ANTIONE BILLINGSLEY (Artist: Jeffrey Crane)
This 48 year old father of three children, one boy and two girls, stated that he grew up in a poor family, the youngest of five boys. He took a wrong path along the way, ending with Antione Billingsley becoming addicted to crack. He stated, “All I wanted to do was get high,” even after his two boys were born. Antione has been to prison five times, with a collection of seven felonies and countless misdemeanors.
He’s been shot, stabbed, and “traveled a very rough road,” as he recounts. The last time he went to prison, Antione stated that he was tired and wanted to stop smoking crack. So he enrolled into a dog training program while in prison and this helped him to remain focused on his goal. Antione was looking for any way to change his life, and Blue Jacket became his vehicle in 2011. He never completed a probation sentence before, but Blue Jacket got him back on track. He has since never had as much as a traffic ticket. He loves being a grandfather to his two grandchildren and continues his routine of work and church. He attends his new church religiously and was baptized last Easter. Even though life continues to throw curveballs, he consciously seeks to be the bigger man and take the high road. Antione feels pretty strongly that if he can get through it, anyone can.
JUSTIN EDWARDS (Artist: Derek Decker)
Justin (Judd) Edwards was born one of five children and attended eight different school districts while growing up because of moving around so much. His parents divorced when he was only three years old and he had three different stepfathers over the years. He then moved in permanently with his father, who was a school teacher, at the age of 13. Justin graduated with honors from high school where he wrestled all four years. He then attended college at Vincennes
receiving a wildlife degree and began working as a naturalist. Justin married in 1999 and finished his second degree in education. He began teaching in 2000. He started the football and wrestling teams from scratch, growing those programs to championship teams. He began having children in 2003 and everything seemed to be going perfectly for him. But Judd made a mistake while teaching that landed him in prison in 2011. He was released from prison in 2013 and divorced immediately after his release. He attended Blue Jacket’s Career Acadey and quickly began his job as a fertilizer technician and continued his promotions throughout this prominent landscape company. While running for Team Blue Jacket, he met the love of his life and they spend a lot of time together, especially outdoors. He is involved in many mediums of art, music, and loves long distance running. Justin volunteers frequently at Blue Jacket to inspire clients without hope or confidence.
TONY GORDON (Artist: Stephen Perfect)
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Tony Gordon grew up in an area of sprawling urban decay, in a neighborhood where drugs and violence were commonplace. “The neighborhoods we were living in were really rough. All of my neighbors and peers were dealing drugs and that sort of thing, and so I did, too,” according to Tony.
His aspirations to deal drugs began at 10 years old. Tony wanted to be like his well-known, big time, drug dealing Uncle Jr. When Tony’s grandfather transferred to Fort Wayne in 1993 to work at the GM plant, Tony’s mother decided to follow suit shortly after. As a freshman, he struggled with his grades and an expulsion, and later bounced from one school to another due to the family’s living arrangements. He dropped out his senior year, and that’s when the trouble really began. He was arrested for possession of a firearm and later served a six month sentence in the Allen County Jail for dealing crack cocaine.
When he was released, Tony fell ill and needed open heart surgery, suffered a small stroke, temporarily lost his vision, and had massive blood clots throughout his body. Denied disablity, he continued dealing drugs. Just when he felt his life was over after a felony drug dealing charge, he was introduced to Blue Jacket in 2011. “Blue Jacket helped me deal with the past so I could leave the past in the past and get hope for my future.” Once I came to Blue Jacket, it was a big change,” said Tony with his bright, hopeful smile.
“They gave me hope again. I can get another job. This isn’t the end of my life.” Since that time, he has obtained stable work and has a strong family supporting him. Tony states that, “I feel like I am the kind of person that others can be proud.”
DANIEL LOPRESTI (Artist: Jerrod Tobias)
Daniel’s life was always just about working, paying bills, and drinking. Nothing else. He was drinking a lot and drinking often. He went on what he calls a five and a half year vacation (which was prison) after he said he was a drunk idiot for several years. He was charged with Arson, after he was caught burning down abandoned houses while he was belligerently drunk. While he was incarcerated, he was introduced to Buddhism and meditation. Daniel said this grounded him and helped him to realize what was really important in life. He also discovered he had an artistic side. Daniel found that he could do pencil portraits and is very good at it. He draws to this day and loves doing it.
After his time in prison he struggled for a long time with finding a job. Once he was connected with Blue Jacket, he said things just started falling into place. After a few placements through Blue Jacket’s staffing firm, he ended up getting placed at a larger plastics corporation, which turned into a career for him. He now has a family of his own, a new house, a baby, and a new car that is paid for. He is forever grateful that he was able to turn his life around and is very happy with the life he is now living.
KERTINA MCCOY (Artist: Jared Applegate)
Kertina first ran into troublein high school for fighting in 2008. She was put in the Ward Juvenile Alternative School because of her behavior.
She believes her troubles all originated from being moved around from city-to-city with her mother who had an addiction to alcohol, which led to Kertina being physically abused. When she was in high school, her mother became even more abusive. Kertina states she was not the type to start fights, but aggression had built up inside of her.
The minute someone pushed her to the edge, she reacted and not always in the most positive manner. In 2009, she was charged with stealing from the mall. She states her decision to hang with the wrong group of friends influenced her actions. Her time in jail made her realize that in this process and thereafter, it would become extremely difficult to get a job with a theft charge on her background. In 2015 she completed the Blue Jacket Career Academy and got placed into a cleaning job through Blue Jacket’s staffing firm. She is now a full time Employee Recruiter. Kertina recently went back to school to study Human Resources at Indiana Tech.
WES MCGHEE (Artist: Jeremy McFarren)
Wesley McGhee Jr. was born and raised in Fort Wayne and after graduating from high school, joined the Marine Corp. His work background is diverse and he never really knew what he wanted to do for a living.
He did everything from breakdancing, to playing football, and then even coaching. Wesley obtained a good job, but the company downsized and he was out of work for about four years. Since most of his hope was gone, he turned to Blue Jacket for help him figure out what he should do next. He landed a job at Matthew 25 a few months after completing Blue Jacket’s Career Academy. Since working for Matthew 25, he was blessed with another opportunity. Wesley is proud of the fact that he has lost over 80 lbs with Fort Wayne’s Smallest Winner. It’s been quite a journey, trying to make sure that he has his health together, so he can continue to help others. He has been taken off of his blood pressure and diabetes medication. Every morning he is in the gym at 5 a.m.
“My goal is to lose more weight and by the time we do our program next July for Fort Wayne’s Smallest Winner, I’d love to have an LL Cool J-body. I want to be able, one day, to get out on the stage and do a little body building competition with everybody looking and not really knowing where my journey came from, until they hear about it. Then, they’ll say, ‘Wow. This guy just came back from nowhere and if he can do it, I know I can do it.’ Hopefully, I can motivate that in the lives of others.”
(Artist: Paul Demaree)
Phillip Sanchez was a young man attending school and raising a young child, all while working a third shift job that wasn’t paying him much, and he couldn’t seem to make it all work. He was continually seeking other employment opportunities in order to be a better provider for his family. Many doors were closed for Phillip. He really had no reason to commit the crime other than he said he was wanting a lifestyle of being well to do like he was seeing on television.
Phllip came to Blue Jacket in 2012 after his girlfriend, now wife, prodded him to go. He took her advice after hitting brickwall after brickwall. Although he was already working, he still continued to search for better opportunities and was connected to a good paying career in 2013 by the Blue Jacket staff. Since having this great job, he has managed to save money and to provide for his family. He was able to purchase a new car and take vacations. Having a stable, permanent job with benefits enables Phillip to be able to spend more quality time with his family and to be a good provider, which takes away so many worries that he previously had.
SHIAQUILLA SUTTLE (Artist: Deb Washler)
Before coming to Blue Jacket, Shiaquilla Suttle was a single mother of 4 children, struggling with anger issues, which stemmed from being molested and raped. She stated, “It caused me to be broken inside and searching for something that doesn't exist. I've come from having low self-esteem and living a life that I thought was okay. When I was young I lived in a broken home between my mother and father.” Shiaquilla eventually received a criminal conviction for aggravated battery.
During her incarceration, she was able to pray, forgive herself, and learn. She states that, “I'm not proud of being incarcerated. Although it is an experience that made me realize that I'm a great woman who has overcome life’s challenges. It has made me more humble, a better mother, in control of my anger, and to be able to get a better grip of my life. Blue Jacket was the best thing that could have been placed in my face; the people I've met and the network are all great. They helped me push myself to a limit that I never knew I had. My experience with this program is unforgettable. I would do it all over again.”
Shiaquilla was placed into a transitional position through Blue Jacket’s staffing services, where she finds herself working at a career and climbing the ladder. Shiaquilla states that, “My life is much more stable now and I am a much happier person. I am also able to provide for my family and I love my job! My life has changed in so many ways and for that, I am forever grateful!”
LARRY THOMAS (Artist: Daniel Dienelt)
After graduating from high school in Fort Wayne and working at a few factory jobs, Larry Thomas became a supervisor for over ten years at a large plastics factory. He didn’t think so at the time, but struggled with alcohol dependency. He was arrested for possession of Marjiuana twice, nearly seven years apart. He states that putting the two marijuana joints together did not equal one half of a joint that the police found on him, but he believes everything happens for a reason. He was ordered to the drug court program for five years, which he attests kept him clean and sober. This helped Larry to clear his head and realize his true potential. After he found Blue Jacket, a donor stepped up to subsidize his training and he feels firmly that they changed his trajectory. He received the call to be placed into a job at the Downtown Improvement District (DID). He was employed there for six years and his fabulous work as the Clean and Green Manager earned him the title, “Downtown Larry.” He is presntly working with the City of Fort Wayne doing the same thing on a much larger scale. Larry is very happy and grateful for this opportunity and inspires many clients at Blue Jacket when he volunteers and speaks in the classroom stating, “If I can turn my life around, I know that you can.”
ANDY WALTER (Artist: Josef Zimmerman)
Raised in a small community in Dekalb County, Andy Walter had loving parents that provided for he and his siblings. Andy is a music lover and plays the trumpet and drums. He participated in jazz, prep, marching, and pit bands while in high school and had a lead role during his senior year as Captain Von Trapp in the musical Sound of Music. Andy won the Most Valuable Player award on his golf team his junior and senior years. He had a lot going for him. After high school, Andy recalls that, “I landed a position in sales with a multi-communications company where I just felt comfortable and best fit my skills and personality.
Andy was very successful. I had a lot of freedom with the position and was able to grow my area and myself successfully, but with that freedom I had let myself enjoy my time off from work that ended in an extreme consequence.” He served time in prison from 2012 to 2014 for a mistake that he made after a night out. He came to Blue Jacket in 2014 and obtained a position at a reputable lawn care company where he is in charge of growing the turf care and fertilization department with his talent in sales. He continues to volunteer for organizations like Blue Jacket and he owns his own home, constantly playing the drums, mountain biking, and enjoying the outdoors.
TOBIAS WARD (Artist: Tim Parsley)
From the beginning, Tobias Ward always thought that he’d live a short life, so he lived it to the fullest. He never felt that anything could possibly go right for him. He admits to being selfish, always expecting things to come easy, but he never felt that he had a purpose in life, so he partied a lot. After his first child, he tried to get himself together, but he just could not keep his head on straight. When his father passed away, he used his inheritance to purchase two houses, not knowing the
responsibility involved with this. Eventually he fathered three more children. He hit rock bottom and was incarcerated for a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) and neglect of a dependent. Tobias lost everything, including his children.Upon release from prison, he said, “enough is enough,” and he was connected with Blue Jacket. Tobias received the support and devotion that he desired to provide himself with the skills and self-esteem that he needed to put his life on track. Ward states that, “I regained my pride and independence which lead me down the right path.”
To this day, he works diligently to exhibit a lifestyle of hard work, strength, responsibility, and love. A year and a half after graduating Blue Jacket’s Career Academy, he completed an online degree, bought a house, a car, and supports his four children that are now back in his life. Tobias feels that his potential lifelong relationship with the staff at Blue Jacket keeps him grounded with his real and true purpose in life.
MARIA WILLIAMS (Artist: Suzanne Galazka)
Maria is a mother of four boys, whom she loves dearly. She also has three grandchildren and two on the way, which she is very excited about. Since graduating from Blue Jacket’s Career Academy four years ago, she has been working for Arts United. Maria is the front desk attendant for anyone who walks into the Auer Center for the Arts. Her smile is infectious, but her attention to detail is what administrators appreciate.
She was just recently blessed with an additional job through Opportunity Staffing with Midwest Sales and Services. Maria is a hard worker and is very dedicated. She owes all her success to the help of Blue Jacket. She now feels more confident that if she had to do this all on her own, she could. Maria was born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She now knows her worth and she can be a trusted member of society, despite her past and does not look down anymore. “Things can only go up from here,” she says.
ERIC WOODSON (Artist: Josh Angel)
“A lot of parents teach their kids how to be a good person in our society. With me it was the other way around; I was taught all the wrong things in life. I never had anyone to show me the right way. As a result, I have been to the penitentiary four different times. I thank God for Blue Jacket. They showed and taught me the meaning of life. I’m 30 years old and I never once wanted to do right until Blue Jacket came into my life. Without them, I would be still living like a felon and would be lost. Blue Jacket is not just for felons, but for lost souls. Blue Jacket believes in people and provides a strong support system.”
Eric was convicted of one crime in his life, but confesses to dealing drugs for a long time in a rough part of Indianapolis. After Blue Jacket, he’s worked transitional jobs. Presently, he is employed at a manufacturer in Albion, IN and recently moved there with his girlfriend for a closer commute. His determination to overcome barriers, including entrenched racial barriers, through kindness is inspiring to our staff. Eric has been working to get full custody of his daughter, who presently lives in Indianapolis.