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Courage To Come Back: Social Adversity winner keeps youth on the straight and narrow

Last Updated May 4, 2015 at 10:36 am PST

Jim Mandelin

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – If you thought you had it rough as a kid, you probably haven’t met Jim Mandelin.

News1130’s series of Courage To Come Back profiles continues with a look at the winner in the Social Adversity category.

“My dad, one time, punched me in the head. I was seven. And he’d just yell at me, ‘Get up! Stop your crying!’ And when I could just get up and ‘be a man,’ he’d put his arm around and he’d say, ‘That’s my boy,'” he remembers.

The son of an alcoholic KKK member dad and a teen mom, Mandelin suffered extreme violence and sexual abuse, not to mention the deprivation of a strict biblical upbringing.

“Everything was a sin. And I was not allowed anything. So, growing up in that, I was always left out, so I was always like the outcast.”

Jim was a sensitive child born under insensitive circumstances, abused at the hands of a his father and uncle, as well as tormented by the bullies at school.

He soon turned to drinking to cope.

“If I was a hard kid, I would have ended up like them. But I was a soft kid. I mean, I did end up like them for a while, but it wasn’t me. I just didn’t know I had any choices.”

Jim says he learned to hate on the day his uncle made him drown his puppies, so he ran away at 15. And seven years of homelessness, jail, and substance abuse on the Downtown Eastside took their toll.

“Back in the day, the way [you] come off drugs is you just cold turkey it and I guess it was too much for my body and gave me a heart attack and… I died.”

That was 38 years ago, and ever since, Jim has been speaking to young people, urging them to learn from his cautionary tale.

“If somebody like me came to my school and told their story like that, oh my God, I would have grabbed on to them and said, ‘Take me with you! What do I do? I got to go do it and right now!’ And that’s all I’m trying to do — try to give something and hope it can save a kid.”

For Jim, the accomplishment was having the courage to come back and his life’s work has been sharing that courage with every young person he meets.

“Maybe I’m saving myself. I don’t know. But I can’t stand to see kids go down… and then I see them in school and then five years later, I see them in juvi, you know… like somewhere along the way, something has to head ’em off at the pass.”

Now 35 years clean and sober, Jim still speaks to teens, proving, to borrow the title of his autobiography, that his is indeed “a life worth dying for.”

News1130 is a proud sponsor of the Courage To Come Back Awards, which will be handed out Thursday May 7th at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

They are presented by Coast Mental Health, a charity benefiting the Lower Mainland’s most vulnerable citizens.