Donnie, 41, from Muldrow, Oklahoma, graduated the Electrical Applications program at Tulsa Welding School in May 2023.
Thanks for your time, Donnie; what did you do before enrolling at Tulsa Welding School?
Before I decided to come to TWS, I was on a journey of recovery because I’m almost two and a half years’ sober. I spent 26 years in meth addiction and for the last seven years, I used a needle pretty heavy.
And to confirm, you are happy to share your addiction struggles.
I’m very open about sharing my story if it saves another life and if it helps somebody else. I found my higher power in God. Growing up in church I knew of God, but I took a wrong path at a very young age.
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Thanks for sharing your very personal story. Were you working during your addiction?
I worked with my oldest brother doing home remodels, before that I’d actually been in the electrical trade off and on for 10 years. I used to build power plants. I’ve done everything from heavy industrial to residential electrical. So, I came to the school to basically just get my school hours. I did learn a few things from the books, but I already knew how to do all the hands-on part. I already knew how to wire houses, how to run conduit it, wire panel boxes, and stuff like that.
Congratulations on your sobriety, that’s the most important thing. What do you mean by school hours?
When you take your Journeyman test, they require you to have so many on-the-job training hours, and so many school hours. I’ve never had any schooling, everything I’ve learned was on the job down in Louisiana and Texas. I think you need 8,000 hours documented on-the-job training plus hundreds of school hours to take your Journeyman test, but each state has different requirements, so you should check it out.
What was the catalyst to get sober, and get your life back on track?
I was just so tired of it. I lost my uncle; he was a meth addict at one time, and when he passed away, he was nine years sober. The last words he told me that I can remember were that I needed to straighten up and get away from that life. And I tried. I went to three rehabs; I went to a couple of mental institutions. I tried to commit suicide a few times. I am a man of God. I am a Christian. I am so full of faith. I know what He can do. I know what He’s done in my life. I can’t force it or push it on anybody else, but I can tell them that there is a God, and he does love every one of them.
It sounds like your faith is what lead you through your recovery?
My story is no worse than anybody else’s who has suffered from any addiction or mental health problem. But if anything at all comes out of this interview, I just want people to know that addicts do recover. There is life in a sober way, and we can push ourselves forward to come out of addiction. You can accomplish anything at all as long as you have something or someone to help you through. Whether it’s a higher power or a support network, you can’t make it on your own. With support you can accomplish anything. I’m 41 years old and I just graduated from a trade school that I didn’t think I was even going to make it through.
Thank you for sharing. If it inspires just one person to change their life, it’s worth it. Let’s move on. What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?
Honestly, I enjoyed the whole experience. I didn’t graduate high school, and I didn’t get my GED until I was 26 years old. I’d never accomplished anything sober. I’ve been an addict since I was 13 years old; I just got sober when I was 39. So, I can’t remember anything that I ever accomplished before this.
Did having to go to school help you stay focused on your goals?
Absolutely. When I’d wake up and go to work, I’d be so anxious to get to school. I’ve never felt like that before. I really wanted to accomplish this…to show not just myself, but other people that suffer from any kind of addiction, that there is a sober life. People can’t tell you that you’ll never be anything, or you’ll never accomplish anything. I have a drug charge that turned into a felony charge that I’m having expunged off my record; if I can accomplish things after 26 years in addiction, thank you Jesus, anyone can.
With your field experience, did you have frustrating days on the program?
I did. I didn’t understand anything from the books. I even told my teachers that. I’m a visual, hands-on learner. But you can’t give up. It doesn’t matter how bad you feel, you’ll go home and be like, “Man, I’m not getting this!” but you have to keep pushing forward. My instructors were awesome. My last instructor, Mr. Kelly was amazing. He helped me so much. I passed my final exam with an 86 and my final grade to graduate was 95, that is an ‘A’! For someone with my background to achieve something like this is amazing. I’ve recommended Tulsa Welding School to quite a few people, even my youngest stepdaughter. She’s taking HVAC at TCC. I told her if she wants to continue her HVAC, try Tulsa Welding School. I think very highly of the instructors there, they really do care.
Tell us a little about your family.
I am a two-time divorcee because of my addiction, but a year ago I met this wonderful lady, Rebeca. She just has so much faith in me and really supports me. It’s so hard, coming from where I’ve come from, to find somebody like her that really has my back and supports my dreams. Rebeca has three daughters and a son, so I have a full family. The kids all treat me as a person, instead of just a recovering addict.
That’s awesome. So, who are you working for now, Donnie?
I work for E&I Sales here in Tulsa. I actually started working with them about two weeks after I started school, around the end of October. The school gave me a list of companies, so that I could find some kind of work while going to school. A temporary service company was hiring. I checked them out, and they sent me out to E&I. I worked through the temporary service until they hired me full-time in February.
So, what’s your career plan from here?
Actually, I’ve got plans to open my own remodeling business. I want to remodel homes. I want to be a Romex Jockey. I do drywall and floors, I learned how to be a bricklayer. I’ve poured concrete. I can frame houses, hang sliding doors, I can do it all. I’ve done everything from heavy industrial to residential electrical and I’ve wired a bunch of homes. I really enjoy it. My daddy always told me, if you don’t enjoy your job, then you might as well not even go to work. I need to get my contractor’s license, but one step at a time!
‘Romex Jockey’ – you have to explain that?
Romex is a trade name for an electrical wire that’s used in residential wiring. When I was doing industrial and commercial work, we’d make fun of residential guys. We’d call them Romex Jockeys. There’s no telling what they would call us guys!
What’s your timeline for starting your own business?
I’m going to stay with E&I until I feel like it’s time. I can’t just open my own business and quit my job. I have bills to pay, I have loans that I have to pay back to school. I’m a very responsible person, so I’m not just going to quit my job and leave my wife to pay for everything while I build a business. My plan is to start off with a couple of jobs that I can do on the weekends and after I get off work at 3.30pm.
Did you make some connections at school, friends you will stay in touch with?
Absolutely, I did. My instructor, Mr. Kelly, I feel like we’ve got a pretty strong connection. We talked a lot, and he was really helpful. I’ve got a couple more people that I’ve got hired on at E&I from school. I’m careful with the word ‘friend’. In my addiction, I used to call everybody my friend, but they weren’t friends, just acquaintances. There is one guy, Thomas, who I’d call my friend; when I talked about my two-year sobriety, he went home, got online, and ordered me a two-year sobriety chip. He brought it to work and gave it to me in front of everybody. I just met the guy in October when we started school. We had talked in class, and I tried to help him the best I could. But for someone that doesn’t really know me to buy me a two-year sobriety chip, that really says a lot.
What advice do you have for new students to be successful at TWS?
Believe in yourself because if I can do it, you can do it. Like staying sober, just take it one day at a time.
If you’re a TWS graduate and would like to share your success and be an inspiration to others, please email [email protected] to be considered for a Graduate Connection interview. Please include details such as your graduation date (month/year), program, and campus name (Tulsa/Jacksonville/Houston).