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Washington Voices

Plumley rises above setbacks

Thu., June 4, 2009

Thomas Plumley hasn’t had an easy life.

When other high school seniors are just waking to the sound of an alarm or a parent’s voice, Plumley has already spent several hours unloading trucks at Lowe’s. Julie Cruz admires his industry. Cruz, a mental health therapist at MAP (Multi-Agency Adolescent Program), said, “He works all night, then he puts his bike on an STA bus and gets himself to school.”

The fact that Plumley will graduate from high school is a testament to his grit and determination. It’s something he couldn’t have imagined for himself a few years ago.

His high school career was troubled from the start. “I went to Shadle. I got in trouble for selling drugs and for gang activity,” he said. Violence was the way he learned to cope with the pain of having a mother who was a meth and heroin addict. “I wasn’t respectful to anybody,” Plumley said.

One fight too many got him booted out of traditional high school and into a program for kids who, as Plumley put it, “don’t get along with others.” He knew he was headed down a dead end road and he wanted out. “I lost a lot of friends due to murder,” he said, and sighed. “It was hard.”

But something happened. The aggressive kid with a chip on his shoulder got a second chance when the MAP school agreed to let him attend. And he grabbed that chance with both hands.

“He’s done a lot to clean up his act,” Cruz said. “He’s quite a worker bee.”

Plumley is frank. “I busted my butt,” he said. “I turned my life around.” Shortly after he began attending MAP, his mother passed away. Though he hadn’t lived with her in a while, her loss affected him profoundly. “I loved her to death,” he said. “I never knew my father.”

He had some setbacks or, as Cruz called them, “bumps and bruises,” but he persevered. “They told me if I got into a fight I’d go directly to jail,” Plumley said. So he worked hard at school and on the job.

He lived with foster parents for a time but now lives on his own. “People used to cross the street to get away from me. Now people look me in the eye. My boss is proud of me.”

After graduation Plumley plans to enlist in the Army and eventually serve in the Marines. “They’ll give me a chance to serve my country,” he said.

Plumley paused, savoring the thought of his graduation. He said, “It feels good to do something right.”

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