- Major: Human Services – Alcohol & Substance Abuse Counseling
Robert Lane remembers the lowest moments of his life and doesn’t mind sharing the details. Understanding where he has come from helps you appreciate where he is today. Lane was a homeless drug addict who was ready to die. Prison saved him. This Saturday he’ll earn his college degree. “When I walk across that stage and receive my diploma with honors I’ll probably cry,” he said.
Lane grew up in the western New York community of Jamestown. “I came from a fairly affluent family and rebelled against everything they wanted me to do.” That included not going to college and instead joining the U.S. Army at age 18. He spent four years in the service, was discharged and began his long descent. “After my parents died I squandered my inheritance. I developed a substance abuse problem. I was an avid drug user for 30 years. I wound up homeless and living under a bridge in Houston, Texas.”
Two moments in particular standout to Lane as the lowest of his lows. He remembers when one of his daughters, who was 12 or 13 at the time, figured out what he was doing with his life. “She said to me, ‘Dad you are a drug addict!’ That hurt me. Up until then I didn’t think she knew. My daughter had identified me for what I was.”
Lane also recalls a Sunday morning when he was standing on a corner in Houston. “I had this song in my head by Johnny Cash, ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down.’ I was wondering how I got there and I was powerless to do anything about it. I really just wanted to die.”
A short time later Lane got busted and went to prison. He was sentenced to 15 years and would serve half of that. “When I got arrested it was a blessing. What happened to me there was nothing short of remarkable. I met a mentor, I discovered meditation, I made a commitment to change who I was, I got clean and I started taking college classes.”
During his first five years in prison his two daughters didn’t want to have anything to do with him. Lane wanted to work on his relationship with them and decided to do so with his pen. “I wrote them the biography of my life starting from the earliest time I could remember. Every week I wrote a new chapter and eventually wrote about my entire life. I never got letters back but kept doing it.” His writing made an impact. During his last two years in prison his daughters visited him.
When Lane finished serving his time in Texas he was brought to New York where he also had time to serve from a previous sentence. When he completed paying his debt to society, Lane was released in the southern tier. During an appointment at the VA Medical Center in Syracuse he met a woman whom he would begin dating and ultimately move in with.
Lane’s relationship and relocation to Central New York brought him to OCC where he enrolled in time for the spring 2016 semester. He excelled in class and in March 2017 was inducted into international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. “To be an honor student is unbelievable to me. I didn’t think I could do it after what I had been through in my life. When I heard my name called it was a very very powerful moment.”
His next powerful moment will come this Saturday at commencement. His daughters are now in their 20s. One lives in Houston, the other is in Jacksonville, Florida. Both will be in attendance to see there father receive his college degree.
Lane’s plan is to become a licensed mental health counselor. He believes his life experience has prepared him for the next phase of his life. “With the current opiate crisis and drug crisis in general for people to see that someone like me can get clean, go to school and be successful can give people hope. I’ve been preparing to become a counselor my whole life. I’m uniquely qualified for it. I believe because I was able to do this anyone can do this. I did it and I had resigned myself to death.”