Mustering up the courage and will to apply that knowledge was his hurdle. He would have to face his shortcomings and trauma from growing up an only child of addicted parents.
“I was afraid to look at me,” said the Wilkes-Barre resident. “It's hard to stop when you're in pain because you don't want to feel.”
He started using heroin when he was 14 in his childhood neighborhood of Harlem. The streets became his teacher.
As his addiction progressed, Jackson slept in abandoned buildings, ate from garbage cans and wore the same clothes until they reeked.
He stole to get money for heroin and other drugs, and people robbed him. He has been shot at and stabbed, spent time in prison and attempted suicide. His relationships with his children and other relatives dissolved.
Jackson reached a breaking point nearly 23 years ago when the damage to his loved ones and own body finally became too much to bear.
“I hit a hard bottom. I was almost dead,” he said.
He chose life and has been clean since.
Though many addicts fear going public, Jackson is candid about his struggle to show that long-term sobriety and productive lives are attainable.
The 61-year-old obtained a bachelor's degree and works as a counselor at the Salvation Army in Wilkes-Barre, which operates a residential program for recovering male addicts.
A wall in his office is plastered with framed certificates and photographs recognizing his work battling drugs and alcohol. Two figurines atop his shelf came from the children of a man he helped get sober, and his calendar is packed.
He's a respected, well-spoken community leader and has close relationships with his children.
Jackson recognizes the life he's built will crumble if he starts using again.
“The Salvation Army is my place of employment. My job is to stay clean and sober one day at a time,” he said.
His recovery involved taking ownership of his addiction and actions and addressing the anger, loneliness and other uncomfortable emotions stemming from his upbringing that he was trying to suppress with drugs and alcohol. He still has a sponsor and nurtures a network of sober friends who socialize and keep each other in line if they spot cockiness or other signs of potential relapse.
Jackson has celebrated graduations of addicts who completed treatment programs but also attended many funerals.
He won't stop trying to help, but said the outcome ultimately rests within each addict.
“No matter how much a person goes through, addicts are not going to stop until they're ready,” he said.