Ohioan Goes From Jail To Peer Recovery Coach


After overcoming a meth and heroin addiction that left him in prison by the time he was a teenager, Charlie Oen is now celebrating five years sober and helping others as a peer recovery coach.

The Ohio native first began his addiction at age 16 and just three years later, was serving a three-year prison sentence on a burglary charge. Oen kicked his habit behind bars, but it was the last five months of his sentence, where he was sent to a community-based correctional facility and took classes to learn about addiction, that the direction for his new life became clear.

“I started telling people, ‘I want to be a probation officer,’ and everybody knocked it,” said Oen, now age 25, to NPR. “They were like, ‘You can’t do that, you’re a felon.’ I said, ‘Check it out, I’m going to do something.’”

Oen became a peer recovery coach just one year later in his hometown of Lima. Working for Coleman Professional Services, he handles about 20 clients and helps them overcome the various obstacles in front of them in order to live a drug-free life. But whether it’s reviewing job applications or taking clients to pick up groceries, he’s already developed a reputation for going above and beyond what’s required.

“If I didn’t have Charlie, I would probably be back on drugs and dead,” said Shelly, 50, who has a history of drug abuse spanning more than 25 years. “He even talks to me on his days off, you know, after hours when I have an issue.”

He also continues to work at Texas Roadhouse, his first post-prison job, a few nights each week in order to pay off the $10,000 in court fees he accumulated. Despite his hectic schedule, Oen makes it a point to devote time for self-care and regularly plays soccer at a park near his house.

He’s even looking ahead with his new career and plans to go back to school and obtain a degree in social work. But given how different his life was just a few years ago, Oen stressed the importance of trying to stay in the moment.

“When people ask, ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ I’ve never had an answer. Because three years ago, I didn’t think I’d be having this interview today,” said Oen. “Just as long as I continuously do what I’ve got to do and stay positive, stay out of the way and continue to want to strive, something will come my way. The doors will open.”