HURST -- Last week, Kevin Garrett cleaned out his locker at work, emptied his apartment and loaded his belongings into a U-Haul.
When he drove out of the modest little complex on Brown Trail, Garrett was heading to a new life as a 44-year-old first-year student at the Oklahoma City University School of Law, 200 miles from his hometown.
Ask anyone who knows Garrett well and you'd find out that he has actually traveled considerably farther than that to get to Oklahoma City. His journey from his start in Stop Six has involved more than a few wrong turns, some of them near-disastrous detours through the back seats of squad cars, prisons and $8-a-day flophouses.
But in the last four years, Garrett has done what many attempt and fewer accomplish: begin a path to redemption.
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"We hoped and prayed that he would have an awakening and change his life," said his older sister, Iris Clemons. "He's done it. He's become a man and turned his life around."
Garrett, a onetime ward of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, is now an honors graduate of Texas Wesleyan University and friend to a handful of respected and notable people in Fort Worth. More important than that, he is clean and sober as of Sept. 24, 2007.
He wants no credit for his turnaround, though. In fact, he said, he doesn't deserve his good fortune.
"I'm not doing anything special," he said. "I don't deserve any praise for just now doing what I should have done years ago."
None of it would have happened, he said, without the kindness and trust of people in Fort Worth -- the Petroleum Club for hiring him as a waiter, an oilman for giving him money to pay off a debt, professors for taking an interest in his learning, a law school for taking a flier on him, a sponsor for walking him through his recovery.
He sat on the couch in his apartment last week, boxes stacked around, and tears rolled down his face.
"The whole thing is incredible," he said. "Sometimes I ask God, 'Why me? Why do I deserve this?'"
Garrett's life began in 1966 at St. Joseph Hospital, the fifth of six children born to a couple who lived near Pate Park in the Stop Six neighborhood of southeast Fort Worth.
His father was a cabdriver, a man who worked hard to provide for his family and took no charity. But Garrett described his father as a "functioning alcoholic" who died of complications from drinking in 1979 when Garrett had just finished the sixth grade at Dunbar Middle School.
Left on her own with six children, his mother sent Garrett to live with his aunt in California for financial reasons, he said.
"I had just lost my dad, and then I felt like I had gotten kicked out of my own home by my mother," he said. "At the time that was a very hurtful thing."
Garrett graduated from Palo Alto High School in 1985, having done reasonably well academically and athletically. But that summer, his mother died of cancer at 52.
Garrett's first semester that fall at Foothill College, a community college in Los Altos Hills, Calif., proved to him that he wasn't college material. He did terribly.
Then, in the summer of 1986, Garrett's older brother, Darryl Garrett, was robbed and shot to death at an apartment complex in southeast Fort Worth, prompting Garrett to return home.
The next few years involved taking a series of jobs he couldn't keep, copious drinking and drugging, and running around with young men from the neighborhood who belonged to gangs. He never joined a gang, he said, but he certainly hung around them.
"I was just lost and misguided," he said. "I gave up hope. I got heavily into drugs and alcohol. I knew there was something better out there for me, but I didn't know how to get it, so I just did more drugs and alcohol to numb those feelings. It was tough. Check that. I made life tough. I blamed everyone else for what I was doing."
Three times convicted of felonies -- robbery by threat in 1991, auto theft in 1993 and burglary of a building in 2007 -- Garrett spent considerable time in prison.
"I missed the entire Clinton administration," he said. "Eight years, five months and 16 days on one stretch."
He tried to spend his prison time constructively, reading books in the library, taking college courses from the prison school system and staying out of the day room, where the trouble always seemed to happen.
But as soon as he got out, he invariably had another drink.
"It was a never-ending cycle," he said.
In September 2007, his parole officer offered him a deal: inpatient substance abuse treatment or prison.
"I told myself, 'I am unemployed. I am homeless. My family won't have anything to do with me. I have no friends. What do I have to lose?'" he said.
'Go to college'
Ten days after his release from the substance abuse treatment facility, Garrett ran into a neighborhood friend downtown. Garrett was trying to get a job on a construction crew.
His friend told him to apply at the Petroleum Club, a private club for oil and gas businessmen. Garrett didn't think the club's managers would hire him, given his recent past. He went anyway, largely because his sponsor kept telling him, "Stay sober, stay willing." He got the job that day and kept it until quitting last week.
One of the club's members, a prominent oilman, got to know Garrett. He found him "polite, hardworking, well-spoken." He asked him about his future. Garrett said he'd like to return to college. The oilman asked him why he didn't. Garrett said he owed money to an institution and needed to pay it off.
The oilman "asked me to find out how much I owed and bring it to him," Garrett said. "I didn't know what to make of it, but I decided to do my part. I went and got an invoice for how much I owed. A few weeks later, [he] asked me if I had it. I showed it to him, and the next time I saw him, he gave me a check for $2,700, the whole amount.
"I remember running after him to the elevator and asking him, 'What am I supposed to do with this?' He told me, 'Go to college now.'"
The oilman, who also took Garrett shopping for dress shirts, slacks and a sports coat, said Garrett is a really good waiter.
"But that's not where he belongs," the oilman said. "There are so many people who are intelligent and capable but don't understand that they can go forward in life if they push themselves. Kevin was like that."
(The oilman requested that his name not be used because he doesn't want publicity for what he did.)
Garrett enrolled in January 2009 at Texas Wesleyan University, bringing with him credit hours earned in prison. He graduated in May, magna cum laude, with a Bachelor of Science degree.
Ron Ballard was his first professor at Wesleyan.
"He was an excellent student," said Ballard, who teaches religion. "I don't mean just academically. He's the first one in the class. He is always prepared. He is pleasant. The other students like him."
Garrett liked Ballard's class so much that he joined his Bible study group at First United Methodist Church. He began volunteering with a substance abuse program at a hospital, trying to mentor other people in recovery.
In just the first few days he has lived in Oklahoma City, he has found two Alcoholics Anonymous groups to attend, is sponsoring a newly sober alcoholic and is searching for a program where he can volunteer.
'Do my best'
Garrett has no idea how law school will turn out. He has no idea whether he can hack it, no clue whether he will be able to take the bar exam if he completes law school, no idea whether any law firm will hire him, not even much of an idea of how he will pay for it, except for student loans.
He's fine with that too.
"I can't control what happens or what other people believe," he said. "All I know is that I'm going to do my part and do my best. I can't do anything more."
He had hoped to attend the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law but was not accepted there or anywhere else in Texas. He was likely ineligible because of a Texas Board of Law Examiners rule that prohibits a felon from studying law "for a period of five years after the completion of the sentence and/or period of probation."
Of course it's possible for Garrett to screw it all up. He acknowledges that. He brought it up even.
"If I have one beer, one sip of wine, I'm back in the cycle," he said.
So he keeps telling himself the same things every day.
"Stay sober, stay willing. My job is to do my best in all of my affairs. How things turn out is none of my business. It is none of my business what people say or think about me, whether good or bad. It is only through God's grace that I have been given a new lease on life. My new lease is only as good as the measure of my willingness to give back."
His circumstances have changed immeasurably since Sept. 24, 2007, the day he was homeless with a single bag of possessions, an estranged family, no job prospects and little to show for his life but prison experience and a chip on his shoulder.
But saying those words -- every single day -- has brought him this far.
"Stay sober, stay willing. My job is to do my best in all of my affairs ..."
Chris Vaughn, 817-390-7547