James McCain Jr. is something of a Gateway miracle. Arriving at Gateway Center in May 2014 after having lost everything, it took Mr. McCain only two months to get his life back on track, graduate from Gateway’s Life Changers program, and move into his own apartment. Today, James has returned custody of his son and was gracious enough to share his story.
James is a soft-spoken and incredibly humble man. During our interview he explained,
“I do a lot of listening. This is the most talking I’ve done in a long time. Where I come from before you’re walking and talking you learn to respect your elders, hold your peace, and listen. You’ve got two ears and one mouth.”
James grew up in Sumpter, SC and graduated from high school in 1995. Only two weeks after graduation he entered the U.S. Marine Corps at 18 years old. For the next 5 years James moved around the world with the Corps–traveling to California, Australia, and Japan where he climbed Mt. Fuji. During this time he met and married a woman in California who then gave birth to their son in 1999.
James McCain left the Corps in 2000 and he and his family moved to Atlanta where, as he explains in his own words,
“Things did not work out because I was young at the time–23 years old–and I didn’t understand how to do the family thing … I lost them because of me running around and not being productive.”
After his marriage ended, his ex-wife returned to California with their son, but James learned shortly afterward that she had become incarcerated.
“I went to California to get my son who was 8 months old at the time,” He remembers, “As I went to get him from the San Jose Airport, I remember he grabbed for me! So that moment was really what started my journey of raising my son.”
James and his baby boy, James McCain III, moved to Washington DC seeking a connection with his mother’s family there, but found that they were not the support system he’d hoped for. Instead he was left to do almost everything on his own.
“You know it takes a village to raise a child … And there I was with this baby who drinks simalac milk. We had to go apply for food stamps and do all the other things mothers go through. Appointments and shots and getting into school, while at the same time I was working.”
James’ son is now 15 years old, a sophomore in high school, and an honor roll student who loves math. James hasn’t entered a new relationship in 15 years.
“It’s been just me and my son. He does math I’ve never even heard of. I’m very proud of him.”
But unfortunately it was not all smooth sailing for James. In 2008 he began using drugs as a means to cope and struggled with addiction for subsequent years. “I started using to get away,” he explains with a distinct sense of self-awareness, “It was not constructive.”
James moved back to ATL with his son hoping to reconnect with some of his family, but was again unsuccessful in doing so. “It was kind of hard adjusting. I did have a job in Decatur, but I lost it (like I said) due to addiction.”
After losing his job, he and his son lost their apartment and became homeless in late winter of 2014. After losing custody of his son, James hit his lowest point and knew it was time to make a change.
“Losing my son is what brought me to GWC. I turned a corner and got refocused … Family is a big motivator. Not giving up … Success to me is two-fold. Success is first waking up in the morning and then after you wake up, staying motivated to try to make the world better. I spent so many years blaming, but that was a waste. We all have to get on one accord to make this place better that we live in.”
James had one of the stortest stays in Gateway history. After only 2 months in our Life Changers program he overcame addiction, was hired downtown as a cook, and moved into his own apartment. Today James has been returned custody of his son and they live together in his new apartment. “We’re doing better day by day,” he says.
When asked what one piece of advice he would give to a large group of people, he said simply: Live.
Amen, James. We are so proud of you and your son!
James has a strong relationship with music and loves to sing and play the blues with his band in his free time. Have a listen to his moving song “Story of My Life” for yourself!