At a recent meeting of the DuBocage Chapter of the American Business Women's Association, Jeremy McKenzie from Covenant Recovery Inc., spoke about his organization and the ways in which it helps to change lives. While still a fresh-faced young man, McKenzie already has a complicated life story.

At a recent meeting of the DuBocage Chapter of the American Business Women’s Association, Jeremy McKenzie from Covenant Recovery Inc., spoke about his organization and the ways in which it helps to change lives. While still a fresh-faced young man, McKenzie already has a complicated life story.

As reported in the Commercial, McKenzie, a Pine Bluff native, was raised in a stable home, but by age 17 his path took a very negative turn. He became involved with drugs and within two years found himself in court. He was sentenced to a program in Little Rock as an alternative to prison. He stayed in the program 26 months. Not only did this diversion program change McKenzie’s habits and behavior, it gave him a purpose for life.

After release, McKenzie returned to center to help others. He has been free of drugs and alcohol for nine years.

So potent was his experience, McKenzie went on to found Covenant Recovery Inc. here in Pine Bluff. He is certified through the Arkansas Substance Abuse Certification Board as a drug and alcohol counselor and has over eight years experience in dealing with substance abusers. Covenant is a 50-bed transitional living facility that provides drug and alcohol services. The first five clients entered the facility in December 2011. There are more than two dozen in residence now. This is a private-pay facility costing $700 per month, but McKenzie doesn’t turn anyone away.

What makes this story even more special is the location of the facility. Here too, it is a story of redemption. It is housed in what was the old brick office of Standard and Brake Shoe. In 2008, when McKenzie acquired the building, it was in very bad shape. It had neither working electricity nor plumbing. The ceiling was partly caved in, and even the concrete block walls were crumbling in spots. In short, the building was to architecture what a drug addict is to society: discarded and assumed to be permanently broken.

McKenzie told the ABWA meeting how he made piecemeal repairs and worked to get the place ship-shape. It is now considered the nicest recovery center in the state.

If one were looking for metaphors, it would be difficult to find one more symmetrical or fitting. McKenzie has done what we hope all people in trouble would. He took steps to get himself right and then he swung around and spread the blessing he had received. In an era of mass incarceration that forces states to the verge of bankruptcy, we should take a good long look at programs like Covenant. We should also remember that McKenzie, as a wayward teenager, was given an opportunity right at the very moment he could have been punished and discarded. Yes, had his trajectory been the more common one, he would been sentenced to a couple of years in prison. We would have paid almost $35,000 a year to house him and when he got out, he would be just as poisoned and broken as when he went to jail.

Imagine what our world would be like if we gave the thousands of other young men and women in McKenzie’s shoes a similar opportunity. Would they all succeed? Of course not. Many would fail — miserably, violently and completely. But many would collect themselves and get their lives on track. They would do as McKenzie did. They would get an education and try to be decent members of society.

Yes, it is outside the box — or outside the cell — thinking, but the time has come for just that. As we face prison budgets we can ill afford, we must find better ways to buttress the lives of troubled young people. We must give them the tools to get clean and become the people we know they can be.