Overcoming a history of crime, drug use and despair, Justin Townsend is one of 23 people recently honored at the Marin County Civic Center’s Board of Supervisors on Dec. 1 and added to the Marin County Probation Department’s Wall of Change.
Growing up in an environment of drugs and crime, Townsend was on the streets, taking drugs and stealing cars when Pleasanton police arrested him in 2017. While serving five months at Santa Rita Jail in Pleasanton and an additional three months at Marin County Jail for past offenses, Townsend realized he needed to make a change in a positive direction.
After his release from jail, Townsend began that journey when he met counselor Darrell Roary, of the Marin County Public Defender’s Office, who guided Townsend in a yearlong addiction-recovery program at San Francisco’s Father Alfred Center.
Later, Townsend was assigned to Marin County Probation Officer Jerad McCarthy, who helped him set a list of goals to accomplish when he ventured out on his own again—goals which included being responsible, being a loyal husband, getting a job, obtaining a driver’s license, building a family, buying a car and buying a house.
“It starts within the person, with the willingness to change. That’s what it is,” Townsend says. “It takes a person to focus and think about exactly what they want in life, and knowing what you did not want in your life. From there, you do what you can to make changes. And you have to realize that nothing is impossible.”
Today, Townsend is sober, engaged to be married and holds two jobs; one as intake coordinator at the Father Alfred Center, and one as an official at an overnight shelter. His personal story of transformation is among dozens of stories placed on the inspiring Wall of Change, located in the Marin County Probation Department’s lobby for all probationers to see.
At the Wall of Change ceremony on Dec. 1, Townsend and other honorees spoke with Marin County Probation Chief Marlon Washington and his staff, as well as other supporters of the cause—such as former probation officer, comedian and motivational speaker Michael Pritchard, and Buckelew Program’s Director of Substance Use Services, Teresa Bowman. The ceremony also included a screening of a short documentary film on the Wall of Change, created by Vincent Cortez, of Mitchell Street Pictures.
“There are two quotes I heard recently that have really resonated with me, and I have shared them with all our Wall of Change nominees,” Washington says. “They are, ‘Running away from any problem only increases the distance from the solution,’ and ‘Challenges are what make life interesting. Overcoming them is what makes them meaningful.’ With these particular probationers, we’ve seen people who were running from problems, then stopped for whatever reasons, found some new hope and then overcame those problems. The Wall of Change is a way of recognizing those individuals who have made significant positive changes in their lives while being on probation, and we are proud of them.”