Formerly homeless drug addict turns life around, graduates from college at 65-years-old

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Freddie Sherrill's life has been anything but easy.

The Charlotte native grew up poor in the neighborhood that was known as Brooklyn, which is now known as Second Ward today. He had no father figure and started getting intro trouble at a young age.

"I was institutionalized," Sherrill said. "I couldn't function in society. The only structure that I had in my life was when I was in training school or I was in jail or I was in prison."

He says he was picked on at school because he didn't have nice clothes or shoes.  At only 8-years-old, he stopped going. "I would go to the grocery stores and start stealing food and take it home to help my mother and feed my sister and brothers," he said.

Not going to class landed him in a training school. He then found himself behind bars for the first time at 16-years-old.

"I was drinking, smoking and shooting cocaine and then I went to heroine," Sherrill said. "That's when the bottom fell out."

He then became homeless at 27, living on the streets and eating out of garbage cans.

Sherrill said he always wanted to get sober but didn't know how. He set his sights on a "church lady" in his neighborhood, thinking she could help him get clean. He waited for her on her porch and asked her to marry him. Lula Sherrill married him one year later.

"I always feel like God he put people in our lives to assure us that he's right there beside us," Lula Sherrill said.

She stood by her husband's side through the ups and downs of rehab, relapses and stints in jail and prison. At one point she was working three jobs to keep their family afloat.

"I had to realize I had to stop enabling him," she said. "I had to let go and let God."

But it would get worse before it would get better. He would soon hit rock bottom, attempting suicide.

"I went and got my pistol and was gonna throw my brains out," he said. "When I took the gun and put it to my head and pulled the trigger the gun wouldn't go off. I just kept crying and crying and crying. I threw the gun down on the ground and and it said pow pow pow."

He says he knew in that moment there was a reason God wanted him to be here.

During a stay in a halfway house in Morganton, he met Pastor Steve Eason who saw something in him and took a chance on him, hiring him as a sexton at his church. When Eason moved to Charlotte to accept a job at Myers Park Presbyterian church, he offered Sherrill a job there too.

For 16 years Sherrill has been the event set-up coordinator at Myers Park Presbyterian Church. Pastor Eason is no longer there but Sherrill's impact on the church continues to grow.

Joe Clifford, who is the current pastor, describes him as "genuine, faithful, loyal, and hard working."

Along the path to sobriety, Sherrill never lost sight of something he'd always dreamed of -- getting an education.

"I took the GED test 6 times and on the 6th time I passed it by one point," he said. "I think they got tired of me coming and taking it so they said go ahead and take it and head on!"

But he didn't stop there. "I went to Western Piedmont Community college," Sherrill said. "It took me 13 years to get an associate's degree."

In 2011, he enrolled at Queens University of Charlotte. In May, he achieved his greatest accomplishment, graduating with a bachelor's degree in human service studies.

"Oh gosh I cried!" Sherrill's wife said. "It was so amazing because I saw him work so hard."

Taking classes while working and volunteering was no easy feat. He relied on the support of teachers who, he says, were patient with him.

Getting his college degree wasn't just for himself. He said he did it for his kids, to set an example even at 65-years-old.

"Finally today I can say that I'm a productive member of society," he said. "I haven't arrived, that's just part of the journey, and the journey continues on."

Today, Sherrill volunteers and shares his story with at-risk youth in Charlotte.

With his new college degree, he hopes to take it a step further and start his own non-profit to help people turn their lives around.

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