Keith Jones (2nd Quarter, 2006)

2nd Quarter, 2006
Mesothelioma Memorial Scholarship
Keith Jones

Keith is looking to continue his education at Penn State’s Graduate School in either Applied Behavior Anyalisis or Training and Development.

A Portion of Keith’s Winning Essay:

Keith Jones

During my life I have found out that we learn from our own mistakes as well as others. Our parents, role models, authority figures, culture and society teach us how to survive in this world. Without these things we would be lost. These things also help teach us from past experiences. As a society we learn from each other. My life experiences as a misled teenager led me to join the military and then go to college; however, it was not an easy transition. There is no better lesson in life then trial and error to help guide our paths.

As a young teenager I can remember in high school being one of the worst kids in school and on the block. Being in a lot of trouble, suspended from school–even getting expelled my senior year. I even had difficulty with the law. I was raised in a city called Elyria, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio that wanted to make a name for itself however necessary. As a child I had seen my cousins get into trouble with drugs, gangs, police and lots of violence. My aunts and uncles were always in and out of jail. One of my aunts killed her husband and went to jail for it. My granddad was a big pimp known throughout Cleveland. And all my other family members were hustlers, thieves and dope dealers. I guess growing up around this made me think there was nothing else out there besides violence and the streets.

My parents wanted to change things through living a life that was righteous and pleasing in God’s sight. They wanted their life to be a testimony that people can change from the environments in which they have been raised. My mother was from the projects of Cleveland and went from government assistance to middle class. My father was more of the laid back type; he was a hard worker and did not really say much unless it involved him getting up late at night to get me out of jail. My father did not really discipline me for any wrong I did nor did he confront the fact that I made a mistake. It was mainly always my mother who handled the discipline in the family. I remember one time being arrested for a curfew violation. My father had to come pick me up, and all my dad said to me is “whatcha go an do that for (sic).” I could not go to him and talk to him about guy things because he was very shy, quiet, and to himself. My dad was a good kid growing up in the south, and he did not really have any experience in having such a bad boy. However, when I think back I know that my father’s lack of guidance led me to be curious in all the mischief I got into. For some reason I had an itch for getting into trouble.

I don’t know if it was in my blood or if I was just being rebellious and not wanting to follow in the paths of my parents. In high school I stole, I sold drugs and smoked weed regularly. I watched my friends shoot at others, and I even got shot at. I got in to numerous fights and even jumped kids around my age for fun. For some reason I loved violence ,and I did not know how to handle it. “I did not give a fuck” was my mentality on any and everything. I had no respect for women or any authority figure. I used women to get what I wanted. I had sex at a young age and even had kids at 17 years old. I watched my friends steal cars, and I rode in stolen cars with them. I watched one of my friends shoot himself in the foot with a 22-revolver on the corner because we teased him that the gun was too old to work. He had stolen it from his grandad’s closet.

I got arrested for stealing at a young age, being out after curfew, carrying a concealed weapon, forgery and grand theft. I watched my friends drop out of school and get into more trouble. One of my friends is in jail now for trying to kill someone. He shot this man in the neck over a game of craps, but he lived. All of this was before the age of 18 years old. I did not start to straighten my path until the grand theft charges the summer after my twins were born. That summer in 1996 as a senior attending summer school because I got my third suspension, I got expelled for beating up a girl that smacked me in the face first. My cousin and I found or stole this ladies purse, I’m not exactly sure, but what happened was we took the money she had in it and her checkbook. I had come up with the idea of writing her checks out to me and going to numerous banks and cashing the checks. The first check we wrote out was for $500, but we could not cash it because we learned that you had to have that amount of money in your account to cover the check.

So we went to other banks writing checks for $150–we went to about eleven banks all together. To this day I do not know what we did with all the money. A couple of days later the women found out about these checks she did not write and pressed charges on the persons name that was on the checks. Of course, that was me, so the cops came to my house and arrested me for forgery and grand theft. My parents were furious, but I had kids now and they did not want to see something like this happen to me. They talked the lady into dropping the charges if they paid back all the money. However, the bank still had the right to press charges, and this would be a felony charge. Prior to this I was talking to a US Army recruiter, but it was nothing serious–I really wanted to go to college. So when the recruiter heard of the trouble I had got in he came over and told me a way to get out of all this trouble and to be able to provide for my twins. It was by leaving and going into the military. The Monday before my Wednesday court date I left to go to the military. After the court heard this news the bank dropped the charges.

The military saved me from the streets; a life of drugs, sex, peer pressure and jail. I knew my life was headed in the wrong direction, but I did not know what to do. The military was a culture change from what I was use to. In basic training the drill sergeants yelled, screamed, smoked me (which means we did a lot of the same exercises like push-ups) and ran me to death until I learned it was their way or no way. They taught me the meaning of discipline and following directions. The biggest change from being a civilian is that there is no freedom of speech or choice. Someone tells you what to do at all times, whether it is when to eat, what time to wake up, how to have your hair cut, shave or how to wear the military uniform. If you talk back, roll your eyes, curse while walking away or do anything besides stand at attention and listen to orders it is considered disrespectful and can be punished under military law. An Article 15 is a source of punishment that your leading officer (usually a Captain which is also your executive supervisor) can use to take money out of your check, take your time by putting you on extra duty (which is work besides your normal daily job like cutting grass, picking up trash, scrubbing bathrooms–things like that to take up your spare time) restrict you to the barracks, forts or in any general area and even take your rank(which is like your pay grade or status in the military–it sometimes shows the length of time you have been in). So when going from civilian to soldier you have to get use to strict guidelines and discipline.

When arriving at Fort Hood, Texas I learned the responsibilities of having a full time job, which did not have set hours. We had a set time to be at work in the right uniform, but there was no specific time to get off–we got off when the job was done. I had to cope with having direct supervision over my every step. In every aspect the leaders appointed over us prepared us for war physically, mentally and emotionally. They took us to the woods, deserts, mountains and out to sea for weeks at a time for training. I quickly learned how to adjust from being away from my family and friends I left behind. The food in the military was very bland and made in very big portions. The coffee was like drinking muddy water.

However, being in Killeen, Texas we had the opportunity to experience a lot of Mexican traditions. There were so many Mexicans around because we were only a few hours from the Mexican border. There we ate tacos, burritos and a lot of Mexican rice & beans. We heard a large amount of Spanish, some of the Mexicans could not speak English, especially the older ones. They sometimes understood the language, but could not speak it. The funniest part is the Mexican communities can drink, dance/salsa and have lots of fun. They all worked together and did the jobs no one else would do. After three years I received orders to go to Korea, a strange country far away near Japan and China. There I learned the meaning of survival by being alone in a new culture. I learned how to speak a little of the native language as we had to in order to buy things we needed in their markets and stores. I also ate the native foods like bugogi, chicken on a stick (which may have been cat or dog) and kemichi. I learned their traditions; how they bury their dead on top of the ground in happy mounds. Their money was different so we had to exchange our money for theirs and visa versa. While at the same time on continuous guard duty, I was in South Korea but we were there to protect Koreans from the invasion of North Korea. Thankfully this mission only lasted a year, and I was sent back to the States, where I was soon sent to fight in the war against Iraq. My plan was to get out and call it quits; however, the military issued a stop clause and did not release me.

I had to go to Iraq when the war first started in January of 2003. That was a culture shock. The people there were very poor. It was nothing like being in the U.S. The people lived like peasants with several families under one roof with no running water or electricity in their houses. The kids were very frail and mal-nourished. We were not even allowed to throw our scrapes to the kids. We soldiers had a lot more benefits than the people in Iraq and Afghanistan did while in the middle of the desert at war, although the experiences we went through in war were not easy to cope with. What we see on TV are the soldiers after the struggle, waving the American flag and relieved to be home. War is a hard thing to handle. Life is stressful, not knowing when death can knock at your door. Soldiers have to be able to carry on but put their mind in other places. We as soldiers put our minds in other places because during war we see and do things we have never experienced in life: like platoon members dying and possibly having to kill in order to save our own life. This is why we carry meaningful personal items like pictures, movies, books, letters and the smell of our loved ones with us to keep in touch with reality. The basic issue items the military provides are only to help us survive.

In war the saying is “kill or be killed,” and with that on your mind, it is constant pressure to preserve your life and those around you. War is so tragic, it is hard to discuss or tell people about it. What you go through during war time is unbelievable. Instead of baths, good food, running water and electricity, soldiers sleep in foxholes, live outdoors and are continuously on guard duty looking out for the enemy. There is a lack of communication with your loved ones while always thinking of them; not to mention seeing a lot of blood shed, amputees, severe cuts and burns. This is what we go through while in war, but if we do not tell others then society will never know all the sacrifices we make. So when we sit back and think about our liberties and luxuries we need to be thankful for all for the men and women who sacrifice their lives for us. Without them, we would not have some of the freedoms we overlook. When we see soldiers come back from their mission, they deserve our gratitude and appreciation. Not everyone can endure the things a soldier that fights for his country can.

The courage and dedication of all soldiers should never be forgotten. Our duty to them is to love them for what they do for us, as much as they love us enough to lay down their lives for freedom. What we go through during war is the greatest culture change known to man, in my opinion.

In conclusion, the military gave me guidance, experience, money and led me to be the man I am today. After eight years I decided to get out and follow my dreams of obtaining a college degree in psychology. I consider myself a lucky one because I made it out–many of my friends ended up in jail and some even got killed. The others live at home with their moms or women with dead end jobs doing the same thing; in and out of jail, selling drugs, cheating and beating on there babies mothers. The transition from a misled youth to the military and on to college was not easy, but I have done it.

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