For Jack Kelly, everything changed when he was 16 years old.
The promising hockey recruit, a junior at Matignon High School who was on track to play in college, injured his shoulder on the ice and was prescribed OxyContin to help him cope with the pain.
But Kelly said that within a few weeks, he was hooked. His intense addiction to that drug and others spurred a massive downward spiral that ultimately left him estranged from his family and living on the street.
“It completely destroyed me,” Kelly said. “I was brought up to stay out of trouble, and now all of a sudden I have a very serious drug addiction.”
Kelly’s addiction, and subsequent recovery, have been central to the community work he has engaged in since becoming sober, as well as his current run for one of four at-large seats on the City Council.
On the campaign trail, he speaks passionately about his recovery and about how more young people in Boston should have access to the opportunities and resources that helped set him straight.
“I was fortunate because even when I was at my worst, I had economic opportunity that helped me have hope and gave me a chance to earn back people’s trust,” Kelly said.
Still in the throes of addiction, Kelly tried to go to college, enrolling at a Florida school. But often he was too strung out to focus in class , and he returned to Charlestown after a year. For a while, he played junior league hockey, but he was in and out of detox sessions that left him unable to continue playing.
He was homeless by 20, committing petty crimes to feed his habit and sleeping in abandoned buildings. After two years on the street, it hit him. He needed to get sober.
“It just clicked one day,” Kelly said. “I woke up after sleeping in an abandoned building, and prayed that the desire to want the drugs would go away.”
The following day, Oct. 12, 2003, he checked himself into Boston Medical Center, where he was given a bed and was enrolled in a treatment program. He says he has been sober since.
Kelly was accepted into the Local 7 Ironworkers apprentice program, working at Boston’s InterContinental Hotel for two years before being appointed the Charleston neighborhood coordinator by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, his first venture into public service.
“I want to make sure that a lot of the money that is going into serving at-risk populations is actually being efficiently used,” Kelly said.
While he finished at the bottom of the list of eight at-large finalists in the Sept. 24 preliminary race, Kelly has earned the backing of several prominent local political figures, including current Councilor Tito Jackson. Kelly was also one of two at-large candidates endorsed by Planned Parenthood.
Kelly hopes that those endorsements boost his progressive credentials and, coupled with his experience and expertise in the neighborhoods, help propel him the next step in his recovery: the council.Wesley Lowery can be reached at email@example.com.