By the time he was in his early 20s, Rex Folkman could have been the poster child for a man without purpose. He had more than three dozen misdemeanor arrests lying in his wake, jail time in four different counties, was deep into drug addiction, and faced the promise of more, harsher penalties fueled by his need to support his addiction.
“I was using just about every kind of drug out there. It was controlling my life,” said Folkman, who is now 26.
Adding to his problems was the fact that he didn’t hang onto any one job for very long. He was able to land low-paying manual labor jobs that did little to challenge him.
It was easier to see how he got to this point in his young life, much harder to know where he was going.
“It was a couple of years ago that I made up my mind to change direction. I looked at the jobs I held and realized that 10, 20, or 30 years down the road I would still be earning minimum wage or close to it. That’s not what I wanted.
“I got so disgusted at not having control over my life. I was always depressed, except when I was on drugs,” said Folkman. He said he realized it would only be a matter of time before he would be facing a felony charge. “I knew it was coming because that was the direction I was going,” he said.
He decided he would kick his addiction and entered a treatment program. He checked into a halfway house in Centralia where he found a friend in his mentor, a man being treated for cancer at The University of Washington Medical Center. Folkman accompanied him to the UW for one of his treatments and it was there that Folkman had a revelation.
“I looked around at the students on campus. They were clean-looking, they were focused, they had the look of prosperity, all the things I wanted.” And the light came on. “I knew that if I wanted to get away from low-paying jobs, the drug addiction, and the path I was on I needed an education.”
A short time after his return to Centralia, Folkman made his way to Centralia College. He vividly remembers the day he enrolled. “I was really sick and it was snowing. I walked from the halfway house to enroll. The desire to do something positive with my life was overwhelming!”
He started in business because it was what he thought he could do. After running head first into what he said was a “tough” economics class, he realized business wasn’t for him. A friend, who knew that Folkman had abilities with numbers, suggested that he take math classes to see if there would be a connection. It was magic.
Well into his second year, Folkman is now a top Science Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) student, attending on a STEM scholarship. “The math might be review for most of the students in my classes but it isn’t for me,” said Folkman. He does have natural talent in the field but he is also very motivated: he’s seen the dark side of life and knows that he can’t fail. He will outwork everyone else.
What makes Folkman’s journey even more of a miracle is that from an early age he did not have favorable odds. He lived in foster homes beginning at the age of 11, occasionally moved in with one parent or another, or lived on the streets. It was difficult to stay away from drugs users who made sure he didn’t stray too far from the fold. Folkman became known as a troublemaker in and out of school. It was a reputation he earned.
He was kicked out of the schools he attended until finding more solid footing at Everett High where, in 2006, he was able to graduate. Even then his prospects were not bright. At age 20, after a series of menial jobs, he returned to the Centralia area and his life took a turn for the worse; he spent the next two years struggling with severe addiction issues before he sought help.
“I knew that education was what I needed, I wasn’t sure how to get it but I did know that the path I was on wasn’t what I wanted, it was all so clear. I was just ready for a change,” Folkman said. And that’s where Centralia College came in.
“The college made the difference. Members of the faculty have made learning easier for me, everyone has been very supportive, very helpful,” Folkman said.
He hasn’t looked back since. He credits the mentoring at the halfway house for the beginning to his life change, but he credits Centralia College with making it stick. “I would never have thought that I could have made it this far. Education is giving me the confidence I need. The passion of the science and math instructors is amazing! These guys are experts in their fields, and could work anywhere; their passion has become my passion!”
When Folkman graduates from Centralia College, he will have an Associate in Arts degree in Mechanical Engineering. He isn’t sure which college he will transfer to but with his grades and desire, he is sure to have his choice of schools to attend for a baccalaureate degree. His goal is to earn his degree and work overseas, all part of this plan to see “some of the world I’ve only read about,” he said. He’s well on his way to becoming the poster child for a much more positive way of life.