Former Franklin County (Pa.) Day Reporting Center client becomes mentor

Cecil Hamilton says, 'In a life where I took, took, took, now I want to give'

June 09, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH |
  • Cecil Hamilton, once a drug dealer, turned his life around and now volunteers as a mentor at the Franklin County (Pa.) Day Reporting Center in Chambersburg, Pa.
By Jennifer Fitch, Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Cecil Hamilton is a man who wants to be measured not by what he did, but by what he is going to do.

The Chambersburg resident has a lengthy criminal record that provides glimpses into his troubled past, when he stole a car, sold crystal meth and drank to excess nightly.

But sometimes only the person who has hit the bottom can offer a hand to others and help show the way out.

“In a life where I took, took, took, now I want to give,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton rehabilitated himself largely through the programs offered by the Franklin County (Pa.) Day Reporting Center, a place where criminals can earn early release from jail through clean drug tests, life skills classes and behavior-modification therapy.

One study found that only 18.2 percent of Franklin County Day Reporting Center graduates were rearrested within an almost three-year period. The center has more than 300 intakes a year.


Hamilton graduated from the center in November 2011 and now serves as a mentor there. That volunteerism occupies Hamilton’s time not spent in church, college, his part-time job, or Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Hamilton said he chooses to fill his time with structured, positive activities and short-term goals, noting that he considers idle time to be the devil’s doing. In his pursuit of a human services career, Hamilton is selecting online courses to better avoid college drinking parties.

He does not hide from his background.

“These things that caused me so much pain in the past are assets today. ... It took me 40 years to get here, and I’m still a work in progress,” Hamilton said.

That self-awareness can be rare at the reporting center because many clients are in denial.

“I’m the guy who steps in their face and says, ‘You can tell everyone anything you want, (but) I’ve lived my life that way.’ I went haphazard through life not thinking anything of it,” Hamilton said.

Drug addicts will continue their behavior until they die if they do not make the significant changes championed by the center, he said.

Reporting center client Joyce Holton knows now she was in denial when she started programs in February.

She was terrified of returning to jail if she failed.

“When I first started there, I was a basket case. I said, ‘I’m not going to make it. I can’t do it,’” Holton said.

DRC Director Kim Eaton saw Holton’s anguish and recommended she meet with Hamilton. The two became fast friends, as Holton’s new mentor helped her with book work, her family relationships, acceptance — and forgiving herself for 22 years on drugs.

“It’s like he dropped from heaven,” said Holton, who was criminally charged with receiving stolen property, theft and credit card fraud.

Hamilton’s first impression of Holton was that she was “just like me,” he said.

“I talked to her in a language she understood,” Hamilton said.

Criminals undergoing rehabilitation need to learn to communicate differently and stop trying to manipulate every situation, Hamilton said. Many resent authority and do not want to give the center’s programs a chance, he said.

“To me, I don’t represent the authority,” Hamilton said. “I represent the understanding.”

Clients often initially think Hamilton is a snitch or working undercover for a police agency.

“I understand the resistance,” he said.

‘The long haul’

He apparently succeeds at warming people over. On a recent sunny afternoon, he stepped outside the center and joined in a conversation between two female clients, one of whom hugged him after telling him she was pregnant.

Holton said her classmates begged for Hamilton to teach materials when a teacher was unavailable.

“He’s a mentor not just for me; he’s a mentor for everyone who comes through the DRC. He knows us; he knows what we’re going through,” Holton said.

Hamilton gives his cellphone number to center clients, so they can call him if tempted to make a bad choice.

“A lot of people here have been in crisis mode for many, many years,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton tells Horton and other clients that he still has stress in his life, but he is fine as long as he is not crumbling under it. He thinks helping others keeps him on track.

Selfless acts produce an “euphoric high” more safely than manipulation and drugs, according to Hamilton.

“A lot of people here understand who I am through and through,” Hamilton said.

The Alabama native realizes the center and his efforts may not make an immediate difference in the clients’ lives.

“I can’t sit here and hammer these people with what I know. I can’t force the clients here to participate in the programs,” Hamilton said.

However, he thinks clients may rediscover the center’s lessons in the back of their minds someday when they are ready to change.

“I tell Doc Eaton all the time, for this to be in Franklin County is a tremendous thing. ... I really support this program and all the people here,” Hamilton said.

“I come here when I’m having a good day, and when I’m having a bad day. I’m here for the long haul,” he said.

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