Justin Todd’s COVID-wrecked 2020 got a whole lot worse on his birthday.

He turned 40 in August as his past caught up to him in a Halifax courthouse. A judge gave him an eight-month sentence for drug trafficking and counterfeiting money. 

His regular life of family and work as a roofer vanished. He went straight to the Burnside jail.

“That was a kick in the butt, but in hindsight, it saved my life,” Todd said. “I went to jail, I got clean, I got my life together.”

Once he’d settled into his cell, he got to thinking of good ways to do his time. He thought back to when he was 17 and dropped out of school in Brooklyn, N.S. 

He’d tried to go back a few years later to get his diploma, but life got in the way. He started a family and moved out west to open his own roofing business. He never quite forgot about those last four or five credits he needed to graduate high school. 

The school celebrated his doggedness in ‘never giving up’ on his high school dream. (Submitted by Justin Todd)

His marriage ended, and his life started falling apart. He turned to cocaine. 

“I was always around the drugs when I was younger,” he said. “My friends, employees — I would actually take them to go pick up their stuff. And I said, ‘I’ll never get into that,’ but I hit pretty hard there, hit rock bottom, and ended up losing everything.”

He moved his five children back to Nova Scotia. He met a new woman. Then, tragedy struck. 

“A few days before we got married in 2015, my 12-year-old brother drowned and my other kids witnessed it. I took that pretty hard and, bang, I was back into the drugs again.”

That’s when he committed the offences that would catch up to him in 2020.

In jail, he became a scholar. He’d always loved learning and, when he could focus on his work, he had been an excellent student. 

He turned the corridors of the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility into his own personal high school. His cell became his study.

“I kept my nose pretty much buried in books the whole time I was there. It wasn’t easy because I didn’t have an actual teacher. All I had was my textbook and pen and paper.”

Todd left jail to graduate with the class of 2021 at Queens Adult High School. (Submitted by Justin Todd)

When he got stuck, one of the guards would take his questions, find an answer online on their off time, and return the information to him.

They also helped him print forms as he came up with an even more ambitious plan — to apply to university while still behind bars. 

After 20 years of hard work as a roofer, he wanted to do more with his brain, and less with his body. 

In spring 2021, he completed his sentence and left jail — and walked across the graduation stage at Liverpool’s Adult High School. The staff there had supported his return to education and were delighted that he could celebrate in person. 

“I was proud,” he said. “I had tears in my eyes. It was something I’d always wanted to do and every time I had it in my head, something cocked up and got in the way of it.

“For me to accomplish something like that? It was one of my greatest accomplishments of my life, aside from my children.”

Some of Todd’s children were able to join him on the big day. (Submitted by Justin Todd)

He landed a spot studying psychology at Saint Mary’s University. He’s going to be on campus starting in January. Once he’s earned his undergraduate degree, he plans to work toward a master’s degree. 

He has already graduated from the school of hard knocks. He hopes adding his new high school diploma, plus his university credentials, will help him find a new career helping people beat addictions and turn their own lives around. 

“I want to be able to help people. I know it’s a struggle to get past addictions; it’s been a 10-year battle for me. I’d get clean and I’d get my life back together. Something would trigger me and, boom, I’d be right back to square one,” he said.

“I know how hard it is. It destroyed my family, it destroyed my marriage — twice — and I don’t want to see other people suffer the way I suffered.”

Source From CBC News

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