Despite checkered past, Jamie Garrison taking advantage of his opportunity
By Guy Harrison, Media & Marketing Specialist
APACHE JUNCTION, Ariz. - He is a 28-year-old father of two and man of faith who happens to be an honors student at Central Arizona College's Superstition Mountain Campus, and he is interested in social work and psychology.
He is the type of student that colleges love to showcase.
For the Tucson-born and Valley-raised Jamie Garrison, however, those same people make examples of him for all the wrong (or right) reasons, depending on whom you ask.
Jamie's is a story that, while not necessarily unheard of, is one worth telling. His story began during his lack of a childhood.
"I never really was a kid," Garrison states.
His parents divorced when he was two years old, his father worked the graveyard shift, thus providing the youngster with no real supervision.
"We all had a pretty rough life," he says.
Without any strong parental supervision or an upstanding role model to guide him with a steady hand, Garrison turned to a life of drugs and crime. Smoking marijuana at eight years old and taking hallucinogens, including meth, by age 13, Garrison had experienced before the completion of puberty things that the vast majority of adults never do.
"I spent the majority of my youth ditching school, fighting, and eventually ended up getting arrested for numerous crimes."
Garrison's wayward childhood ultimately led to his running with a negative element, something he attributes to the close proximity in which those cultures were to his family.
"It was around the family a lot. With the drugs come relationships with the people you hang out with."
Jamie's misadventures during his youth culminated in an arrest for burglary and armed robbery at the age of 16. Despite his request at being tried as a minor, the justice system would not oblige.
After spending the next four months on house arrest, Garrison fled the Mojave County legal system and hid in the Valley just before his sentencing. Garrison would remain on the run for three years before eventually turning himself in at the age of 19.
"I sat down with my dad one night, had a talk with him and told him I wanted to turn myself in. I was tired of running, tired of the lifestyle, tired of what I was doing."
Playing another part in Garrison's life-altering decision was his affinity for his father, who had been suffering from numerous heart ailments.
"I wanted my father to be proud of me. Before he died, I wanted his acceptance," he says with a deep sigh.
With that, his father rented a car and drove Garrison back to Mojave County where he would turn himself in before receiving a two-year sentence to Arizona State Penitentiary.
So, where does the happy ending of this story begin?
While Garrison was incarcerated, he took classes for a semester through CAC and amassed a 4.0 grade point average. After his release from prison, Garrison worked in construction and real estate for five years before coming to the conclusion that he needed to do something different with his life.
Doing some soul-searching, Garrison paid attention to his involvement with his church and his faith, which has played a large role in his turnaround. Working with troubled youths through his church, Garrison decided that he was passionate about becoming a chemical dependency and behavioral counselor.
"I want to work with youth that have come up the way that I've come up and show them that there is another route to take," Garrison says. "I want to be a life example to them that the road that they're going down is not the most promising road," he declared with a nervous laugh.
Taking an interest in Garrison, almost from the beginning of this semester, was Dr. Beth Gioia, professor of psychology at CAC and director of the honors program at the Superstition Mountain Campus.
Gioia met Garrison during spring orientation, the week before his first classes after incarceration. Despite a throng of new students, Gioia was immediately drawn to Garrison's enthusiasm.
"I could see right away that he was motivated and excited to be in school."
Garrison's outward appearance may suggest otherwise but Gioia was able to look past that.
"I think the best thing to happen to me at CAC is Dr. Beth," Garrison said.
Garrison is, as younger generations would say, "tatted up." He has tattoos on both of his arms, his neck, and face. Despite this, Gioia was there to help from the beginning.
"She's able to look passed that and see me for the person I am. She's helping me out the best she can. It's actually given me the added motivation to keep doing what I'm doing because I know that there's light at the end of the tunnel."
Likewise, Gioia sees Garrison as a blessing not only for her but for the other students around him.
"Having students like Jamie is why I teach," she said. "I could tell immediately that he had a gentle spirit, quick wit and determination. I don't think I'm the only one who sees this. Jamie tends to take care of other students and encourages the students who are younger."
Stories like that of Garrison, Gioia says, is a prime example of the value of education, regardless of race, socio-economic status or creed.
"Transformation occurs in education, as it does in faith," she beamed. "The strength of belief and power of purpose are beautiful to see as students grow in confidence and find direction for their lives."
In addition to finding direction in his life, Garrison is now responsible for the lives of his two children, a four-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son. He also is attached to his soul mate, his wife Tracy, whom he met shortly after his release from prison.
When Garrison met his wife, also a CAC student, she was a runaway escaping a life of faith that her family had built around her. When Garrison noticed that both their lives were headed down the same road that he had just traveled, the man with the newly-found faith put his foot down, changing both lives forever.
"I told her if she was going to be serious with me and we were going to be an item, there aren't going to be anymore drugs and I was not going to be the reason she ran away from God."
Deciding that he could no longer do drugs or live a life of crime because he was now responsible for someone else and was not just ruining his own life, Garrison declared that it was time for him and his wife to start anew. Since Jan. 14, 2005, Garrison and his wife have been completely sober.
A 28-year-old father of two and man of faith, who also happens to be an honors student at Central Arizona College's Superstition Mountain Campus, and is interested in social work and psychology may be a good example of the never-ending strength of education.
Add to that, however, the story of Jamie Garrison and it's no longer just a story of education. Determination, personal accountability, faith, and truly seeing someone for who they are; these are all real-life lessons that anyone can learn from and a lesson that Garrison hopes to pass on to his current and future pupils.
"No matter where you come from or how you're raised or what you've been through in life, there's always another choice."