A Sit-Down with Justin Ponton of Newness of Life & I Am One of Them

As Part of the Heroes of Change Podcast

Jeremy Turner, Founder and Managing Director of EPIC Mission:

Thank you for tuning into this episode of the Heroes of Change podcast from EPIC Mission. This is Jeremy Turner, Founder and Managing Director of EPIC Mission. I’ll be your host here on the podcast. We are highlighting the trials, victories, and applied wisdom of our community change agents, unsung heroes, and those who empower them to be the change across Appalachia and beyond. We seek to inspire and equip everyday heroes just like you to take on our greatest challenges because together, we are the change and today it’s amazing. I’m really thrilled. Welcome to the show Justin Ponton and we’re going to get to Justin in just a second, but first let me read a little bit about Justin to give you a flavor. Justin Ponton is the owner and operator of Newness of Life in Huntington, West Virginia, an eight to 10 month therapeutic peer supported accountability community designed to focus primarily on recovery along with establishing a better quality of life.

Justin is also founder of I Am One of Them, an outreach organization designed to connect and meet people where they are with the resources to get them where they need to be. In addition, he is an outreach coordinator for Boca Recovery Center, which offers a multifaceted approach to treating the disease of addiction. Clients are provided with multiple levels of care to give them the best chance of recovering from a seemingly hopeless state. That’s big stuff. Justin, first of all, thank you for being on the show today. And then secondly everybody’s got a bio, right? You can go on their LinkedIn profile and their Facebook read something that’s pretty polished. Let’s go beyond the bio and tell us a little bit about who you are and the work that you’re doing. What should we know about you?

Justin Ponton, Owner and Operator of Newness of Life, Founder of I Am One of Them, & Outreach Coordinator for Boca Recovery Center

Well, thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure. Well, when you read the bio, it sounds like an introduction. It sounds kind of cool, man. It sounds a little smooth. It even kind of got overwhelming for a second, but behind all of that cool, fancy sound and stuff, I’m a father of four. I’m a person in long-term recovery coming up in August, August of this year, I’ll be seven years clean and sober by the grace of God. Those titles really all they are is a combination of just putting in work, time, effort, and energy expanding into amongst the people. The demographic of people that I generally deal with are of course drug addicted, substance abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, criminal offenders. That’s, you name it. Just people who are really in need. And what I do every day of my life is to get up early in the morning, I’ll leave the house, go to my office, to the business end of things, and then I leave from there and I go and go out into the city and I meet with the people I work over the phone, the Internet, social media, you name it. It’s just basically connecting with people, trying to do whatever. We tend to be of service to help people transition and through the process of recovery, finding the resources rather there be a detox at 28 day intense about patient counseling. If they need to get connected for medically-assisted treatment or any level of care, rarely or sometimes it may be just to be in near just to maybe listen to somebody or brand some comfort or maybe sometimes family. You know, we have a lot of family, a lot of mommies and daddies that reach out to us and local ones of those who are struggling. So it sounded really cool, but that’s about all it is, right?

Jeremy:

Yeah. So it’s about, you know, just being a real human being who has been where many of these people are right now. But you’re a little further on in your journey. And so perhaps by having been where they are and now being where you are today a little further along in the process, perhaps you can lend some inspiration to them and help shepherd them and show them the way. Is that the idea?

Justin: 

Yeah, I’ve had I think it’s kinda how that works because I definitely had a countless who did it for me. So it’s, you know, it’s, that’s my part and I have to serve that role. I have to step in and fill those shoes and continue to walk it out. And hopefully by the grace of God, another generation will come behind me and others who led the way for myself. And we just keep the ball rolling.

Jeremy:

So you know, with operating within the substance use disorder space some who are listening may not be familiar with that phrasing. You know, that’s a newer phrasing that’s come out, you know, they may refer to drug and alcohol addiction and such. But regardless of what you call it, it seems like to me, in my work and as I travel and talk to people that many times, we want to see people who are struggling in that fashion with substance use disorder as that’s somebody else. Right? It’s not me, it’s not my family. And we tend to want to keep them at arms distance at least. However you’re taking a different approach, you recognize that it’s not somebody else and your shirt, I am one of them.

Justin:

Yeah.

Jeremy:

Can you talk a little bit about that concept of, “Hey, it’s not just somebody else and I’m not going to keep you at arms length. I’m going to move close, and engage with you.”

Justin:

Yeah, sure. That’s really where the idea of I Am One of Them came from. When you first I Am One of Them, most people think, “Well, I’m not a drug addict. I’m not an alcoholic, so I’m not one of them.” We have a Facebook, I think we just hit a quarter million followers today. You want it so it has a good following, man. It generates a lot of conversation, a lot of talk. Plus we get a lot of messages and one of the ways a majority of the messages start out is, “Hey, I’m not one of them, but I have a person who is,” and then sometimes I’ll take the time to explain, “But that makes you one of them.” In fact, it’s  the next door neighbor who’s never touched a drink or drug and maybe they don’t even care about the person that’s addicted. Or maybe maybe they don’t, and I’m not going to hold that against anyone, but I’m sure they care about their community and their family and their loved ones. So I Am One of Them is basically saying “I’m one of them. I’m one of the people that wants to stand up for my community. I’m one of the people that wants to make a change and a difference,” or “I’m one of them. I’m standing with them through their journey of recovery.” It can cover everyone. One of them is for anyone. So it’s a real problem. We can call it substance abuse or substance use disorder or drug addiction or alcoholism. It comes down to disconnection. That’s the problem. Two pillars. You have a social disconnection and then you have a spiritual disconnection and well, we want to of course, strong, close to God because that’s where the complete transformation occurs. Rehabs are great. Rehab, rehabilitation, rehabilitation gets me back to the best to have or was before I got clean and sober. If you rehabilitated me and you got me back to the best I ever was, I was clean and sober. Well, I was in prison, so I still wasn’t very productive. I wasn’t doing anything from my community. I was exhausting funding from the state. That was exhausting. A lot of wounds. Well, I took it to the next level. Quite a knucklehead. So I took up a little extra time of theirs; it trickles down and ended up affecting the community and then the social distancing. What it is, it’s, I’ve always used that phrase a lot, but nowadays it’s kind of a different meaning, especially these times. But the social distancing, the social disconnect. With community together, if we don’t work together, it’s we’re, we’re never going to accomplish anything.

People are going to isolate, things will not get solved. So I Am One of Them and everything that I’m trying to do, I just want to be a relatable person. I even want to speak on, on behalf of understanding where those people come from. Myself, very hard working, tax-paying, honest, loyal citizen and having children. There was a lot of things I’m frustrated with. I’m scared for my children. Could step on dirty needles. Are you kidding me? I’m terrified if a person is high or drunk and runs into me and causes a car accident, I love Jesus with my whole heart. I cannot guarantee I’m going to get out and lay hands on the person and pray for him. It might take me a split second. I hope I could handle it appropriately. I can’t guarantee anything. So understand the frustrations. I don’t like that I can’t leave my door unlocked or have to worry about my property getting damaged. I totally get where they’re coming from. But what I want to do is just be a person who can sit with those people who have those legitimate concerns and help to bring some solutions and also lead by example for the people who were where I once was and say, “Hey, you don’t got to be so ticked off at them and want to distance yourself from them just because they’re not okay with what you’re doing.” That’s focused on our part. See what we can do to be better people and we don’t even have to hope they come alone. We just do our part. Everything else works itself out.

Jeremy:

That’s good. So, you know, this is more of a community movement. It’s about getting other people involved and helping them to understand that we together are the community. Is that right? 

Justin:

Yeah. Without a doubt. Yes. I love Huntington. I love this, this city particularly, you know, or any city or any area that’s been affected, but I found God in Huntington. I found recovery. I found my family in Huntington. I care deeply, man so deeply about this city. It’s so important to me. So I just genuinely hope and pray to God that with what I have been doing and continuing to do that it can kind of draw people closer together. If that makes sense.

Jeremy:

Makes perfect sense. And I, for some reason I cannot recall who said this, but it was, it was the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection.

Justin:

Right.

Jeremy:

You know, I know you just referenced that. So, you know, the more that we can truly connect as one human being to another human being and quit with all the labels and you know, really put the fear aside and seek to understand one another, I think we can begin to cut through some of these issues. Right?

Justin:

Yeah, I agree. 

Jeremy:

So, you know, we were talking offline before we got started today; a little bit about some of the struggles and some of your regrets. What I think what many people don’t realize or maybe they don’t think about readily is working in nonprofit, working in the ministry space. I’m starting a business. It’s not all that easy. And too many people, unfortunately, I think are confused. They think, “Well, the technical aspect of starting an organization is easy. However running an organization, sustaining it over a long period of time is not particularly easy.” And so if you would talk a little bit about maybe some of your regrets and some of the struggles you’ve had along the way, maybe some mistakes, what you’ve learned. And let’s see where that takes us.

Justin;

Okay. Well for me, no part of it has ever been easy. In fact you know, even the idea or the dream wasn’t easy or comfortable for me. I didn’t really have role models growing up. I started getting in trouble really early. I was 11 years old the first time I was ever arrested and I was 11 years old the second time I was ever arrested. So that second time I was arrested, I was on probation and I didn’t get off of parole, state parole until I was 30 years old. So from 11 to 30, 19 consecutive years, if I was not incarcerated or a detention center or a treatment, I was on some level of supervision. So I was 30 years old before I was, you know, technically allowed to be out past curfew without letting my parole officer know. When you mess up so early and you know, and not take responsibility for everything that I’ve done that’s, I’ve never put it on anyone else because my mother, one of the most beautiful, kind-hearted, genuine souls I’ve ever known in my life, I love her with all my heart, but she was in a tough spot herself and no family, I never laid in a cell or in my bed at night and even had so much as a drink. And I think a lot of people do like have a dream or a daydream about, you know, having a life or a family or doing something. At no point in my life did I ever have that. So even when I got the idea of what I wanted to do, that idea came from me witnessing other people who were doing it, who had, who had achieved something. They had a story similar to mine and they were still a little rough around the edges because I thought in the beginning too, “Man, I just found God and I love him so much, but I’m still a little rough. I’m still a little aggressive. Maybe I got to hold off and wait a little bit. I got to polish myself up.” But you know, I had these people around me that were doing it and being successful and I knew that they had the good pure hearts. They still needed some work, but here they were, they were still doing it. So I kind of just mirrored myself after those people in that same lane. And then gradually I start to develop my own ideas. And through that process, the gradual process, I started to get some self esteem. I started to get that sense of self worth. 

When you get, you know, you get to feeling a little bit better and you accomplish a few things and you have people around you that you’re looking up to and they’re telling you you’re doing a good job, it’s really encouraging. So that pushed me to go, but still I had the lack of education. I got a GED when I was 16 years old and it was back when it was a ‘fill in the bubbles.’ So, you know, I looked at the lady giving me the GED tests while I had my Number 2 pencil on ‘A’ and she’s shaking her head ‘no.’ Move it down to ‘B,’ and she shaking her head ‘no’ and move it down to ‘C’ and she nods her head ‘yes.’ And I fill it in. And before you know it, I did great on my GED. That’s the extent of my education.

I couldn’t read out loud in front of people. Not too many years ago, no way on earth could ever do anything like this. I couldn’t articulate my words well, I had a limited vocabulary. Could hardly write whatsoever. No punctuation, the longest run-on sentences you could ever see. And really hard at trying to study these little things. And the reason wasn’t so much behind myself wanting to do well with the business model or even in life in general. It just made me feel like I could contribute to just somebody else that work ethic. That path that I was going to give somebody else to mirror. Because a lot of our people who come into recovery, unfortunately a lot of them do, you know, are undereducated or come with little to no work history. No work ethic. I had no work ethic. Now I don’t know very many people. I might know one or two people that can go longer than me that can stay up later, that can get up earlier. I have a reputation amongst the people that know me. I’m very proud of that. No part of it has been easy. It’s sitting where I’m at today and the way that I live my life today, it’s definitely all been worth it. That’s for sure. 

Jeremy:

So when it’s hard, when it’s been hard, why did you keep going? What kept you going during the hard times? 

Justin:

Well, it’s been a number of things and number one thing you hear and  now I’ll always get different reactions when I talk about this. One of the biggest things you hear coming into recovery is you have to learn to love yourself. And even with nearly seven years clean and sober by the grace of God, I still struggle with mental health. I still struggle with clinical depression, clinical anxiety. I may have slept an hour and a half last night, you know, it’s 5:30 in the morning, I hadn’t gone to bed yet. I’m having a panic attack. And I still struggle with those things. I don’t always love myself and then even when I speak that and I say that out loud, the first thing that came to my head was, “I hate that I’m like that.” So then I put that negative affirmation break behind me pointing out a negative character. So I just have these two negatives that just start banging around in my head and bouncing around in there and I start tearing myself down. But if I can just take a split second and I can just reflect where God has brought me and where my life is at today, that’s massive, I got that down really, really good now. And I didn’t for a large number of years. I didn’t immediately reflect on where I was and how well I was doing because I was never doing well. I was never in a good place. So even if I tried to stop it, think about how you know, “Well, count your blessings. People have it worse.” You know, I remember my mother used to tell me “Somebody somewhere always has it worse” and I used to think “Mom that’s the silliest thing to tell me. I don’t know nothing about these people. All I can see is what’s right in front of me.” Now, today, and you know, I’ve mastered them. What will keep me going is trust, man. People trust me. I think the people that are closest to me, the mother of my two oldest kids, she’s my best friend and she’s best friends with my woman who’s the mother of my youngest daughter. They trust me, My friends, you know, all of my closest best friends, my three closest best friends here in Huntington, a guy, Matt, Terry, and Kevin, all three of these men went through our program. They’re all three of my closest best friends. All three of them have children and I’m the godfather to all three of their children. Like you can’t make this stuff up. You don’t make someone a godparent to your most prized possession on earth if you don’t trust them. I’m the person that in my immediate family, my mother, my sister, they’ll go to if maybe they need some hope or suggestion or some advice. That feels really good because I was a burden for so many years. I hurt and harmed my family. My sister was my best friend in the world and I put her through a lot of difficult things. My mother who was, I mean, for what she had to deal with and work with, you couldn’t ask for a better person, a better mother in your life. Now reflecting after all these years, looking back, she’s so much greater and stronger than what I ever could have been, but yet I’ve put her through so much and now she doesn’t have to worry about me. My woman who I’m with and I’m in love with now, we’re really best friends and we really do have that relationship. And I never knew if that did exist because I was married not too long ago, almost three years ago, two and a half, three years ago. I went through a divorce and I thought I was doing well. I was clean and sober. I wasn’t codependent. I wasn’t abusive physically, mentally, none of that. But I wasn’t present and because I was working so hard because I thought, you must like me because of, you know, how hard I work and all the stuff I’m doing. Some will work really hard. I wasn’t present through that process. I learned, I grew, I have a healthy relationship with the woman that I’m with now. Like I never imagined my children are okay. They’re perfectly fine. They have everything that they need. We have food in our fridge. I’m the man in my family. When I stop and I look at those things that push me and keep me going, but then there’s days where not even that will work and it’ll get really, really, really dark. But then I have this, it just pops up in my head, move a muscle, change a thought, move a muscle, change it though. And no matter what, how difficult it is, if it’s physically killing me to move from roll out of bed early in the morning, because I know as soon as I pick up my phone, there’s going to be so many messages. There’s going to be a ton of people who need help. A few people that are upset and angry and tucked in between. A few of those messages might be someone saying, “I love you” or “Thanks for this,” but I won’t even notice those. I’ll be too overwhelmed with everything else that feeds my insecurities and my anxiety. But I’m moving a muscle, changing a thought and not jumping right into my strict regimen. What I do every single day. And before you know it, man, I’m just, I’m pushing through. So it’s always something different, but that’s why it’s good to have a, you know, a handyman has a tool belt. Man ain’t just one loop for a hammer. You know, you got to have a few different tools to whip out when you need them. So I just, I try to stay loaded up, man. 

Jeremy:

That’s awesome that you refer to tribes, you’ve got a tribe around you, you’ve got your people and you can all depend on one another. And I think that’s something I want to highlight here is, you know, too many times in the ministry space, especially nonprofit in general and I know that you’re, not that Newness of Life is not a nonprofit, but ministry, nonprofit doing some kind of social good work. You know, the founder or the executive director or you know, if someone is serving in both roles, it’s, they, there is a sense of isolation there oftentimes feel like they have to do it all by themselves and that they can’t let down and be transparent and be real and talk about their struggles. You know, if they’re struggling emotionally or physically or if they don’t know something. So your ability to open up and be vulnerable and be real I think is going to be the key to, to you know, you staying healthy, not trying to hold it all in and do it all. 

Justin:

It helps because it’s the same as how well people will reach out to me for some help. Closed mouth don’t get fed. So if I’m struggling and I need it, I need to speak up. When I, when I first got started, one of the, one of the first pastors in churches I was really heavily involved in asked me to stop sharing so much. My insecurities were where I fell short and my weaknesses with the residents. And that was something we always bumped heads on. And then the other people I’ll watch doing it at something that it always puts a bad taste in my mouth. I just, I never really wanted to, to play that role but more so because, and I knew then and I know now, but I still need some help in some accountability and no matter how much time a person has been clean or sober and even if maybe a person doesn’t like me and has something bad to say about me, I still might need to take a look at it because sometimes those people can tend to be a little more honest than the ones that are around you everyday telling you what you want to hear. So it helps to take a little look at it.

Jeremy:

Yeah, for sure. The work that you’re doing is not easy. There’s an emotional toll that can be taken. And so self-care is something that’s not talked about enough in the ministry space and in the social good space. And so, you know, let’s talk about that for a second. How do you get away from the work that you’re doing and recharge and to make sure that when you go back at it that you’re ready? What are some things that you do?

Justin:

That’s one of my weak points.  I can’t give you a really, I’d like to tell you, I do all these great self-care things so it gives off the appearance that I’m fully charged and ready to go. But the truth is, is I don’t really let anything go. I do exercise and I’ll workout, but while I’m exercising and working out I’m still answering my phone and my phone calls and I’m still worrying sick or trying to plan ahead. Occasionally, you know me, me and Jami, that’s my girlfriend, me and Jami, we watch movies together and I do my best to put everything down and watch a movie with her. Spending time with my children and playing with them is the closest I can get to being completely disconnected from everything else and fully involved with them. But even that doesn’t get to last too long. So I wish I could, you know, like I said, I want to say I have all of these, these great things I do to make sure that I’m okay because then, you know, it would, people would feel like they could maybe trust me a little bit, a little bit more because he has taken care of himself but no, I sleep horrible. I do have clinical insomnia, so I really struggle bad with sleeping. I have emotional spells through the night over being frustrated, not being able to sleep in my mind. Racing and panic attacks and anxiety. My self-care is very, very limited. Retail therapy, I’m very bad about that. One of the things that I do for a living is sell and trade clothes. Also, I have different occupations because of course with Newness of Life, I don’t draw a salary. I’ve never drawn a salary. If there’s anything left over that I can put towards my personal bills, of course, we have one paid employee, but aside from that we with limited finances, so I got to come up with other areas for an income and I like, I like cool shoes, you know, I’ve been a sneaker guy since I was a little kid, but of course back then our family couldn’t afford too much and I didn’t have much and spending years incarcerated missed out on a whole lot and I wanted to figure out a way I could, they have cool clothes and cool shoes and stuff like that and it not cost me money because all of the cool things I liked I couldn’t afford. So I started a bending LLC and started buying, selling, and trading and stuff like that so I can have those things. I like doing that, you know, I guess everybody has their thing. I get picked on a lot for it, but I like cool clothes and sneakers and stuff like that. I like cool tee shirts. I like, you know, who designs stuff like that, man. So, and that takes me away from it a little bit. Different projects, reading and writing. I love to read and write on my phone. Thousands of notes, man in my phone. Literally thousands. I love to write down my thoughts. I love to write down ideas. I love to spend time writing something, then going over it and thinking, “Wow, I can’t believe I just wrote that. It looks really good.” And then I’ll share it with Jami and Jami’s my biggest fan and she’ll pump me up and she’s like, “Wow, that’s so good.” And I’ll say, “And look at this.” I wrote this before because you know, I wasn’t always a great writer, but I’ve got a little bit better. So things like that. But no, I’m all for self-care. 

Jeremy:

Well you’re doing some good things there though. I mean, you know, you’ve got some hobbies, right? And you know, you’re journaling basically taking your ideas and transferring them paper or digital, you know, so you are doing some good things and you know what? I want people to take away from that, is too often, I think that when we were talking about this offline in the media, social media especially, I think social media is especially bad about portraying this image of perfection. Yeah. We have to be, we only show our best moments and people who lead organizations who, anyone who’s doing meaningful work, they must have all their stuff together. Right? And they must have maybe thought out everything and have it all perfectly planned. But that’s obviously not the case, right? Because, you know, we’re living in a real world with real people where real mistakes happen and real growth occurs hopefully as a result. So, you know, I was thankful for you to join me on the show today so that, you know, we could share a little bit about the real because that’s what we need to talk more, more about out there in the space. So let’s switch a little bit. Still focusing on the work that you do. Why, I think, at least in my opinion, substance use disorder has impacted many people. Most of us have someone that we can directly think of or reach out to that this has affected in some fashion. But I think there’s still a lot of people, as I was saying earlier, that this sort of keeping an arms length, they’re trying to avoid it or not think about it. Why is the work that you’re doing so important and why should people care about the population you’re serving? 

Justin:

I’m not too. I’m usually on my toes pretty well. I don’t know how exactly to, to say how it is how the work that I do is so important. But I think the work and the effort in general amongst everyone in the community is so important. My stuff’s a little, I’m just a guy that’s willing to go in and get dirty. The collective effort is the one that’s so important. Guys like me. How about we’ll do it like this. I’ll get bold for the sake of hopefully encouraging someone who’s feeling like I am right now. Insecure, you know, because I get insecure when I talk about myself. What if there’s another Justin next door? You know what, what if there’s a guy that can generate tax revenue for the city and create a change? What if there’s a guy that can help your loved one reestablish connections with their family and to their parents? Or what if there’s a Justin next door to you that could help develop resources in your community that impact, they don’t want a larger level or larger scale than what corporations ever have in your area or doctors or clinicians, people with great degrees and initials next to their name. What if there’s another one out there and maybe you don’t even care, but why not make the effort? Because the alternative is when you create that at distance, when you apply that statement, when you create that distance and you push away, then you’re creating the potential for a higher risk. Oh, okay. That person going so far left, getting worse, and other people follow that path and that lane because that’s what we do. We, you know, typically now of course, you have people that grow up, be successful, who may not have had the greatest parents are the greatest path. And I don’t really know for certain, but I’m willing to bet, I am a bet guy. I’m willing to bet a majority of the people who have been successful have had some good leadership. They’ve had some great direction. People are going to follow one way or another until they learn how to lead. So why not? Let’s work together and try to nurture up a group of productive citizens. Productive people inside our community. If you want to isolate, okay, that’s fine. But you don’t have to stigmatize or you don’t have to be found or push away or, you know, harshly criticized the other people. You know, the people like myself are the ones who are out there in the active addiction. You don’t want to fool with them. Don’t fool with them, but you don’t got to pick on them or beat them down or make it worse. And then for people who are on my side or where I once was, I think we don’t really need to, you know, I say stigma sometimes and a lot of other people talk about stigma. The truth is, in my experience with I don’t know, I mean thousands of other people in recovering an addiction, we’ll call ourselves junkies and dope queens and stuff like that. Like we’re not really too worried about all of that stuff, but there are some of us who will use it as an excuse not to even try. So why would you want to give somebody an excuse not to even try? Because if you’re not afraid, part of the solution, then you’re a part of the problem. So here you are just as guilty as the person that’s out there doing all the silly stuff because you’re encouraging it, you’re promoting it. So the labels really do matter. They do. I believe they do. But when we, if you, if you say label, you think that the word or the name in and of itself, you’ll think the junkie are they, you know, or the dope queen or something, I’m not worried about you calling us, I mean if you saw some of it, we have the sickest, darkest sense of humor. If you’ve seen some of our pages and stuff, we will crack on ourselves the hardest. But if you crack on us then we’re going to jump you on social media. We’ll crack on ourselves. Pretty tough. That’s fine. You know, we’re not too worried about the name calling, but when it gets, it starts to get harsh and you don’t want us to participate or be a part of or try to push us away, you know, unfortunately there are a few people, very, very few. I should have said, fortunately not unfortunately. Fortunately there’s only very few in our city that really try to exile recovery and push it out. They believe a lot of our homeless transients and you know, a lot of the crime and criminal activity and stuff is due to recovery, it’s not due to recovery, it’s due to opposite of recovery. We’re trying to contribute a solution and we didn’t want it to be the Mecca for recovery, but maybe you know, God had a hand in that and brought the people in the resources together. So why not connect and try to operate collectively with accountability? You know, it definitely, definitely, I’m a big, I’m a big guy on accountability, man. A guy like me, you better give me some accountability. So I’m all for the public feeling what we’re doing, going and being transparent and people throughout the city holding us accountable and taking a look at what we’re doing to make them feel more comfortable. So more people like myself have to be willing to extend the hand as well. This isn’t all just, you know, shame the community who doesn’t like us and stuff. People will mind. We need to be more willing to extend a hand to and listen to their concerns. 

Jeremy:

Yeah, it’s again, it’s connection.

Justin:

Yeah. Yeah. Connection.

Jeremy:

So let’s say that we’re 30 years from now and you’re looking back over the work that you’ve done in this addiction recovery space. What does success look like as far as that goes, as far as working in that space and what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind as a result of the work that you’ve done?

Justin:

Well we, we all have our different ideas, you know. Oh, what attributes to success? One thing, selfishly warm weather. I’d like to get somewhere where there’s warm weather. I want to retire one day and it sounds silly. Something like that sounds so silly, but I think that could further prove or solidify that I have been productive and been responsible because most people have been where I’ve been will never get to retire, so work until they can no longer work and then maybe get a, I don’t even, I don’t even know what happens to a person when they get older and they have no social security, no retirement, no savings, no, no nothing. What even happens, I don’t know what happens. I’m sure I could study and research what happens or I ask questions about what happens because I’m a study or I’m a researcher. I don’t know a lot of things and I have a lot of questions. I like to think, to find answers. That’s when I haven’t wanted to research and study and I hope I don’t even walk by and hear someone talking about it because it’s, it can’t be an auction to me. I want to be able to retire. I want to be able to have my children older and healthy and doing well and being successful in whatever field or practice that they’re in. But I really want them to feel loved. I want them to feel an emotional connection to me. I never, I didn’t have a father. I’ve never really, I’ve never at all had an emotional, an emotional connection or attachment to a male figure on that level. Never was held, hug, kissed, loved on. Even with my, my own children for a while after I got clean and sober, it felt awkward holding them. And even kissing them, you know, to give them a little kiss on top of the forehead. Pat on the back. They’re kids, they want to cuddle and I feel a little awkward because I never had that myself. So it took awhile for me. I want them to feel loved and embraced. I want my daughters, I have three daughters. I want them to be like, how my girlfriend, Jami is with her father. She’s a grown woman. She climbs in her daddy’s lap and he holds her and he rubs her back. That’s pretty successful to me. I just want to be, I want to be comfortable. I want to be able with my children have an emergency and they need something. I can help them financially. I want to be present. I definitely want to do it where there’s warm water on the beach. 

Jeremy:

I don’t think that’s too much to ask, man.

Justin:

No, not at all, man.

Jeremy:

A little wave therapy.

Justin:

Yeah.

Jeremy:

So let’s change gears just a little bit here. What do you want, what do you want other people to take away from your story? So we’ve got people listening that, yeah, they’re on a journey because we’re all on a journey of some sort. And yeah, they may be at the beginning of having a, realize that they have a purpose and they haven’t quite found it yet, but they know that there’s one out there for them. Maybe people who, they’re right in the middle of it, they’ve found their purpose and they’re getting dirty and they’re going at it every day. You know, trying to fulfill their purpose. What kind of, what do you want them to take away from your story specifically? And what are some, maybe some words of advice or wisdom you could give people as they’re in the struggle?

Justin:

Well, if you haven’t found your purpose yet, one suggestion is I’m a pen and paper guy nowadays. More of a phone guy, but you know, make a list. There’s power in that. You know, you’re putting something out into the world. It’s there forever. So create a list. What is it that you’re good at it? And it could be silly little things. Trusting. I won’t go over my list, but you got to imagine I had a silly list because I had no experience with anything whatsoever. I mean, what was that, what could I put on my list? I’m great at standing next to my bunk at 5:30 in the morning for count and having my bed made. I mean, my list was silly. Make a silly list. You put it out into the world, what are you good at? And then what do you enjoy and then what eats at you, which just tears you up? What keeps you up all night? What makes you restless? What makes you cry? What makes you really feel joy inside? What evokes emotion? You got to make these lists. Then you really got to study and pay close attention and you know, I’m a God guy. So, I mean, if you’re anything like me, I suggest, and the suggestion I was given on August 7, 2013, the day that I went into the psych unit telling them that I was going to kill myself because I wanted to get clean. I was homeless at the City Mission. I called a guy, he told me to cry out for God. I’d never done that before. So when he told me to cry out to God, what I did was in that triage room, I physically got down on my knees and went to cry out to God because I thought that’s what he meant and I was new to it. So that’s what I did and it worked. So I think I did it right. Physically cry out to God. Don’t be afraid to, don’t be ashamed to because if you want something so bad and you want that change, desperate times call for desperate measures. So bow your heart out to God with those things that you made in that list on your heart and then when you feel led to that purpose, you’ve got to stay consistent. A good friend of mine, Jerry Hensley told me the one way to ensure you can defeat the devil is by staying consistent with God. So you’ve got to stay consistent with God, with your work, with your family, with your word. You got to build up that strict structure, put that down on the list, have your structure lists with you every day to start out. You do it for a few days, man. It’s going to be a habit. You don’t kind of carry the list around. If you’re like me, you got to be careful because you wind up with a ton of lists in your pocket or in your phone and it’s a lot to keep up with. So you got to limit that. But you get structured and you get organized, man and it becomes habitual and it becomes a way of life. That way when you come in and you face those obstacles, you already have a plan mapped out, like how I was talking about earlier. When all else fails, you got to get up, you move a muscle when you change it. And then things just start clicking and they come in motion, man. And it’s repetitive. It’s no longer second nature that would be checking the list. It’s first nature to list it in your heart, so you just move with it and you just handle business and you stick at it and be stubborn. And if you feel insecure, that’s okay. You know, I don’t want you to, I wish that I didn’t always, it eats me alive, man. I try to dress it up and make it look cute and comfy all the time. I won’t let people see me sweat. I don’t, if you follow me on social media, if you see me being quiet on there for awhile, it’s usually I’m struggling. If you see me posting a lot of stuff in a lot of content, I’m feeling a little bit better. I thank God for my occupation, my employment with Boca Recovery Center, me being a national outreach coordinator, one of the things I also do is I work across social media and platforms. Well, it’s been, you know, months that I’ve fallen back from that because how gets so caught up in how people could possibly perceive me, looking at me thinking that everything’s all good because it’s not, but then I don’t want to expose myself just how bad it is on there because then I get attacked. I leave myself vulnerable, so I’m always going back and forth. But I don’t quit. Even when I took a break, it just appeared that way. And maybe there was not as much productivity throughout that period. But I promise throughout the duration I was only getting better, only getting stronger and ready to come back, better equipped to handle business and be productive.

So I think you just, you got to have the plan, you got to have a structured organization and you just got to be crazy enough to keep on getting up every single day moving a muscle or changing a thought going at it. The better you do, you’re going to come across a few people that got something to say about and celebrate that if you are anything like me, most people never really had anything at all to say about me. I kind of, you know, flew under the radar unless I was in the newspaper for a crime. And then even in those occasions, they talk about me for a couple of days and then there’s no more conversation now. By the grace of God, I stayed pretty consistent in conversations. You know, I don’t see negative things really. I mean if you, you got to search for a mugshot today on Google for me, you didn’t have to search for a mugshot. Well maybe before it would be the first thing that pops up. You got to dig for one. There was a lot of good positive things on there. Right now, it’s from being consistent, from having a plan, having a structure, man, giving God glory, getting up everyday, putting faith and trust in Him, working really, really hard knowing I got to do my part. He can’t steer a parked car. But you know, when God blesses you and gives you everything that you need to use it and especially if you’ve been in a dark place and you really felt what that feels like, that’s a tough spot. If you’ve ever really felt that, truly, genuinely felt that and you made it even part of the way out then my God, why wouldn’t you just want to come all the way? Like just like let go and let Him do what he needs to do with you. You do your small part, the work in parts, the small part in big scheme of things and then the benefits, the blessings are granted and they’re still going to be tough days. There’s always going to be tough days, man. And that’s okay. But reach out to somebody else. You know, have that strong network, move a muscle, change a thought, man. That thing rings through my head a million times a day. 

Jeremy:

That’s a great thought. I think there’s a lot of, a lot of really deep wisdom in that. You know, when you don’t feel like it, get up anyway,

Justin:

Anything; take the trash out, take the dog out, I don’t care what it is. You get up and Lysol the toilet down, seriously, like the silliest little things on earth. You’ve got to force yourself and I know people here that deal with mental health and they deal with depression and, and they, “No, not me. It’s impossible for me.” I’m telling you. It’s not a contest. See who’s depression is worse or anything. I don’t want to go there. But you know, to been where I’ve been and to live the life I live today and to think, Stella is 20 months old and Jami was pregnant with Stella, laying beside me and Cameron and Maya were in the house with me. We were all under one roof. And here I am. I didn’t have a family. I came to Huntington with just the clothes on my back out of parole, own companies and have properties and have a home and a nice car and everything in the world I need. And my family’s right there. And Jami’s pregnant with my daughter. This is going to be my first child I’m there for the whole process. God is so good. This is my thought, right? I’m thinking all of this, I promise. Okay, I’m thinking all of this and I get up out of bed two o’clock in the morning and leave the house to go kill myself. You know, it’s, yeah, out of nowhere. So I know what it’s like to struggle and to hurt and not even understand why. And the most difficult part is not understanding why, but I’m telling you, if you move a dag-gone muscle, just turn in another direction. Just almost imagine when you’re going through it that something’s pulling you up out of there and it’s not even yourself because you’re telling yourself you can’t get up and you can’t do it. Okay? So just imagine it’s not even you doing it, then somebody or something else is pulling you out. You’ll come to a point where you understand it really is something or someone else pulling you out, you will, you know, you get that faith in God, man, it gets strong because it kept working. So it’s like it’s got to be God because it’s got to be bigger than me because I couldn’t get out of bed. Just reach for them, call for it, man. Just get the heck up man, and move one foot in front of the other man and tell somebody, tell on yourself, you know, talk to somebody. That’s very, very important thing, too.

Jeremy:

That’s the transparency, vulnerability and accountability pieces that you’ve talked about so much. Well man, I love your story. Love that you’re so willing to share it. And I know that others who hear this will be inspired by it. I don’t have any doubt, but, so if people want to learn more about you and the work that you’re doing, how can they learn more? How can they check you out?

Justin

Oh, they can always, we have a Newness of Life website, which is newnessoflife, all one word,  dot care. C, A, R, E. So newnessoflife.care on there. You can check out the program, the therapeutic or sober living therapeutic community program. Applications on there. All the criteria, rules, structure, all of that. They don’t want social media. We have a Facebook page called, I Am One of Them on there. You’ll just find sometimes some personal blogs, some core recovery pictures, stuff with myself, my family, people that are in the community. And the program means there’ll be funny ones, there’ll be happy ones, some that are totally off-topic and not just recovery-related, but there’s a lot of interaction on that page. My personal Facebook page is Justin W Ponton. Instagram is, I underscore Am underscore One of Them. Just anywhere. And then even on my pages and everything that I have, I’m not quite sure why I still do this, but my personal cell phone number is on everything. So I’ve been asking for it for years. Man. I’m a nut, but yeah, so my cell phone’s on there. I’ll be totally honest. I’m missing a lot of costs. I do get every one that I can, but I think Jami could tell you my bill last month. 10,000 and some text messages and it’s like 6,000 in some calls. So we’re talking like that’s a lot of traffic for a personal cell phone. Yeah, if you texted me, I get to you. Okay. I’ll take that. That’s my one that I can keep up with. We have a team of people on Facebook, on the,em  I Am One of Them that answers messages or any other platforms, man. So just to reach out, but if all else fails, man, I’m crazy enough to have my personal cell phone number out there, man. And it goes all over the country. We get to place people especially with that outreach in the organization. We have a Boca Recovery Center we’re reaching nationally. So with that page, it’s reached 20, 30 million people in a day. And, I mean, we’ll place people in Arkansas that are homeless and indigent with nothing whatsoever. That page primarily works through Boca Recovery Center and our team there. And if you contact us through that page and our team will make sure that you’re placed into treatment somewhere in your area, regardless of how you come. If you’re indigent, no insurance, no family, no health. If you do have insurance, whatever it is, they help you find the best level of care you can possibly find. So I Am One of Them is a great page to go through. 

Jeremy:

Awesome. I love it. And stay crazy and keep connecting with people because you know, you are making a difference and you know, for those who are watching and listening, if you feel drawn to reach out to Justin, I know that he can be a great resource for you. You know, because he’s been through quite a lot and one of the great things is he’s willing to share, he’s willing to keep it real and share and you know, give you whatever it is that he’s able to. So if you want to learn more about what he’s doing, where he’s been, or how he got from where he was to where he is, then by all means please do reach out and all of his contact information will be made available on the podcast and on our page when this episode drops. So Justin, you survived and I appreciate you being here.

Justin:

Hey man, I appreciate you so much, man. 

Jeremy:

Yeah, for sure. So that’s all for this episode of the Heroes of Change podcast from EPIC Mission. We hope that you have been inspired by something you heard today because together, we are the change. Tune in next time as we dig into the story of another hero to learn more about what they do, how they do it, and most importantly, why they do what they do. In the meantime, take care, stay encouraged, and we’ll look forward to seeing you next time on the Heroes of Change podcast from EPIC Mission.