Good Ole’ Boys Part 2
The Good Ole’ Boys is a TRT series featuring personal success stories shared by those who are working to overcome addiction, loss and incarceration. The subjects hope to inspire others to improve their lives with sobriety and self-care.
If I can Do it, Anyone Can!
By RHONDA BIGOVICH, TRT Contributing Writer
For Michael Gabriel, the real action is in living sober and getting an education.
Gabriel is no stranger to riding on the wrong side of law, but this Yurok/Rosebud Sioux Lakota decided to hang up the wrong war bonnet and move on to live a productive life.
There’s a different path set out for him.
“I just want to make my life better,” said Gabriel.
He wants a better life for his children too. He has seven boys and five girls, all of whom he is proud of.
Gabriel struggled with a drug problem which led him to criminal behavior. It took him 15-20 years to break the cycle. He started down the wrong path at an early age with random acts of chaos that resulted in stretches of time in Juvenile Hall.
He also spent time in group homes for troubled youth. Gabriel’s first major conviction was assault with a deadly weapon for which he did time in the California Youth Authority Prison.
Before long there weren’t any more youth programs for Gabriel. He got himself a California Department of Corrections (CDC) state penitentiary number. After he entered the prison system the cycle began—parole violation after violation. His crimes ranged from high speed chases, evading police officers, armed robbery and methamphetamine charges. He spent time in every prison in California.
But, he’s not trying to brag. In 2010, while Gabriel was in custody for yet another parole violation, he received word that he might lose custody of his three younger daughters. He reached a turning point. Gabriel and his girlfriend, Erica Ammon decided there were no alternatives left. They had to turn a new leaf. Together they chose to fight for his parental rights and regain custody. They succeeded.
He is now 32 months clean and sober, a few months less than Erica.
“We make a good team,” said Gabriel.
There were many tools Gabriel used to support his recovery. He attended the Alcohol and other Drug (AOD) program at the Human Services Division, which helped him continue intense therapy for his sobriety.
During his recover he’s worked with a group of men and women who call themselves the Sweat Hogs. The group was organized by local Natives who host sweat lodge ceremonies. Their intention is to purify themselves, mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally.
“Culturally, I was missing a piece of myself,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel now participates in ceremonies where he dances and sings. He and his family look forward to the coming summer ceremonies.
“It makes me feel like a better man, and helps me be a better father,” he said when referring to what the dances do for him.
He uses the ceremonies as opportunities to strengthen his relationships with all of his children.
He attributes much of his success to some of the resources offered locally such as the Human Services Division and the Hoopa-Yurok Vocational Rehabilitation (VocReHab) program, which helped him build a business. They also helped him work toward a higher education.
Now, he attends College of the Redwoods as a full-time student working toward a degree in Addictive Studies and Social Work. He plans to become a drug abuse counselor.
With a year or two to go to meet his goal he’s logged 127 hours at the Human Services Office in Hoopa. He works alongside another AOD counselor, Boyd Ferris. They often go to the local schools to speak to children about drug prevention.
So, what does he do in his free time? There isn’t a lot of it. He’s worked for the Hoopa Tribe’s Education Department since August 2010. He occasionally enjoys a cardio workout but between school, work and the kids he is lucky to have any spare time.
“Recovery, higher education and our ceremonial dances have been a key factor in my success,” Gabriel said. “It helps me carry myself in a different way. A way in which to proud of.”