Former Brookdale student who once faced death now helps others live

PHOTO COURTESY OF JAMES PRICE
×
PHOTO COURTESY OF JAMES PRICE

After his father Ron Price died in 2003, James Price, who was 14 at the time, had trouble coping with the loss of the family’s “primary caretaker,” with whom he had a close relationship.

Price and his twin brother, Aaron, were suddenly left under the sole care of their mother, Elena.

Price, 32, said his father left behind a mountain of debt and five children, three of whom were Elena’s children from a previous relationship.

Feeling the stress of not only his teenage years, Price said he was now concerned for his mother who was left to support the family of six.

“He was very strict, but he was a good dad,” Price said in an interview on Feb. 16. “I was afraid to drink or smoke weed (as a teenager). But then (my dad) passed away … That is where (life) began to change … I didn’t use drugs immediately but that attitude (to do so) was now there.”

His mother sent him to grief therapy, but Price was not interested.

At 15, Price’s older brothers suggested that Price begin smoking marijuana to feel better. No longer obligated to abide by his father’s rules, Price started smoking weed.

An avid baseball player, Price said he was also no longer interested in playing the sport after his father died. Price, his twin brother, and father used to bond over the sport.

At 17, a friend offered Price cocaine. Price, who was in his high school woodshop class at the time, said he accompanied the student to a bathroom. It was then that Price snorted his first line of cocaine off of the tank lid of a toilet.

“I loved it. Instant love. (Cocaine) filled a void. It filled that missing piece of me that left with my father,” Price said, adding that he encouraged his former girlfriend and twin brother to use cocaine. “We got coke that night.”

By 18, Price was using cocaine on a regular basis. He said the other students in his school began referring to him and his brother as “The Price is White.”

At 19, Price, who said he now had a full-blown addiction to cocaine, transferred to Arizona State University from the University of Arizona, where he was introduced to oxycontin, a medication that is used to help relieve severe ongoing pain and can be addictive.

Aaron, his twin, also enrolled at the college.

“It’s funny because wherever you go you take the problem with you,” Price said. “(Oxycontin) helped with the come-down of the cocaine. Oxy is very expensive. But then someone introduced me to (black tar) heroin and heroin was cheap.”

Price coerced his brother and a former girlfriend to try heroin and said “we were all just degenerates just paying for drugs.” They were hooked. Price said he was “pawning everything” to pay for drugs and barely getting by in school.

“Throughout this timeline, I’ve also used ecstasy, meth, mushrooms, acid, PCP, everything,” Price said. “I just really liked cocaine, crack and heroin. They were my favorites.”

By 23, Price had been arrested on drug related charges more than 20 times. Price said he constantly needed to feed his out-of-control addiction, which he said amplified after he began taking heroin intravenously.

“I would have been OK with (dying),” Price said. “Drugs and alcohol are fun, that is why people do them. But there is a point where it’s not fun anymore and it is now a job to cheat, steal and manipulate people to (get a fix).

Finally, in 2012, Price was arrested for burglarizing a car and stealing credit cards and $300 from a wallet in the car. He spent four months at the Monmouth County jail in Freehold Township. Price was then moved to Turning Point rehab in Paterson.

“My lawyer came and saw me and told me I had to take prison time or do drug court. Drug court is a supervised program for people with drug issues … I took the program,” Price said, explaining that the program required its participants to seek part-time employment.

At that point, Price said, he knew he needed to change his behavior.

“I changed everything about myself. I changed my friends, who I hung out with. I changed my environment … Drug court helped me get to (Alcoholics Anonymous), but AA is the program that really gave me the ability to see a new life and see people I could identify with,” Price said.

Appreciating his new outlook on life, Price enrolled at Brookdale Community College, Lincroft, at age 26. He excelled in his courses and completed the college’s social work program. He graduated in May 2018.

“I always knew I was smart, I just never put any effort into (school),” said Price, who is from South Amboy. “Brookdale is so awesome because it is not a normal community college. It’s like a four-year school. It’s difficult and challenging. Brookdale prepares you for what is next.”

Price is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in social work at Rutgers University. He is scheduled to graduate in the spring of 2021.

Since 2017, Price has worked full-time at Recovery Innovations in Eatontown.

Price said, “My father and the greater purpose I am here to serve” is what saved his life when the now 32-year-old said he was once “content with dying.”

Price has been sober for eight years. His twin brother is also sober and is studying nursing at Georgian Court University, Lakewood.

By 2021, Price said, he hopes to be living in Wilmington, N.C., and starting a family. Price is set to marry his fiancé in June 2021. He is planning to pursue a Master’s Degree in social work. His dream is to “work in a hospital with cancer patients.”

Price was recently featured as a “Soul of Brookdale,” a social franchise Brookdale Community College launched in Fall 2018. Each Monday, the college features a student success story on the school’s Instagram page.

“Yes, [Brookdale] is definitely educating students and they are graduating, but there is so much more to a student’s story. … With Souls of Brookdale, you will find a story within a story,” said Suzanne Altshuler, marketing director at Brookdale.

Sara Burill, Price’s former professor and director of the Human Services program at Brookdale, recalled Price as a hardworking and dedicated student. Burill said Price had an innate drive to strive for success.

“I remember [Price] very well. He always sat in the front of the class. … He shared a lot from his personal experience and was extraordinary open and honest. That enriched discussion so much,” Burill said.

Price is a guest lecturer in Burill’s class.