Ralph Kazmirski, '18 knows the power of addiction. He also know the joy that comes from sobriety. After decades of heavy alcohol use and a lengthy prison sentence, he's living his best life working seven days a week and helping convince those experiencing difficult times there's a better way. "I love my life today. It's alcohol free. People ask if I can have fun without alcohol and I tell them I have a blast every day."
Kazmirski visited campus recently and shared his story with Professor Mike Filipski's "Clinical Skills for Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselors" class. He was also there to train students in how to use NARCAN which can save the life of a person experiencing an opioid overdose. He supplied each student with a NARCAN kit they could carry with them and a card indicating they had been trained in how to use it.
Kazmirski's slide into alcoholism began at age 16 when he was attending Fowler High School and, ironically, a student in Mike Filipski's Health class. Kazmirski's father died and he turned to alcohol. "I don't remember much of Health because I was drunk every day. Back then they didn't have the help they have now when people need assistance with mourning and death and all of those things."
His downward spiral continued for more than a decade. At age 30 when he was sentenced to prison where he would spend the next 15 years. "When I came home I could not find a job. I filled out 150 job applications and did 50 or 60 job interviews. So I decided to come to OCC to study and become an alcohol counselor. I decided I would embrace my disease and help others with the same problem."
He became a full-time student at OCC six years ago and Filipski, who had taught him Health in high school, was now one of his college professors. "I was thrilled to have him in my classes. He's grown so much," said Filipski. "All of my professors here were great. When life happens, they would work with you. This was a tremendous program to be in," added Kazmirski.
On the same day he became an OCC student Kazmirski also started working full-time at Geddes Bakery in North Syracuse. Six years later he has his degree (which he earned in 2018) and still works at the bakery full time. He also works part-time at the Prevention Network as a Prevention Educator, and speaks at parole integration programs for the Division of Parole at CNY Works. "When guys come home from prison and say it's impossible to make it, I'm the proof they can. If you want it, go get it because it's out there."
Just two years ago opioid use and people being saved with NARCAN was making news headlines on a daily basis. Then came 2020 and along with it Covid, the police custody death of George Floyd, and the Presidential election. Kazmirski believes it won't be long until opioid deaths are front page news again. "Opioid abuse is a pandemic all by itself. That's just not here in America, it's worldwide. It doesn't discriminate against anybody... race, religion, creed whatever. It will get you."