— Ken Ginlack was at the height of his addiction to
crack cocaine, and he desperately needed money.
On a cold late night in
2007, Ginlack slipped a metal pipe into his pocket, pulled
up his hoodie and walked toward a BP gas station on North
Sherman Boulevard and West Burleigh Street with one goal
in mind: to rob anyone he saw for drug money.
Ginlack quickly spotted two
white men in fine coats who were looking for places to
purchase and smoke crack. Stepping into the backseat of
the car, Ginlack directed the pair around a corner, where
he planned to hit one man in the back of the head and to
choke the other.
As they drove, Ginlack
slowly slid the metal pipe out of his hand. But then he
"A voice just told me
'don't do it.'" Ginlack told. "The moment was so
real." The voice said 'if you do this, this is going
to change your life forever.'"
He began to cry profusely.
After urging the men to stop the car, Ginlack got out and
The next day he checked
into First Step Community Recovery Center, and he
eventually spent six months in residential treatment and
then time in a transitional living house.
Now the clinical director
at the nonprofit St. Charles Youth and Family Services,
Ginlack holds a bachelor's degree from Upper Iowa
University and a master's degree from Loyola University in
Ginlack's journey has been
riddled with setbacks and trauma. And success.
The nonprofit news
outlet provided this article to The Associated Press
through a collaboration with Institute for Nonprofit News.
The 49-year-old's mission
is to provide mental health and substance abuse services
while promoting the importance of mental health education.
To Ginlack, he is giving back to the community that he
once "tore down."
Dorothy Thompson, a
clinical substance abuse counselor who has known Ginlack
for five years, said he is dedicated to counseling and
educating residents on how to cope with mental illnesses
without reaching for substances.
"He has a passion and
dedication in the field. Whenever he sets a goal, he
always accomplishes it," Thompson said.
In his spare time, Ginlack
facilitates Narcotics Anonymous group meetings at his
church and leads community panels on mental health
Ginlack spent his childhood
moving back and forth between Milwaukee and Orlando,
Florida. When he was 14, he found a stash of cocaine that
his father sold. It was the catalyst for him to start
drinking, using and selling drugs.
"I just thought this
was the way life was . I'm 15 out at 2 or 3 in the morning
carrying a pistol," Ginlack said. Living across the
street from a tavern on North Fourth and West Vine
streets, he saw everything, from violence to drug deals.
"The prostitutes we
knew by their first names," he said. "There was
no way to ignore what was happening. I thought it was
Looking back, Ginlack
attributes his substance abuse, and those of others like
him, to this environment.
"It's not normal to
see someone get beat or someone get shot in the head, and
if you're experiencing this in your home, it becomes
normal," Ginlack said.