BY MATTHEW LETOURNEAU
As Michael’s bike sped through the small Idaho town, a stolen handgun pressed against his hip. His thoughts were incoherent. His brain, fried from years of drug and alcohol abuse, could only see one path in front of the metal handlebars: suicide.
It was 2017, and then-25-year-old Michael headed toward a secluded area to put the barrel in his mouth. Furiously peddling, the world around Michael was a blur, and while blindly crossing an intersection, a car came barreling towards him. The car swerved, missing Michael by a few feet before pulling to the side of the road. As relief rushed over him, Michael said he had a moment of clarity.
“Wait a second,” he recalled thinking. “You’re on your way to off yourself, but you’re scared that you almost got killed by a car. Rethink this.”
On the street, Michael broke down in tears. When the driver got out of his car and asked if Michael needed help, he told him that he did not want to exist anymore.
While Michael, who asked to use only his first name for privacy reasons, was growing up, drugs and alcohol were “the easy way to fit in.” He started experimenting with drugs in his San Diego middle school, and went from using cannabis and alcohol to cocaine, Oxycontin, and methamphetamines.
Michael’s life was unstable, and his home life was bleak. He was in the foster care system and by the time he was 15, he was sick of the instability.
“I ran away,” he explained. “I dropped out of high school and just left. I started working as soon as I could at restaurants, but I began to hustle on the side.”
While pushing drugs like pot and cocaine, Michael began to see that he had a problem, realizing that he “wasn’t even doing it to make money,” but to get high for free.
However, after having countless run-ins with gangs, criminals, and the law, Michael decided he needed to change his situation. At 19, when the court gave him the option between three years in jail for drug-related crimes or a Christian 12-step program, he picked the latter.
This program helped Michael develop new skills, but the pressure after graduation became too much and he quickly relapsed. He became a drifter, using drugs and moving from town to town until he eventually stumbled into Hailey, Idaho.
“I wanted to get sober,” Michael said, “But I hadn’t built myself a good network out here. Everybody I knew was either from a bar or a drug dealer or were people I used with.”
High, strung out, and angry at the world, Michael said he thought a bullet would alleviate his suffering. However, after almost getting run over, he believed that he had been given a second chance.
The stranger on the side of the road listened to every word of Michael’s story. Although he couldn’t help Michael with his addiction, the man said he ran a Jujitsu dojo and invited Michael to stop by for lessons anytime. Michael said he wanted to go right away, but thought it would be disrespectful to show up high.
Soon thereafter, Michael was back behind bars for another drug-related offense. However, upon his release in 2018, he resolved to change.
“I just think that I really wanted it to work this time,” Michael said. “I always wanted a better life for myself and my friends, and my family, but I didn’t really know quite how to do it.”
Michael applied for a spot at a local sober facility, the Men’s Second Chance Living house, and in 2019, he moved in.
Whether it was helping out at the house, going through treatment, or finding employment Michael was beyond motivated, and always went above and beyond to better himself and those around him, said the house’s manager, Sonya Wilander.
“Michael was strong and committed from the beginning,” Wilander said.. “He persevered when he was thrown a curve ball and always got through it.”
After managing to maintain sobriety for three years with help from the house, Michael walked into the stranger’s dojo for the first time.
“The people there are my Jujitsu family,” he said, “They truly support me like a family would, and they taught me how to manage my anger constructively. Sure, I got my ass beat a few times, but it was good for me.”
With help from the house, Michael graduated from the College of Southern Idaho with an associate degree in welding. After spending countless hours in class, studying and learning the trade, Michael created an LLC for a welding company and is now ready to show his expertise to Blaine County.
“Welding is kind of my passion,” he said, “As a kid, I always loved watching welders, like Jesse James, on TV and now I have the skills to actually create something of quality that people can enjoy.”
Michael graduated from the house in the summer of 2022 and still lives in Hailey where he has remained sober for four years.