On average, at least 130 Americans die every day from a fatal drug overdose, according to the Center for Disease Control.

That could’ve been Russell Phillips.

Phillips is a Maryland resident and former addict who says he spent close to two decades addicted to drugs. He didn’t get clean until he was sentenced to ten years in prison. Now, three years after his release, he’s sharing his experiences, mentoring youth and fighting to change policy—and the stigma against drug users.

“I think people are scared to discuss addiction because people don’t understand it, they bash both addiction and addicts as well,” he explained. “People who are addicted or families of addicts, don’t always want to face the severity of the issue at hand. I think it’s easier just to forget about it or even pretend the problem isn’t there.”

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The 40-year-old was addicted to drugs for more than 18 years, experiencing homelessness and damaging relationships with his loved ones—particularly his mother and his daughter.

He was eventually sentence for cocaine distribution, and while in jail, his mother died. He took the opportunity to get clean—for his mother, for his daughter, for himself.

The Beginning of Another Journey

“I first came home October of 2016,” he said. “I didn’t have anything—no money and my license was suspended. I had no job and my mom was gone. The house that she lived in got foreclosed, so I literally had nothing.”

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But he was motivated by the previous two decades of mistakes. He wanted to make up for them, and be a role model to his now 17-year-old daughter, Danielle. He also wanted to make a difference, so he began mentoring youth, speaking publicly and formed a coalition called Light in the Shadows.

“Light in the Shadows is an organization that looks to shed light on people living in the darkest of places and situations,” he said. “I founded it for the sole purpose of helping people realize that they are bigger than their circumstances, and that no matter where they’ve been in life, no situation is too big to overcome.

He’s got a good union job now in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and is making up for lost time.

What’s next for this changemaker?

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He has a novel called ‘Dear Mom‘ in the works, about a single mom struggling to raise a son who gets into trouble. Based on his own life, it will be out sometime next year.

“I’m speaking as well, trying to use my story as an inspiration to anyone who feels lost in life. I’m also in the process of reaching out to schools to help with kids. We all share a responsibility of helping and teaching the next generation. This world desperately needs change and direction, and I want to be a part of that.”

You can learn more about Phillips and support his work by visiting his website, russellphillips.com and following him on Facebook and Twitter.

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