Blake Jackson is a study of contrasts.
On one hand, he’s an Air Force veteran who spent three years of his life serving his country, released in 2007 with an honorable discharge.
On the other hand, he spent six years serving time in the Florida prison system for a crime against his community.
Today, he’s engaged in yet another twist in his life – completing college so he can once again serve the community in which he lives.
“I originally wanted to do social service work for addicts or addiction treatment,” Jackson said. “But I realized I was pigeonholing myself. I felt that was all I was capable of because I had been an addict.”
Jackson, now 31, was 18 when he enlisted into the Air Force and 24 when he was sentenced to eight years in prison after stealing two cars and robbing a local grocery store while on a drunken binge.
“I had been sober for a while,” the Tallahassee man said, “like 11 months, and I relapsed in February of 2010, and I went on a three-day drunk binge.”
His problem with alcohol addiction started his senior year of high school. Jackson said he started because it was what everyone was doing.
He joined the Air Force for the lack of anything else better to do, and for the money and benefits. Jackson was stationed at Hope Air Force Base in North Carolina and did two tours in Afghanistan.
Jackson’s drinking continued during the time he served in the military, but he also started doing drugs like marijuana. He explained that drugs were easily accessible and accepted.
After his time in the Air Force, Jackson spiraled out of control and while he didn’t drink alcohol, he used drugs heavily.
But growing up, Jackson said, he was just a regular kid from a classic Southern family. His parents were white, middle-class and college educated. In fact, his father was a Methodist pastor who traveled around southern Alabama and northern Florida.
Jackson said his time in prison wasn’t as bad for him as it was for others.
“I have a knack for getting along with pretty much everyone so I didn’t really have a hard time,” Jackson said. “And I was in the military, so I can say yes and no and just like keep my head down.”
For the first 18 months Jackson was in prison, he was in a faith-based dorm. He also attended an Alcoholics Anonymous group, but said most of those attending didn’t want to be there.
“I feel like when I first came down, my first months were pivotal. I could have gone either way, I could have sat on my bunk and just got high or I could surround myself with different people,” Jackson said. “I feel like spending my first 18 months in that kind of society gave me time to put myself there and decide which way I was gonna be.”
Nowadays, Jackson is on the rise and through his work-release program left prison with a job at Ability Towing, a towing and salvaging company.
He also took college classes while in prison and is attending Florida State University this fall in the College of Social Work to finish up his bachelor’s.
Jackson also started a new job at Axios Salt Spa and Juice Bar at the end of March.
He recently decided he wants to study gerontology because he loves listening to older people’s stories. When he was younger, his father would take him to visit people in hospitals and he said it was a family bonding time.
Today he says going to prison was the best thing that could have happened to him. It helped him to grow up.
“You get to a point where you want to live more than you want to die,” Jackson said.
It’s been seven years since Jackson had his final drink
He is still attending AA meetings and has a sponsor. He explained that his addiction is under control and while it can be difficult at times living in a college town, he still has no desire to take a step back in his life.
While Jackson’s story doesn’t seem like the typical young-man-sent-to-prison story, he wants people to know that any type of person can go to prison.
“When people see a news article about the (Department of Corrections) they’re going to flip the page. They have this preconceived notion that I’m sitting there watching TV and eating great meals in the air conditioning,” Jackson said. “People don’t think about their neighbor or pastor being in prison before. They think it’s a different race or a demographic.
“It happens to everyone.”