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When he thinks of how he used to be, Tyler Hicks is harsh in his self-assessment.
"As far as I was concerned, to be honest with you, I was the biggest piece of shit that ever walked out of Catalina."
In his 28 years he's seen his share of trouble, hard knocks and personal challenges.
“I’ve been through the justice system, the mental health system, I’ve been through all that."
From that experience, and from his need to atone for the trouble he caused in the past, Hicks is now trying to help others.
"I changed my life around and I know the steps to take to help others," the young man told The Packet in an interview.
"I want to help others."
As he works to get his own life back on track he's started a mental health and addictions recovery and support group in his hometown. He calls his non-profit organization, “Happy Minds Happy Lives.”
He is adamant those experiencing despair are the best to support one another, as they come from a place of empathy.
He quit school in Grade 10 and fought depression. He says his mental health issues led him to drugs and alcohol.
“I was always depressed. For years I knew I needed help … I just bottled it all up and just resorted to drugs and drinking. That was my happy place. Sometimes I wouldn’t even get out of bed if I didn’t have a dollar in my pocket to go out and get a case of beer.”
Over the next several years Hicks was able to get clean and was even accepted into the Canadian Armed Forces. However, while he was looking to go back to school in preparation in 2018, he spiralled back to drugs and alcohol.
Hicks subsequently spent five days in detox in March, 2019, for his addictions.
Hicks' turnaround began after he hit the proverbial wall.
Just a few weeks after getting out of detox, on April 16, he got into an altercation in Bonavista, ramming his car into another vehicle.
He was arrested and charged with two counts of attempted murder, two counts of aggravated assault and dangerous operation of a vehicle, as well as assault with a weapon, assault causing bodily harm, and uttering threats.
He eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of assault with a weapon, one count of assault causing bodily harm and one count of uttering threats. The other charges were dropped.
After years of struggles Hicks was forced to take a hard look at his situation.
He checked himself into the Waterford Hospital in May 2019.
"I was a mess when I first went in there. I had no reason to live. I was depressed for a very long time, always hiding it away with addictions."
He knew he had to change.
He decided, “I want a life.
Doctors at the Waterford Hospital provided treatment and medication to help him deal with severe depression.
But he still had a date with the judge, to rule his fate on the crimes he had been charged with.
As the date for the judge's decision drew near, he was expecting the worst.
"I figured I was getting at least five years,” Hicks says.
The evidence of his intent to do better, however, was considered in the final judgement.
At Hicks’ sentencing hearing in the summer of 2019, the judge, crown prosecutor and his own attorney made note of his efforts toward rehabilitation.
Judge Paul Noble said he was glad to have heard “not a peep" from Hicks throughout the 15-month period from charges to sentencing.
Ultimately, Hicks was sentenced to 90 days concurrently for each of the charges of assault with a weapon, 540 days for the charge of assault causing bodily harm, and 89 days for uttering threats to cause death or bodily harm.
His sentence was ordered to be served through a combination of house arrest and weekend custody at the Bonavista RCMP detachment.
Hicks has since finished the weekend portion of his sentencing. His house arrest will continue until May, 2021.
His conditional sentence requires him to remain in his home, with designated periods to leave for obligations like school or work. He’s also permitted to attend the meetings for the support group he’s started.
Hicks says his work with the support group consumes most of his time. His first meeting was the night after he was sentenced in August.
The meetings are held twice a week.
“It’s a self-help and peer group — depression, mental health, anxiety, bipolar, anorexic, gambling — anything that falls under the Mental Health Act,” Hicks explains.
As of now, they’re meeting in the home of one of the participants, but Hicks hopes to line up a community space soon.
He has formed community partnerships and wants to begin fundraising.
He attends school daily during the week to get his high school diploma.
“It’s every day, one day at a time. If you don’t put the work in — you’re not going to get anything out of it.”
Hicks is determined to continue with his non-profit because he knows that the best help comes from people who can relate. He now prides himself as an advocate for others who are going through what he's experienced already. Hicks is encouraging those in need to reach out to him and his group.
He also thinks of a day when his local group might be expanded, to help others in other locations in the province.
“Helping other people helps me,” he says. “And right now, where I’m focusing on myself. It’s the happiest I’ve been in a very long time.
“I wake up in the mornings and I’m actually happy.
“And that didn’t happen before.”