Eleven New River Community College students recently participated in a Capstone ceremony to mark the completion of their 12-week fast-track heating and air conditioning program. The journey was challenging for many, but for Curtis Spurlock, it almost didn’t happen.
Raised in a family with drug entanglements, Spurlock says he was “doomed from the get-go.” He managed to get his GED, but ended up becoming a drug addict. That led him to becoming a drug dealer. He watched his life fall apart and many of his friends die around him.
But in 2011, Spurlock’s life changed when he was caught selling one pill. But that one pill was enough to warrant a five-year felony conviction. He spent 45 days in jail, paid a $1,500 fine and spent the rest of his sentence on probation.
His grandmother, father and favorite uncle all died while he was in jail. One of Spurlock’s last conversations with his father involved the revelation that he would be the head of the family and that to take on such responsibility, he couldn’t continue to live life as he had been. “If you want to raise a family, you can’t sell drugs,” Spurlock says, “Because you’re always putting your wife and your kids in danger.” So, the father of six decided to change his life for the better.
But as positive as the change may have been, it wasn’t easy. He took a job at a local fast food restaurant – walking more than three miles there and back each day and earning just minimum wage. “I did it because I didn’t want to be my old self anymore,” he says. “Curses can only be broken if you take the initiative to break them.”
After leaving food service for a brief stint in a warehouse job that didn’t pan out, Spurlock found himself back in fast food again. That’s when he heard about NRCC’s PluggedIn HVAC program through community development organization, Beans and Rice.
“When I first walked through NRCC’s doors I thought ‘I can’t do this,’” he says. But he credits the teachers and counselors in the college’s Office of Transitional Programs for helping him see his own potential and getting him to where he is today. He recently graduated with an HVAC career studies certificate, received a Universal HVAC certification, and earned a silver rating on Virginia’s Career Readiness test.
Spurlock also says that support from his wife, Brittnie, who was also an HVAC student, helped a lot. They often studied together and supported each other in balancing schoolwork and taking care of their young children.
Now, with help from Beans and Rice’s Micro Solutions division, Spurlock is focused on starting his own small business. But he hasn’t forgotten his past, making sure to point out the difficulties ex-offenders face getting jobs. “If I start my own business, then I can hire felons and give them a chance – because I know what it’s like,” he says. “Society thinks that when you have a felony, your best bet is just to flip burgers and that’s sad.”
Spurlock also wants to make sure that ex-offenders who come to work for him have incentives to better themselves. “I want them to enroll in programs like PluggedIn and I’m going to tell them ‘if you want to work for me, you’re going to get an education.”
He also hopes that by sharing his story, someone else will receive the motivation they need to make a change. “I hope they’ll look at me and say ‘Hey, if that fellow did it, I can do it, too.’”