08/22/10 — Man gets second chance for career, life

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Man gets second chance for career, life

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 22, 2010 1:50 AM

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John Boyette looks through a workbook in the Wayne Community College bookstore. Boyette went back to school in 2008 to better himself as he worked to turn his life around.

Dr. Dave Tayloe recalls the cold winter night when John Boyette first knocked on his door, some 10-15 years ago.

"It was wintertime, he was on drugs, on the street, but somehow I knew he was a survivor," he said. "My wife and I just realized here was a man, he was cold and he was hungry.

"We scrounged up some food and some blankets and gave him a ride back to where he was staying."

If he could have had a crystal ball at the time, Tayloe said, he would have predicted Boyette would be "dead in no time."

Instead, despite numerous setbacks, Boyette, now 48, says he is determined to make something out of his life.

Nothing in his early years foretold the tumultuous path on which he would later find himself.

Growing up in Mount Olive, he said he had "about as good of a childhood as you could have."

His father retired from Mt. Olive Pickle Co., and his mother had a job at Cates Pickles in Faison.

It was a working-class environment, Boyette said.

"We always had new school clothes, weren't going hungry," he said. "One Christmas, I even got a brand new motorcycle, and I was only 13 or 14 years old."

He played football and basketball at Mount Olive Junior High and Southern Wayne High, from which he graduated in 1981.

After high school, he went into the military, serving for three years before working in construction for the next decade.

His life derailed, however, when he was incarcerated in state prison from 1995-2006 for forgery and possession of drugs.

The time in jail was something he didn't easily get over, and following a stint in a halfway house, he returned to Goldsboro.

"Even after I got back here, I was still sort of like up and down," he said. "I was homeless for a little while -- of my own doing -- that was my choice."

He was approved for disability in 2007, but that didn't solve his problems.

"Even after I gained that income, I was still floating," he said. "You might as well say wasted time."

He continued to drift, unsettled in many ways.

Sometimes he would knock on doors, asking for food or a little change. Area residents and even social workers lent him a hand, but he admits now he wasn't mature enough to do much with the help.

It wasn't until two years ago that the tide began to turn.

Since July 2008 he has been substance-free.

That fall, he enrolled at Wayne Community College, seemingly on the threshold to a brighter future.

"I went roughly five months before another tragedy happened in February 2010," he said. "The boarding house where I was staying burned down, and I lost everything in there."

He jumped to safety, while another resident in the Georgia Avenue dwelling died.

Boyette lost what few possessions he had, including his college books and papers, extinguishing his hopes for a college education.

Since then, he has relied on doing odd jobs, friends providing a place to sleep and the disability checks to keep him afloat.

Down but not out, Boyette has decided to give school another try, enrolling in July at WCC. He started classes Thursday in the heating and air conditioning program.

"I maintained a 'B' average when I was enrolled before," he said, optimistic that he can do it again. "I'm still on target to get certified this coming May.

"The only thing about it is I'm going to have to take a full course load so it worked out like it was supposed to. But anything we want to have is worth working for."

While in prison, he took some classes but nothing in the way of a trade. He said he was drawn to the heating and air conditioning program as a way to a future.

"The skill that I get now will take me through all the rest of my life," he said. "I can't just keep flip-flopping."

Boyette said he envisions working for a small company and one day establishing a business of his own.

These days, he is confident enough to believe it will actually happen.

"It's a matter of keeping on. It's what I have been going toward, and I will be OK," he said.

It's an attitude that has been hard-won, especially given some of the circumstances surrounding the bulk of his life.

But he has somehow managed to fortify himself.

"I guess you can just chalk it up to being mentally tough," he said. "I want to do this for John."

He admits that while there were many occasions when he was on the receiving end of others' kindness and handouts, somewhere in the recesses of his mind he knew that was not where he wanted to stay.

So he filed away all the encouraging words and other investments people made in him.

And these days, he's looking to invest in himself with the hope of having even more to offer in the future.

"This is the best I have felt since I left home in 1981," he said. "In almost 30 years, mentally and physically, I feel real good.

"As far as my life now going forward, the way that I feel, it's all up to me. I determine my own fate. ... There's a difference between John who thinks, 'you can do this here' -- I know I can do it."

Returning to school would have been unfathomable, even as recently as a few years ago because he didn't have the right mindset, he said.

"Anything that I go into now, the attitude that I have is I plan on seeing it through," he said. "I have never really quit anything, anyway.

"I used to live in regret. I determined in my own mind I won't gonna stay there. I guess the older you get, my age and maturity level has increased a lot."

Reflecting on his life, Boyette said it's almost like he is reconnecting with the person he once was, the young boy he described as being "quiet but I got along with everybody."

It's becoming apparent that others who knew him from that era just might agree.

When Boyette recently became a member of Facebook, he hoped a few people might respond.

"The next thing I knew, I had 11 friends up there, and it's continuing to grow," he said. "Friends that I haven't seen since 1981. I think that speaks for how I was in school.

"The people that grew up with me, that really knew me before all this other stuff, know me to be hard-working. I'm not the smartest person in the world, but I'm not the dumbest. And persistence, that pays off because you have got to have that. ... It's all right to get by. I'm not content with that."

It's a happy ending, or at least a positive beginning, to the story Tayloe once thought would have a very different outcome.

"I just think it's a lesson that you could have just written the guy off and not tried to help him at all, or you just say, 'What's a few bucks here and a few bucks there?'" he said. "Lo and behold, you find out that maybe the attempts all of us have given John have made a difference. He didn't give up, crawl under a bridge and never wake up. ...

"He's still got a ways to go, but he's so much more responsible and he's got more of a conscience now."