An experience behind bars led a man to become a pioneering substance abuse counselor.

*Featured image contains photo by RODNAE Productions

Cameron Clark was a then-13-year-old boy from California who was initiated into the gang Compton Crips, started selling drugs, and was given a gun.

Two years later, when Clark was 15, he was found guilty of being a part of second-degree murder. He was given a life sentence.

But while serving out his sentence in prison, Clark tells TODAY that he came face- to-face with his family’s generational cycle of abuse.

Due to that reality, he became one of the first incarcerated substance abuse counselors in the United States.

How a New Rehabilitation Service Turned a Man’s Life Around

people sitting in chairs around a room
LvL Films/YouTube

Now, a new documentary titled The 50, has been created and is centered around Clark, the other group of men that became counselors while in prison, and the impact this had on the future of recovery and reform.

In 2006, federal judge Thelton Henderson made the ruling that the California prisons were so awful they were considered “cruel and unusual punishment.”

After that, in 2007, California passed a law that would insist on rehabilitation services. And the offender mentor certification program (OMCP) was created.

People serving life sentences would have to get trained before becoming certified drug counselors.

“I was incarcerated longer than I had ever been on the streets,” Clark says before noting that he didn’t know if there was a possibility that he would come home or have children.

But by January 2011, he was released from prison after becoming eligible for parole. He also went on to have four children.

The Pivotal Moment That Sparked a “Change” in One Man

Clark revealed that he grew up with an abusive mom who was an alcohol and drug addict.

Wanting to break away from that, he went to his aunt’s house.

But while living with his aunt, he was initiated was indoctrinated into a gang and learned how to sell drugs to help out the family financially.

And at 15, he was faced with a life sentence.

 “I was full of anger, wondering why I was there and blaming the world,” he said.

While Clark was at the Youth Authority (now known as the Division of Juvenile Justice), he met another incarcerated young man who was his victim’s nephew.

He said he was ready for a fight, armed with a straight razor if need be when he and the victim’s nephew had an encounter.

However, the moment turned into a positive one as the victim’s nephew shared candid stories about his uncle.

This was the experience that helped him look for a “change.”

How One Man Is Paving the Way to Help Others Like Him

The 50 film

Clark, who got his GED and learned a trade while in state prison, applied to the pilot program for prison counselors in 2006. He also unpacked his childhood trauma.

His transformation and two other individuals’ experiences are in the feature-length film The 50.

Thomas Gorham, the executive director of substance abuse recovery initiative, Options Recovery Services, said that those interested have to confront their own challenges, or they won’t be able to work with another inmate, in an attempt to “avoid those subjects.”

As the men came to terms with the generational traumas that had shaped their life, they were better able to counsel others, enacting change.

Thirty-seven inmates out of the first 50 who went through the program graduated and became the first incarcerated substance abuse counselors.

Since the program was developed, more than 500 men and women graduated from it.

And keeping up with the mission of healing, Clark created the nonprofit DOVE, which helps prevent men from getting locked up. It also helps those transitioning back to daily life.

“I created an acronym for it: Developing Organizing Visions for Everyone. I created a nonprofit, and that’s how I give back to that little boy.”


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