In February of 2019, A-yo Jones found he had exhausted a mode of living. For 16 years, he had drank heavily and been no stranger to drug use. He lost his job a month earlier when his struggle with depression impacted his work performance.

“One day I woke up and I couldn’t get out of bed. I had the bottle next to my bed. That was my solace. That was my escape. I spent three days around the house. I didn’t call in. I lost the job. I decided I was tired of living like that,” Jones said.

Jones found himself trapped in a lifestyle far removed from the path he had envisioned for himself as a boy.

“I used to take my studies so seriously. I was a valedictorian at my eighth grade graduation,” Jones said.

Due to a custody battle between his parents, Jones transferred from a small school to Shawnee High School his freshman year. The large number of students overwhelmed Jones, and he tried to fit in wherever he could.

“I fell in with the wrong crowd. I was impressionable. I got involved in gang activity and substance abuse,” Jones said.

He dropped out of high school when he was a sophomore. He obtained his GED when he was 16 and bounced from job to job, while struggling with depression and substances.

On Feb. 24, 2019, Jones decided to take control of his life again.

“That’s my sobriety date. Up until that point, I was always trying to con or scheme someone, sometimes it was just myself. I needed to give it to God for real,” Jones said.

Jones, a member of the Seminole tribe, joined Wellbriety, a support system rooted in Native American culture that offers a holistic approach to overcoming substance abuse, co-occurring disorders and intergenerational trauma. Wellbriety encourages those seeking recovery to consider a four-part approach to wellness: mental, spiritual, emotional and physical. Jones began attending church regularly and fell in love with running. As he replaced his past addictions with healthy habits, he also wanted to challenge his mind.

“On a whim, I stopped by Seminole State College to see what they had to offer. I enrolled in two summer classes, and when I made A’s in those classes my belief in myself came back,” Jones said.

He enrolled full-time at SSC for the fall semester, studying health and physical education. When he completes his coursework at SSC, he plans to transfer to a four-year university and double major in kinesiology and psychology.

“Physical exercise has become a foundation of my recovery,” Jones said. “I want to help others find peace through exercise. It’s a sharing of a gift, in essence.”

Jones finished the fall semester with a 4.0 GPA and was named to the President’s Honor Roll. He finished his racing season last year with eight medals, including three second place finishes.

He celebrated one year of continuous sobriety on Feb. 24, 2020. He recently served as the keynote speaker at a Free Life AA group meeting in Shawnee.

Since enrolling at SSC, he has become active in several facets of student life. He spoke at the Martin Luther King Jr. program held at the College on Jan. 16. He works as a Peer Mentor for Student Support Services and regularly leads peer group discussions. On March 3, he will be added as a member to the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society at a ceremony on campus. He is also an active member of the Native American Student Association, and he is presently training to run the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon later this spring.

“I’m getting back to the path I was originally on. It started here at SSC. It’s incredible,” Jones said.