Change is Possible: The Transformation Of Caron Butler from Jail to NBA Star

Photo by John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images 

Caron Butler began selling drugs when he was just 12 years old. By the time he was 15 years old, he had already been arrested fifteen times, but If anyone can be held up as an example that change is possible it is Butler. He was able to transition from the cold reality of selling drugs and prison to a lucrative 14-year career in the NBA, where he made the All-Rookie team and twice appeared in the All-Star game.    

In his autobiographical book Tuff Juice, Butler chronicled his life growing up in a rough neighborhood in Racine, Wisconsin where the temptation to make easy money selling drugs was more than he could avoid. An exceptional basketball player, Butler divided his time between running with a gang, selling drugs, playing hoops, and going to school. Butler’s luck eventually ran out at 15 when he was sentenced to two years in prison. 

The path that Butler chose necessitated change. The outcome for young people who join a gang, sell drugs, and carry a gun is inevitably prison or death. Even with those two extremely negative options staring them in the face, many of them don’t make the changes necessary to save their life because they don’t think change is possible. They can’t imagine it.

In Tuff Juice, Butler acknowledged that even going to prison didn’t alter his course. When he first arrived at the juvenile jail his mindset was the same as most of the other prisoners – become a smarter criminal who would not get caught the next time he broke the law. However,  after Butler got into a fight with another prisoner, he landed him in solitary confinement – a place they called “The Hole.” Being sent to prison didn’t snap Butler out of his criminal mindset, but The Hole was such a traumatic experience that he finally vowed to change. 

After Butler was released, and back home in Racine, his resolve was challenged when his peers would mock him for his minimum wage job at Burger King while they rolled in the big bucks peddling drugs. Although he didn’t have an easy path to a better life, Butler’s decision to change was unwavering.  He made the decision to change and that change took him from the lowest of the lows in prison to the highest of the highs playing basketball in the NBA.      

Unfortunately, for many people, the decision to change only comes after they hit rock bottom. For Butler, rock bottom was spending two weeks of solitary confinement in prison. For others, it might be a health scare, like a heart attack, bankruptcy, the threat of divorce from their spouse, or a death in the family.  

The flipside for many other people is they never really hit rock bottom, but just walk through life in a trance, a never-ending rut that they can’t seem to get out of. They work at a job they hate, selling products they don’t believe in, for a boss they don’t like. But they never leave. They don’t leave because the fear of the unknown is immensely more powerful than the malaise and unhappiness resulting from living an unfulfilled life.

We get one life and we owe ourselves so much more than living it like a zombie where a six-pack and a ball game on TV serve as the antidote for a life not lived. You can wait for a terrible rock bottom moment to snap you out of your trance or you can avoid the pain of that crisis by simply deciding that the time has arrived to climb out of the rut.

If a 15-year-old kid can decide to humble himself in front of his peers by taking a low-level fast food job as his simple first step to getting his life on track — then you can do the necessary things to get yours going too. Change is possible. 

Caron Butler’s book “Tuff Juice” is available on Amazon.

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