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WordPress, and its inclusive community, led me down a path of redemption and acceptance.

Here is Justin’s story read aloud by artificial intelligence.

This month marks the 22nd anniversary of the terrorist attacked on the World Trade Center in the United States. I can still remember exactly where I was that morning, as I had an argument with my girlfriend the night before, and was sleeping on the couch of someone with whom I used drugs.

It had only been four months since graduating high school, but I was already an addict. As a matter of fact, I was using drugs heavily at the end of my senior year, and the first summer after high school is when my life really started to spiral out of control.

By the end of 2001 I was selling any drug I could get my hands on to make some money and feed my addiction (except heroin — that is always were I drew the line). Within a couple years I was the goto person for many substances, but primarily methamphetamine.

Then I got caught, arrested, and thrown in jail. The prosecutor wanted to throw the book at me, recommending a 15 year sentence. But with my family supporting me in the courtroom and my lawyer fighting for me, the judge recognized that with this support, I did not deserve the full 15, and gave me 7 years, with 8 years probation instead. With good behavior, I did just under 3 years in prison.

While in prison, I focused on my restoration. Learning new things, studying for certification in motor vehicle mechanics, and even starting work with accredited college courses funded by my tribe (Comanche Nation).

I knew I had let down my family, and had something to prove.

Through it all, my addiction, prison, and restoration, my family was always there for me. They knew the real me, not the person addicted to drugs and not the dealer feeding his addiction by providing for other addicts. That’s the person I know I needed to be again, for both myself and for them.

Right after my release in January 2008, I immediately started working in a warehouse and attending college. At the company where I worked, the CEO gave me some excellent advice that I needed to control my narrative on the web (e.g. Google), so I built my first website using WordPress.

Pivoting

At a young age, I was always fascinated by technology. I remember dabbling with computers in grade school, and tinkering on the internet in my teens. While I never did any kind of coding back then, the marketing aspect of web technologies did pique my interest. Then, drugs pulled me away from all that and sent me down a different path.

When I found WordPress around April of 2008, all of that excitement started to come back. I would work my warehouse job during the day, drive to University of Central Oklahoma in the evening for a couple of college courses, then play around with WordPress themes (HTML, CSS, and some PHP) well into the night all that summer.

This was the beginning of my love for WordPress. I was instantly addicted, and simply could not put down my computer, often getting little sleep before the next day (that’s okay, I was in my early 20s 😉 ).

By late 2010, I was taking on WordPress side projects, building websites, and even making online tutorials about WordPress. All this despite still working in the warehouse and taking night courses at college.

In 2011, my work caught the eye of Cory Miller, who I had previously met at a marketing event in Oklahoma City. Cory owned and operated iThemes, a WordPress theme and plugin product company based out of Edmond Oklahoma. Although I was still working in the warehouse and taking college courses, Cory offered me a job working at iThemes as a web developer for WordPress themes and plugins. My major in college was marketing, and I still has a few more courses to complete before graduating, but I took the offer anyway and little did I know it was the beginning of a career in software development that led me where I am today.

And Then WordCamp…

My first WordCamp to both attend and speak was Fayetteville in 2011. That’s actually when I first met Josepha Haden Chomphosy (along with her mother and sister too). Of course, we went different ways in life but it is a marker that I like to remember as it helps me understand the different paths each of us take in this world. While I only spoke at a few other WordCamps, I attended many more over the years. The WordPress community, and its inclusiveness, was simply impossible for me to ignore.

I know my experiences are different, and to understand this I also have to mention that I joined a few other communities through the years, but none ever fully accepted me, and one even did not let me keep coming when they found out I was a former convict.

Although most people in the WordPress community never knew about my past, I never felt they would kick me out even if they did find out. Actually, I felt the community leaders honestly didn’t care at all about your past, culture, identity, etc., but rather just wanted you to love (or at least like) WordPress.

And I did love WordPress. Still do.

Redemption and Acceptance

WordPress unexpectedly led me down a path of redemption and acceptance. For a long time I was angry at the world (especially corporate America) for not accepting me, and in those times of anger I would seek out WordPress people. No one even knew, but they were helping me nonetheless, always there when I needed, always a shiny light in the darkness.

I’ve traveled the world with WordPress. Making WordPress friends in Asia, Australia, Europe, North & South America and beyond. I love the WordPress community, and want to continue watching it flourish and grow. Every time I visit a WordCamp, I get to make new friends, see new faces, and meet awesome people of WordPress. I was able to build meaningful business and personal relationships, joining WordPress communities, attending and hosting WordPress events, and even speaking at several WordCamps across the World.

Most of the WordPress companies for which I have worked had such amazing leaders, knowing about my past yet still giving me the opportunity to continue to demonstrate my new self. Two of which deserve an honorable mention: Cory Miller of Post Status (formerly iThemes) and Jake Goldman of . Both of these leaders embraced me wholly, and the things Jake said to when I mentioned my criminal past before my background check continue to give me confidence in knowing there are amazing leaders working in WordPress.

The WordPress Community has proven itself to be more than just a platform for a tool. In my personal journey, I discovered that it represents a beacon of hope, a testament to what can be achieved when diverse minds come together under the banner of openness and collaboration.

Albeit unknowingly, this community handed me a new lease on life, providing me with opportunities to learn, grow, and reinvent myself.

Its core values of openness and inclusiveness aren’t just buzzwords but are deeply rooted in the ethos of every member who contributes, either by writing code, designing themes, or even just by sharing experiences. It’s a reminder that every individual, irrespective of their background or skillset, has the potential to add value to this thriving ecosystem. As beneficiaries of this incredible community, it falls upon us to ensure that we not only appreciate these values but also embody them. We must commit to fostering an environment where every decision we make, every action we undertake, further deepens the culture of inclusivity and collaboration.

Thank you WordPress, and the WordPress Community. ❤

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