By Melissa Parker
On a recent weekend in February, Charles “C.W.” Dent II took the necessary certification to become a high school baseball coach. For some, this may seem insignificant. But for the 41-year-old Dent, it was the first step in finally realizing a lifelong dream that just four years ago seemed forever beyond his reach.
“My dream was always to play college baseball, then become a teacher and coach,” said Dent, a Peer Recovery Support Specialist with Community Care of West Virginia. “My life didn’t work out that way. So to now be trusted with coaching and guiding kids after the things I’ve done and everything I’ve been through… it means the world to me.”
Growing up, Dent had what he called a perfect childhood. When he was 11 years old, his family moved to Bridgeport from Washington, D.C. A self-proclaimed sports fanatic, Dent took full advantage of the quality athletic programs the Bridgeport area had to offer. He was raised by hardworking and loving parents, was a good student and star athlete, and even secured a scholarship to further his baseball career at then Alderson Broaddus College. He had the whole world in front of him, he believed.
But despite his ideal upbringing and the anticipation of a bright future, during Dent’s first year of college, things took a turn that would change the course of the next two decades of his life.
“When the girl I had dated all through high school got pregnant with my daughter, I decided it was the right thing to quit college, get a job and support the family I was about to start,” Dent recalled. “Our relationship didn’t work out the way I planned. We split up, I saw my daughter less and less, and I felt like I had lost everything I had going for me. My dreams of playing college ball and becoming a coach were gone, and now I had also lost the family I gave it up for.”
Dent said his life was a downward spiral from that point on. He became severely depressed and began drinking alcohol heavily to cope. When the appeal of drinking wore off, he turned to marijuana. And when marijuana was no longer enough, he was introduced to harder drugs – cocaine, prescription opioids, and eventually, heroin and methamphetamine.
“Doing drugs started as a habit but quickly led to addiction,” Dent said. “It’s all life was about for me – how I could get my next fix. My life revolved around it, was fueled by it, and I was mentally controlled by it. Once you’re caught up in addiction, the ability to say no is not there. Even if you have a moral code, the drugs drive every choice you make.”
“Once you’re caught up in addiction, the ability to say no is not there.”
The next 19 years of Dent’s life were consumed by addiction… it was a rollercoaster ride of damaged family relationships, lost jobs, jail time, homelessness, and a loss of purpose beyond getting high.
A few years into addiction, he had three more children – twin boys and another son. Dent found the willpower to stop using hard drugs for 18 months. But when his relationship with their mom ended, he found himself right back in the throes of drug use.
“I love my kids,” said Dent. “But when you are so controlled by addiction, the amount of love you have for someone doesn’t matter. Your ability to be a father isn’t there. Nothing mattered more to me than getting high. It caused me to miss a lot in my kids’ lives – birthdays, kindergarten graduation, even my daughter’s high school graduation.”
Dent would soon be arrested for the first time, and upon his release find himself homeless, living on the streets of Clarksburg, in worse shape than ever before.
“I was homeless for about eight months, through the winter,” Dent remembered. “It was some of the most brutal living I’ve ever done. I’m not sure how I didn’t die. I would sleep in random places like bushes and abandoned houses. Sometimes I wouldn’t sleep… I’d just walk the streets for days at a time.”
Dent was arrested again and entered a rehabilitation center for the first time. He was there for 38 days before walking out in the middle of the night to go back to the drugs. It would take a few more years of addiction, another arrest, and two more rehab stints, but things slowly started turning around in Dent’s heart and mind.
“Throughout my addiction, I would have moments of clarity where I wanted to get clean, but the drugs always had too strong a hold on me,” Dent said. “But one day, my brother told me that my youngest son, who was seven or eight at the time, said he was pretty sure the next time he saw me would be in heaven. That crushed me. When he told me that, something changed inside me.”
Dent was set to go to rehab for the third time when, on his 38th birthday, he overdosed on a combination of heroin, meth and fentanyl, on his mom’s back porch. With the help of Narcan, a lifesaving, narcotic-reversing medication, paramedics were able to revive him, and he entered Harmony Ridge Recovery Center. It was there that Dent’s substance abstinence finally began.
“I jumped right into the rehab program because I was ready to get clean,” Dent said. “They encourage you to find a higher power, and I discovered my higher power is God. I never really cared for God much before then. I blamed Him for my problems. But now I was praying every morning. He helps keep my mind focused, to keep me from getting high. I like to think that God has been looking out for me for a really long time, especially with everything that’s happened in my life.”
Dent met his now wife Kelli just a few months after graduating from the program.
“Meeting her saved my life… that’s just the truth,” said Dent, who recently celebrated 41 months of being substance-free.
The couple married on the beach last June and together have six kids. “It’s been amazing knowing her,” said Dent, who now lives in West Milford. “When I tell you she’s the best, I mean it. She literally wants me to chase whatever dreams and goals I want to chase, and she supports me through it.”
Dent has spent much of the last three and a half years “building a life he doesn’t want to escape from,” as he put it. A big part of that is using his experience for the good of others.
“Helping others is the key to everything for me… helping others helps me stay sober,” said Dent, who frequently volunteers with the Young Men’s Association of Clarksburg. “I believe if you do good things, good things will come to you… that’s been the story of my life the last three years.”
Another important factor in his new path is that, through the rehabilitation programs, he learned new ways to cope with life when it doesn’t go as planned. That was especially crucial when his dad passed away from complications with pulmonary fibrosis in March of 2020.
“Watching my dad die was the most devastating thing I’ve ever been through,” Dent recalled. “He was a great man. He always had such pride in my athletic abilities. When I talked to him after I got sober, he told me to try to get it right this time. I promised him on his deathbed that I’d never get high again… that’s not something I take lightly.”
Dent, second from left, spent last season keeping books for South Harrison High’s baseball team.
Dent doesn’t shy away from speaking out about the journey his life has taken. His openness on social media has led to many open doors over the past year, including the opportunity to share his story with a group of local high school football players after their coach read about Dent on Facebook. Since then, he’s been invited to speak about addiction at other schools in the area, and he hopes those opportunities keep coming.
“One of my main missions in life now is to spread awareness, especially to kids, about drug addiction, overdose and the realities of it,” said Dent. “We don’t talk about it enough, because there’s a stigma… but we need to talk about it more and get our kids to pay attention. If even one person changes the choices they make because of me telling my story, it’s worth it.”
“One of my main missions in life now is to spread awareness.”
Another opportunity that recently came Dent’s way is his job as a Peer Recovery Support Specialist with Community Care of West Virginia, where he works to support others who are in recovery from substance use.
Dent with WV House Delegate Lori Dittman at Recovery Advocacy Day in February.
“Having this job, having an office of my own, to be in a professional role where I get to represent Community Care at events like Recovery Advocacy Day and meet with legislators… I can’t even explain how much that means to me,” said Dent. “I know from experience that many people in early recovery have absolutely nothing… no support at all. I’m honored to be in a position where I can help guide people through their journey.”
Dent, in many ways, lost nearly two decades of his life, but those hard years shaped who he is today – a man whose primary ambition is to offer encouragement, hope and guidance to others, whether on the baseball field, to a room full of students, or to those in recovery.
Today, Dent’s relationship with his children is stronger than ever. Some of his proudest moments are watching them play sports. And this spring, he hopes to have something else to find pride in… the title of Assistant Baseball Coach for South Harrison High School… a dream finally coming true.
If you are struggling with drug addiction, please reach out to a mental health provider. Help is available through Community Care’s Addiction Recovery Program. Please visit www.communitycarewv.org/substance-use-disorder-treatment or call 304-473-2250.
In West Virginia, help is also freely available through https://www.help4wv.com or by calling 844-HELP4WV. If you are suffering, know that you are not alone, that you are valuable, and that there is help available. If you’d like to contact Dent about speaking opportunities, email him at Charles.Dent@ccwv.org.