By Merissa Anderson
At a small family farm just north of Hutchinson, a man – who as praised by the voice of the Kansas City Chiefs Mitch Holthus, “serves as an inspiration to everyone around him.” – lives with his young daughter
Jeff Brandon is a 43 year-old, first-year college student at Hutchinson Community College. He is single-handedly raising his 8-year-old daughter, KeilyJo.
“Life is good,” Brandon said. “I feel proud of myself.”
However, Brandon’s life hadn’t always been as picturesque as he finds it to be now. For more than 25 years, Brandon battled an addiction than began as a child.
“I’ve been through tons of crazy stuff,” Brandon said. “I don’t have a lot of memories of my childhood, but when I was young in grade school, I do remember that I was different. At an early age, I started drinking, and I, for the first time, I had friends that I never had all my life. For the first few years, it was good, but at some point it took control, and you never know when that point is going to be.”
Eventually, his alcohol addiction turned into a drug habit at the age of 19, and Brandon dropped out of high school.
“At that point, it was all over,” Brandon said.
Despite the darkness that Brandon faced during this period of his life, he made a decision after his daughter’s birth that would forever change his life, and the lives of those around him.
“I got sober when I was 36,” Brandon said. “Five months after my daughter was born – Sept. 26, 2010 is my clean day.”
Recovery is often a long, complicated road full of relapses for many recovering addicts, but for Brandon, his daughter made it the easiest thing in the world.
“I spent five months using after she was born, but then her mom left and took her away, and that was the most devastating pain I ever felt in my life,” Brandon said. “I haven’t struggled with staying clean. I lost all desire to use the day I stopped.”
Soon after, Brandon gained custody of his daughter, and his life has been a restoration process ever since.
“Looking back on all the years I lost, it just isn’t worth it,” Brandon said. “I have more fun now sober than I ever did, because when you’re under the influence, you’re consumed. You make irrational decisions, you don’t think straight and it’s just utter chaos and it gets to a point where you enjoy the chaos.”
After making the decision to earn his GED last winter, Brandon made the decision to major in psychology at HutchCC.
“I decided to change my life,” Brandon said. “I’ve been totally overwhelmed with the support from faculty and students. It’s been a great experience, and when I was applying for scholarships, I was getting letters from people and the words I received from others just made me bawl.”
Brandon has made many good relationships with peers and supervisors since he began at HutchCC last semester.
“I’m amazed with everything the school offers,” Brandon said. “You’re set up to succeed here, and if you apply yourself, there’s no reason to fail. I’m 43, a single parent, I work two jobs, and I still maintain decent grades.”
Brandon looks forward to attending HutchCC next year, and perhaps moving on to Wichita State after graduation. Most importantly though, Brandon wants to a good influence for his daughter.
“Despite everything (KeilyJo) has been through, she’s happy and I just try to be a positive role model in everything I do,” Brandon said. “I want her to be proud and I want her to see that anything is possible.”
After hearing from others that he inspires them, and after being used as an example of progress during Holthus’ speech, Brandon is beginning to realize the influence he can have on others.
“I’m just another person here in my mind,” Brandon said. “I’m no different and no better than anybody else, but to hear that I’m more than just a student makes me feel proud and gives me that sense of accomplishment.
“If I can go through life touching on person and changing one person’s life, it’ll have been worth it.
No matter what, don’t give up. Life isn’t always easy but like an old-timer once told me, you have to make the best of what you got and keep pushing forward and never give up.”