011, Carter followed his mother to Port Huron, Mich., where he attempted community college, hoping the drugs and criminal activity would stop.

“Have you ever heard the term: ‘Wherever you go, there you are?’” he said. “The drugs and crime started again, and I ended up in jail and a few different rehab places.”

 He made his way in 2016 to Guiding Light addiction recovery in Grand Rapids and has since stayed clean and sober. A friend helped him get a job working at Network 180 and Arbor Circle mental health and addiction counseling centers in Grand Rapids, which he found extremely fulfilling.

Carter promised himself if he could stay clean for a year and hold down a job, he’d try community college again. In 2018, he enrolled part-time at GRCC.

“Many years ago, when I first started school, I thought I wanted to go into accounting,” he said. “But I realized that I'm more of an asset in social work, with people who need help and guidance … who need a mentor.”

Carter works full-time at the Treatment and Support Court helping people traveling the same road he once traveled.

But now he’s on a different path: He owns a home in Grand Rapids, his own car, and attends GVSU full-time in hopes of earning his bachelor’s degree in two years.

It’s been a long road.

“I just never saw my life turning out this well,” Carter said. “I just need to keep living one day at a time.”

This story was reported by Beth McKenna