Hi, My name is Jeph Jones! I`m a combat veteran, I did two tours in Iraq with 101st Airborne Division. In 2011 I had suicidal thoughts. I was at the point where I was like, “F— this life, I don’t want to live anymore.”
My Lowest Point
I lost a lot of friends in the Triangle of Death in southeast Baghdad. In fact, I have 7 dog tags on my arms (3 on the left, 4 on the right). Of those seven, two of those names are my best friends (Conrad Alvarez and Kristian Menchaca). We met in basic training. We got the buddy plan to our assignment at Ft. Campbell. We were in the same battalion but different companies. I lost a number of friends during two different deployments. It was hard for me when I started losing more and more. Even after I departed the military, I was still hearing of the familiar names of friends who were dying.
When I got out, adjusting to civilian life was hard. Very hard. In addition to dealing with the loss of friends, my civilian friends promised to be there for me. When I reached out, nobody was there. I was alone. When I wanted to talk, nobody was available. I found my own coping solution: alcohol. I would go out every night and drink either with friends or by myself. I would meet “new friends,” and just buy alcohol. I was running up tabs to over $120.00, just trying to keep from being alone. All this was during 2011 before the suicide stint.
I was getting the run around with the VA, they kept switching my medicine and changing my doctors. It`s too hard adjusting to life and going to school. I was sitting in my room, and I simply felt like it was the time to just get it over with. I don’t own a gun, and the medicine they gave me was worthless. I thought, “No one really gives a shit about me.” So I decided I was going to jump off the Clark Bridge in Alton, Illinois. Why the bridge? 1. I can`t swim, and 2. Once I jump, there`s no turning back.
I wrote my family a letter saying I love them, I`m so sorry for what I`m about to do, and I can`t take it anymore. I thanked them for being there for me when I was deployed and for allowing me a place to live when I got out the Army. I had tears rolling down my face. But this was my life. On my bed was the letter, my cell phone and my wallet. I had made my bed the way I was taught in basic when normally I would just throw the covers on it and go about my day. I walked the 6 blocks to the bridge with tears in my eyes asking for forgiveness, even though I heard if you commit suicide you won`t make it into heaven. As I got closer to the bridge, I waited until the traffic was real slow so no one can come running and try to save me. That was when it happened. I saw a picture of my mom`s face crying at my casket and hearing her voice in my head saying “ Oh Jeph! Why did you do this to me?”
My Return from the Brink
I ran home as fast as I could in hopes my family hadn’t made it home yet to tear up the letter. 5 mins after I got home, my family showed up at the house. I gave mom a hug, but she never knew why. She never knew how close she was to losing her son.
In 2012, I enrolled in St. Charles Community College in St. Charles, Missouri. I had a hard time adjusting to school life, mainly math. I just don’t get it and still don’t! Another Veteran and I started a Veterans Group at the college. We bonded with other Veterans, and it was fun again. I realized I enjoyed spending time with my new Veteran friends than I did with my old friends from my hometown of Alton, Illinois. Two years later, during Veterans’ Week at St. Charles Community College I was a keynote speaker. The title of my speech was “A Soldier`s Story: From Combat to College.” That night was filled with so many emotions. My mother, sister, and niece were there. I didn’t expect my mother would be there, just my sister and niece. At that moment my mother had found out what I had done 2 years before. As I told my story I paused a few times. The auditorium was full. I confronted my past.
Moving Forward: A New Life and New Purpose
I had always wanted to be a police officer. I tested many times but was never hired. Perhaps that was not my road to success. So, while taking Criminal Justice classes I decided on becoming a Probation Officer. I figured I could help rehabilitate people. I learned and applied the value of second chances, because I was given a second chance on life. When Ferguson happened, I followed that case hard. Very hard. I was shocked and disappointed at the outcome of the case, and I researched the information hard to discover what really happened that day. I was motivated by the insufficiency of the prosecution, and that motivation inspired me to action. I want fair justice for all people, and rather than complain about the system, I committed to making a difference.
Currently, I`m in my 4th semester at UMSL (University of Missouri-St. Louis). I will graduate next year, and then attend law school at Washington University. I’ve taken my past and turned it into something positive. I have love for the law and want the law to be fair for all citizens – regardless of their race, color, or religion. I want justice to be fair.
I try to set an example for Veterans by doing push-ups every day. I will continue to push until the number of suicides comes down. I take that seriously! I don’t miss a day. As of 9-27-16, I`m on day 168 of 262. I`m wanting to start a fundraiser for push-ups and donating to proceeds to Stop Soldier Suicide to use for more resources. I`m looking to reach out to more Veterans in hope of slowing down to end military-related suicide.
My name is Jeph Jones. This is my purpose. This is my story of hope.