JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – A Jacksonville man is making it his mission to share his story to help others make better choices.

Ricky D. Johnson Jr. had a difficult upbringing, being exposed to substance use at a young age and eventually falling into a pattern of criminal behavior himself. 

“If I told you that my son was a priority, I’d be lying to you. My priority was methamphetamines, alcohol, pills and criminal activity. That came before everything, including my son,” said Johnson. “He saw me get high on meth. I would let him get high in front of me. I would take him with me on drug deals.”

Johnson was convicted three times, going in and out of incarceration, unable to be the father he wanted to be for his son, Landon Beau Johnson. 

“On December 12, 2015, I got a phone call. My son felt like he didn’t have any worth or value. He went to a city park where I’m from in Missouri, and he hung himself. He took his own life,” said Johnson. “It devastated me. That’s one of the many reasons that I’m here today.”

After losing almost everything, he turned his life around and began spreading his story to others. 

“In his letter that he left me, he didn’t blame me. But I know that I impacted his mental health, through my choices,” said Johnson. “I’m so open about that because I want other people to see, and other parents to see, the way that we treat people matters.”

Now a peer support specialist and public speaker, Johnson travels the country speaking to schools, jails, and treatment facilities to help others do the same.

“For me, I’m willing to stand in front of, you know, an audience of strangers that I don’t know. I’m willing to expose my entire life and risk embarrassment and gain confidence, just to inspire one person,” he said.

Johnson said along with traveling and preaching his message, he also uses social media to spread the word. To find more on Johnson and his story, click here.