BEMIDJI – It took getting tagged by his high school wrestling coach for showing up high for a meet to get Ryan Peters to take a good look at the direction of his life.
Surrounded by classmates in a middle-class neighborhood and school, Peters wondered how his life took the turn it did when he was 10 years old and already addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Peters was born in Michigan, but grew up in Mound, Minn., near Wayzata.
He grew up in a single parent household with his mother, Teresa Jones, a strict Southern Baptist. Ryan said that he was a kid who hid his addictions from his mother.
Drugs and alcohol were abundant in his surroundings and everyone did them, so even at 10, it was the norm, he said.
However, when Jones found out about her son’s addictions, she took care of the situation immediately.
“I got into a little bit of trouble when I was 17 and was sent to a treatment facility (a youth recovery program) in South Dakota,” Ryan said. “It was halfway through my junior year. I didn’t want to go back to Mound so I came here to Evergreen House, which turned out to be my only option.”
Ryan attended Bemidji High School, danced and sang with Vocalmotive and packed three years of high school learning into two. Ryan was ready to leave Evergreen House when his “godparents,” as he calls them, stepped into the picture.
“The folks at Calvary Lutheran Church were good to me,” he said. “Deb and Paul Ericsson asked me to stay with them – that was awesome because I really didn’t want to go back home.
“I love the guy, he’s the father I never had and I know how to push his buttons.”
Ericcson gets a little teary when talking about Ryan, and said he and his wife knew they couldn’t let Ryan go home after all the progress he made in recovery.
Ryan also pointed to others in his life that helped him, including his girlfriend, Amanda, and the rapper Tupac Shakur. Ryan said the rapper’s poetry gave him hope for the future.
Perhaps Tupac’s words: “Everybody’s at war with different things. I’m at war with my own heart sometimes,” helped Ryan see that his downtimes were shared by many other youth.
When Ryan entered Bemidji High School, he used his interpersonal skills to see the way around those students who might get him back on the wrong track. That helped Ryan to stay sober and he “hung out” with kids he probably wouldn’t have in his past.
Ryan is clean for four years now and attends alcohol anonymous meetings twice a week. He hopes to restart AA meetings on the campus of Bemidji State University, where he is a resident assistant at Oak Hall.
“It’s who you know – who you hang with – that can get you into trouble,” Ryan said.
His major in criminal justice is an avenue for him to work with troubled youth along with his love of music. Ryan plans to work as a counselor in the future and knows some of the students he’s working with as an RA at BSU welcome his input. He is proud of being chosen from among 200 candidates who applied for the position.
“When kids come in from Northwest Juvenile Center, they don’t want to only hear from the older guys,” said Ryan. “The kids look at them like, ‘You have no idea of what I’m going through,’ because we’re from different generations.
“I feel as though they will listen to someone their own age. I try to use the whole rapping thing to like ‘lure them in.’”
And Ryan now is sending his own positive messages to audiences in Bemidji. As a representative for his record label, Aurora Borealis, Ryan books gigs at the VFW in downtown Bemidji to appreciative audiences.
Last June, during the Bemidji Book Festival, Ryan won second prize at the Poetry Slam for his Christian rhymes.
Now he prefers to talk of his poetry in terms of giving a positive message to anyone and all who need courage to succeed or just overcome the unforeseen events that can cloud an otherwise bright future.