Coal City resident and recent high school graduate Marc Milburn, 19, has been "clean" for a little over a year. He stopped smoking marijuana a year and two months ago, and hasn't touched "heavy drugs" for over two years.
"To see where I'm at today is unreal," Milburn said. "I never would have thought I could be where I'm at. I'm registered for college and never thought that was an option."
When Milburn was 10 years old, he lost his dad and started hanging out with another boy who had recently lost his father, too. They were two kids going through the same tragedy and could lean on each other for support.
Milburn was just barely a teenager when he and his new friend started getting into "heavy drugs," like cocaine and ecstasy.
Then, during his freshman year at Minooka Community High School, he got into a fight with a senior student.
"I used to get in all kinds of fights. I was a trouble-maker. I was hanging out with the wrong crowd," Milburn said. "They kicked me out and sent me over to Premier (Academy)."
He moved out of his mother's house when he was 15 years old, moved in with some buddies, and started selling drugs, too.
"You can't get a job when you're 15," he said, thinking back a few years. "I had to pay rent somehow."
From that age until he was 17 years old, Milburn lost 70 pounds because of the drugs. He just wasn't eating anymore. He didn't care where his life was headed. He knew he had a problem, but didn't care.
At 17 years old, Milburn was court-ordered to attend rehabilitation for his drug use. He was given the choice of rehab or jail.
"I didn't want to admit I had a problem," he said. "My mom pretty much begged me to go."
Milburn said he hated everyone in his family the day his mother dropped him off at rehab in July 2010. The first four days he was in were detox days.
"I was freezing cold, but pouring sweat," Milburn said. "My body was taking a toll."
He hadn't eaten in days and wasn't in good shape. But he was eventually able to eat again and started physical activity, too.
"I started to realize that if I didn't come here, I probably would have ended up dead," he said.
Milburn stayed in rehab for 61 days and remained "clean" for 90 after he got out. He never went back to the heavy drugs, but started smoking marijuana again.
After he was released, he went back to living with his old buddies, so he was around the drug activity again. He started selling drugs again, too, because he still couldn't find a job. He was slowly, but surely, getting right back into the slump he started in.
Little did he know, though, that one phone call would change his mind about smoking and selling.
"My little sister called me one day and said 'Hey I got some friends with me and one of them went to school with you and wants to see you. She hasn't seen you in forever,'" Milburn remembered.
That girl, Kara Peart, 18, of Minooka, became his girlfriend soon thereafter.
Milburn said he wasn't completely honest with her up front about everything he was into, but "she's not stupid" and started to ask questions.
"She told me this is how it's going to be. 'You're either going to stop doing what you're doing or we're not going to be together,'" he said. "I didn't want that to happen. So, at first, I quit for her, but I'm so happy. I'm proud of myself for quitting."
Milburn moved out of his friend's house and got his own place in Coal City near his mom's house.
He still keeps in touch with his old friend, but will only hang out with him at his own house.
"He knows we can't hang out because he still does what he does and I'm doing what I'm doing," Milburn said. "I have him come over still, but he has to come to my house because I say what goes on there."
Milburn got a job through the Joliet Junior College Young Professionals Network, and he now works in the maintenance department at Saratoga Tower in Morris.
"If we could keep him, I definitely would love to keep him," said Nick Ragland, Milburn's supervisor at Saratoga Tower. "He's a great kid and a good worker. I can't say anything bad about him."
Two weeks ago, Milburn earned his high school diploma at Premier Academy.
In the spring of 2013, Milburn will start his college education at JJC, as well. He said he wants to be a music teacher and will begin classes through JJC's music program.
"I was in a deep hole," Milburn said. "In two years, my entire life has turned around."
He wants other teenagers who are going through what he went through, drug and possibly alcohol addictions and struggling to keep motivated in school, to know that it is possible to change their lives and to, eventually, graduate from high school.
"I have my own place. I have a job. And I have another job lined up, too. Just graduating was huge for me," Milburn said. "It's almost like I'm talking about someone else. I was a different person." "I was in a deep hole," Milburn said. "In two years, my entire life has turned around."