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Life of crime turns into lifetime of giving back

By Mackenzie Wilson
Published On: Nov 01 2012 09:04:31 PM CDT
Updated On: Nov 01 2012 09:41:49 PM CDT

In a special report, NewsChannel 21's Mackenzie Wilson brings us the story of a career criminal who broke free of the past and now helps others avoid similar pain

BEND, Ore. -

Mugshots, handcuffs and fingerprints all used to be part of Archie Hamilton's routine.

"Seven years ago, the courts labeled me a career criminal," said Hamilton.

Addicted to methamphetamine and willing to do anything for a hit, Hamilton was on his way to an overdose or life in prison.

"I was so strung out, I didn't even know what was real any more," said Hamilton. "Every white car I saw, I thought was the FBI following me."

Nothing could sober him up -- not even 57 arrests and five trips to prison.

A veteran jail deputy, Sgt. Squier, says he knew every time Hamilton left..he'd be back.

"Here he is again, when is he going to figure this out," said Squier.

The 49-year-old believes he's spent 10 years of his adult life locked up.

"Rules as you know it are over once you hit the prison system," said Hamilton. "you will be attacked, you will be targeted and you will be jumped into a gang."

Growing up in Prineville, Hamilton remembers taking his first drink at just 12 years old.

"I didn't start off robbing cars, sticking a needle in my arm and going to prison," said Hamilton.

He started off drinking with friends, then smoking pot with friends -- later it was shooting up and smoking meth with friends. But those friends always disappeared when he went away, and his own family wanted nothing to do with him.

"I remember so many times calling home from a prison cell after I'd burnt every one of my family members," said Hamilton. "I'd call collect from a phone inside prison and have them hear my voice and hang up. I knew right then, I was all alone."

With 87 felonies from his final arrest, Hamilton was looking at a 15-year prison sentence, after he was caught with a gun and about a 1/4 pound of meth in Redmond.

He beat the gun charge on a faulty search warrant and went to prison for 2 1/2 years.

That was when he finally took a sobering look who he'd become.

Hamilton had the time to change, but not everyone wanted him to.

"There's a lot of prison politics that goes on inside the institution," said Hamilton. "It was hard, and it took courage to say, 'You know, I don't want to be that guy any more.'"

Now, seven and a half years clean, Hamilton is proud of what he sees in the mirror. When he's not spending time with his family and 3-year-old granddaughter, he's back behind bars.

"Just walking in here today and hearing that door slam behind me -- it still makes me cringe," said Hamilton.

But now, his visits to jails and prisons are just that -- visits. Not to do time, but to inspire other inmates with his remarkable transformation from addict to role model.

"I shake Archie's hand every time I see him," said Squier. "I'm impressed -- I'm impressed."

After getting clean, Hamilton studied at Central Oregon Community College to become a drug and alcohol counselor. Hamilton mentors for the Deschutes County drug courts and works with the Bend Police Department as a panel coordinator. Hamilton also works with at-risk teens at Bridges Academy.

Hamilton says the way he pays back the faceless victims of his drug days is by volunteering as much as possible in Deschutes County.

He leads a very different life now, even married to a probation officer -- and the best man at their wedding was Bend police Officer, Mike Maunder, who nearly shot Hamilton one night during an arrest.

Hamilton says Maunder was instrumental in helping him deal with his addiction day to day.

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