Ten years ago, Jonathan Neal was in his mid-teens and headed in the wrong direction. Neal had just relocated to Gaithersburg, Md. to help his father who was homeless and living out of his car. Soon after, Neal drifted into dark side of local gang activity. He hit bottom when he was arrested.
"I was sentenced from three to 10 years for distribution of cocaine, and controlled dangerous substances, and prior to that I had been in trouble for marijuana," Neal said.
Neal's epiphany began almost as soon as he entered prison.
"Going to the correctional facility actually corrected a problem," Neal said. "I sat in a cell at Clarksburg detention facility for 23 hours and during those 23 hours you get to find out exactly who you are."
During his year behind bars Neal dove into books, reading everything he could find. He also listened to correctional officers and others who suggested he do something better in life. Neal credits his turnaround to resources at schools such as Montgomery College designed to help inmates get back on track.
"I've benefited from a lot of good program at Montgomery College, the Job Corps, Anne Arundel Community College, these programs where the colleges engage the inmates at a time where they can make an impact."
These days Neal, 25, is studying communications at Montgomery College maintaining a 4.0 GPA. Recently he gave the keynote speech at a graduation ceremony for inmates who received their GEDs while incarcerated at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility.
"I'm amazingly proud of Jonathan," said David Sears, vice president of advancement for Montgomery College. "He's come so far from what he was doing and dealing with, and he's able to share his story with inmates that against all odds you can do it if you put your mind to it."
Neal plans to transfer to the University of Maryland following graduation next year.