Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Bad boy became good man
'A lot of kids relate to me -- I've been there, done that'
Nearly 30 years ago, Jason Mclean was labelled a bad kid. Most adults didn't want to deal with him.
"In Grade 6, I was kicked out of school more than I was in school," said the man who grew up in Charleswood.
"From early childhood I was very different from most kids. I had a lot of behavioural issues. I was out of control and had a temper from a young age." He was showing symptoms of fetal alcohol effects that weren't diagnosed until he was a teen.
"There was no filter -- I'd explode and get upset. I would get violent or swear or yell -- at the same time, I felt like I never wanted to do that."
Today, he works with troubled inner-city youths, and can honestly say he knows where many of the kids he helps are coming from.
"A lot of kids relate to me -- I've been there, done that," said Mclean.
"People have said they're going to go nowhere... When you show a little tough love and guidance and be there for them, it's amazing to see how fast they can get somewhere."
Sharing the fact that he has fetal alcohol effects with a young person who's also been diagnosed encourages many of them.
"I've told them I have FAE and I understand where they're at... 'If I can do it, they can do it'."
Mclean remembers the adult who saw the good in him and offered encouragement -- a teacher at Beaver Lodge elementary school.
"He was an incredibly patient man... He knew I had a lot of bad stuff at home (and) other elements making my problems worse," Mclean said. "He really believed in me, liked me and wouldn't give up on me... When I started to get bored or frustrated -- that's when I'd get myself into trouble. He always encouraged my artwork and creativity."
"A lot of other people at that time wanted to write me off as a bad kid: 'we want him out of here.' I can't blame them. I was pretty bad. I disrupted things," said Mclean.
"I was stealing stuff. I didn't have control of myself whatsoever. At the same time, I wasn't a bad, bad kid. I didn't have a rotten heart."
Guidance counsellors and social workers started to wonder if his behaviour was linked to fetal alcohol effects, which a diagnosis later confirmed.
It didn't solve all his problems, though.
"In junior high, I was removed from schools. It made it worse. I got a little deeper into the spiral of self-destruction and guilt. Nobody believed in me or wanted me around." He attended three different high schools, drank a lot and got into serious trouble with the law. His best friend's murder was the turning point, he said.
"I made the decision to focus all my energy to help people... From the time I was a teenager who went through a number of problems, a lot of people worked with me. I wanted to be like them."
"I got involved with volunteering with different organizations to help youth and I fell in love with youth-care work.
"I'm turning those mistakes into lessons to help those kids."
A body-building enthusiast, Mclean is covered in tattoos.
"They are representations of different parts of my life... They're as colourful as my background and my life." They attract attention. Especially from the young people he works with.
"They all love them. They love making fun of me, they draw tattoos on themselves, and they're my tattoo buddy. It's fun. It sets me apart from a lot of people."
The fetal alcohol effects that used to set him apart from people, that he's learned to cope with.
"I still do have impulses but I've learned what works for me and what doesn't. I've got to keep myself as busy as possible and be in the gym as often as I can or kick-boxing or running," he said.
"Working with the kids is some of the best therapy I've had. Those kids keep me on my toes like you wouldn't believe."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 19, 2011 J5
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