After 15 years of drug addiction, UNM grad plans to found recovery nonprofit

Originally published by the Daily Lobo
By Celia Raney

On May 13, Jaime Cervantes will graduate from UNM with the class of 2017 after a nearly 15-year battle with drug addiction.

After being accepted into every one of his top-choice schools immediately after graduating from a California high school in 1995, Cervantes chose to attend UCLA. Three weeks into his college experience, he was invited to a party where he discovered what any college student who has experimented with drugs hopes they never learn — he was an addict.

“I met this girl on campus, and she invited me to a sorority party,” he said. “I tried cocaine for the first time in my life. (The cocaine) was her idea, she was older…I started hanging out with her, and that was it. My addiction started right then and there.”

Within the next few years, Cervantes dropped out of school and moved to New Mexico where his addiction grew.

“When I got (to New Mexico), my addiction just got worse, and I was addicted to heroin, meth, prescription pills, just about everything honestly,” he said.

In 2016, Cervantes was arrested on charges of drug trafficking and faced up to 20 years in prison.

“The best thing to ever happen to me was when I got arrested last year,” he said. “I wouldn’t be clean right now if it wasn’t for the arrest…I don’t call it an arrest; it was a rescue is what it was.”

Under the conditions of his bail, Cervantes had to enroll in a recovery program at Under His Construction. The program provided him with housing, and after completing 11 months of the 12-month program, he is now the housing manager.

“So I am finally going to graduate, 15 years late, but I’m really blessed; I really am,” he said. “The whole time I’ve been here, at school, this year, I have had 18 years hanging over my head. I just kept pushing through it and pushing through it, and just having faith that things would work out for the better.”

Cervantes said his education saved him.

“I feel like I am definitely the exception, not the rule,” he said. “School has been what has kept me clean. People go into recovery or go to rehab, and they don’t have that much to look forward to, so it’s really easy for them to go back when they don’t have anything going for them. I think education is a really key component for recovery.”

Through the support of the program, his wife Icela, and faculty at UNM, Cervantes will graduate with his BA in Psychology on May 12, and will earn his MBA in December of this year.

“I had professors here at UNM that kept in touch with me,” he said. “I had my advisor at Anderson. I would call him from jail, and he would answer. He went the extra mile. They go well beyond just being faculty. They’ve taken an interest in me and really helped me tremendously. You can’t do it without a good support system, you just can’t.”

After graduation, Cervantes hopes to start a nonprofit center in Santa Fe to help recovering addicts. He wants to make helping people a “full time job.”

“Getting clean is hard, detoxing, that was the worst week of my life,” he said. “Getting clean is hard, but staying clean is harder.”

At the age of 40, most of his friends have families, and Cervantes wants to share that experience. He said he has missed valuable time with his family, and getting clean feels like coming out of a tornado bunker or a “time capsule” and seeing everything is different.

“At the end of a tornado when (people in the midwest) come out, everything is just a complete freaking disaster,” he said. “The whole place is leveled, that’s what it feels like for me. I feel like I was in a time capsule, so it’s like I am coming out, and now all my friends, they’re all fathers. I’ve missed out on all of that, and I want those things back.”

Ready to graduate and start a family, Cervantes said he feels blessed.

“It’s very real, and it’ll get away from you really quick,” he said. “I am lucky that I’m alive, really lucky to be alive. It’s nothing short of a miracle.”

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