For Hugh Townsley, using drugs and alcohol had become a way of life. But his life has a new direction now and working towards earning his GED symbolizes a major milestone.
Townsley enrolled in the GED course at the New Community Adult Learning Center in October of 2015. He had dropped out of Lakeland High School in his hometown of Wanaque before junior year. According to GED Instructor Virginia Lewis, Townsley has been working hard to make up for lost time.
“He’s attendance is near perfect, his TABE scores have accelerated, and he is very attentive in class,” Lewis said. “I believe Hugh has a solid future in all his endeavors, as he is very determined!”
But to build his future, Townsley has had to deal with his past. Most recently, Townsley resided at Urban Renewal Halfway House in Newark to finish serving his sentence after his 2013 arrest for eluding police under the influence of narcotics. Formerly an addict, Townsley, 43, says he has been clean since then.
“I hate to keep looking back at what I did but I have to in order to keep going forward,” he said.
As a young man, Townsley became involved in the bar scene and said that his life soon spun out of control. On June 27, 2013, Townsley was arrested after leading police on a high speed chase in Morris County. The pursuit lasted 15 minutes, involved police from multiple towns, and resulted in Townsley driving on the wrong side of the road, knocking over barriers, and ended with officers tackling Townsley to the ground. Four motorists were hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries, according to a news report.
Townsley, who was 40 at the time, was charged with eluding police while under the influence of narcotics and sent to prison. In an interview, Townsley said he was high on cocaine and also transporting a large amount of the drug.
After he was incarcerated, Townsley said that he quit drinking and drugs. “I needed this—my life was out of control,” he said. Also, he made earning his GED before returning home his top priority.
Townsley said he dropped out of school after getting involved in a relationship and becoming a father at age 16. He got a job at Hackensack Roofing but despite reliable work, his life was still unpredictable. Townsley eventually split with his high school sweetheart and met another woman whom he married. But a mere 24 hours after getting hitched, he decided to end the marriage.
After serving part of his sentence at Northern State Prison, Townsley was transferred to Urban Renewal Halfway House in Newark. A caseworker there told him about New Community and Townsley signed up for the GED and began taking classes last year.
Townsley said that he plans to return to his former roofing job after completing his sentence at the halfway house. But he also wants to be realistic about other employment options if, for instance, he is physically unable to work roofing.
“The diploma was definitely standing in my way,” he said. He credits Lewis, his instructor, for helping him prepare for the exam, which he plans to take in June. “She’s been nothing short of a blessing to me,” Townsley said.
One goal that Townsley says he has is to partner with local police departments and their D.A.R.E. programs to speak at schools and offer a real life testimonial to students about the consequences of drug addiction. Townsley said he looks forward to returning home to West Milford and reuniting with his wife, Michelle. He has four biological children and four stepchildren.