PAGEDALE, MO. (KTVI) - A former drug addict now turned college student is sharing his first Thanksgiving with family since he completed a prison term for forgery.
"Last year I was eating Thanksgiving in the honor center (a halfway house for prisoners) and today to be able to eat what I want, the time I want and then have my family around me is really a good feeling," Patrick Johnson said Thursday morning at his Pagedale home as he and his wife prepared to carry their share of the holiday dinner to her mother's home.
During his two years in prison, Johnson began to turn his life around. He realized drug dependency interferes with life. "It makes you emotionally numb. I wanted a different way of life. I believed enough in God to change my behavior so that's what I did, I changed the way I thought and I changed the way I looked," he said.
During his time at the halfway house he turned to the St. Patrick Center, a not-for-profit agency that helps the homeless and near homeless.
"They showed me the programs tailored to my situation," Johnson said crediting courses in life skills, computers, resume writing and budgeting. The 51 year old said he had spent 25 years working in the restaurant business but needed help returning to life outside prison.
"When we get incarcerated we don't realize how we abandoned our life. So we have traffic tickets; we have other issues that we let go unhandled for years. So you have to clean all those things up," he explained.
"I had to still be responsible and do the things I had to do. But the more you do it, the easier it gets. It's just being a grownup," he said.
Johnson's wife Frances Johnson could not be happier. "He's making all of us proud of him; he's just on the right track," she said. She also credited the St. Patrick Center for reaching out to them and their blended family of eight children.
St. Patrick Center counseling and food assistance helped them regain stability. "They grabbed our hands and they guided us the way..that we're here where we are now because we needed them in every aspect, in every area."
Johnson, an Army veteran, is now using GI aid to finance his college education in hotel and restaurant management. He and his wife dream of opening their own restaurant someday.
For now, their large extended family is enjoying their cooking.
To reach the St. Patrick Center call 314-802-0700. The agency serves 600 veterans and a total of 9000 clients each year along with their families. Four agency programs are dedicated to military veterans.
Web site: www.stpatrickcenter.org
Address: 800 N. Tucker Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63101