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Teen counselor uses troubled background and action sports to connect with kids and teens
Growing up, Brandon Stogsdill was no stranger to crime.
He robbed houses, stole drugs, got into fights, shot his gun and was arrested a number of times for various reasons. When he was 17, he was arrested for shooting his gun and charged — as an adult — for assault with a deadly weapon. Stogsdill, now 32, was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison. He served a total of three and a half years. One year was at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, also known as Shelton Pop. He served another two and a half years at McNeil Island Corrections Center in unincorporated Pierce County.
Stogsdill, who grew up in Tacoma, was released from prison in 2003 and since then has become a licensed mental health counselor who works with kids and teens. His counseling practice, Premier Therapeutic Experience, has two locations, including one at 8105 166th Ave. N.E., Suite 202 in Redmond. The second location is in Spanaway. Stogsdill also volunteers at the YMCA Kirkland Teen Union Building (KTUB).
“I should not be where I’m at,” Stogsdill said, acknowledging his troubled past and history with the law.
He added that there were also legal issues he had to overcome as a convicted felon that made becoming a counselor who works with kids and teens even more difficult. Despite the added obstacle of going to court to fight for the right to do what he does, he said there should be such obstacles to protect kids and teens.
Stogsdill chronicles his life and how he went from a “really bad” kid to where he is now in his book “The Boy w/The Gun: From Incarceration to Higher Education,” which was released in June and available on drdrew.com.
AN OPPORTUNITY TO CHANGE
Stogsdill said going to prison — where he was a good 20 years younger than the average inmate — was a “full-on devastation.”
“I felt like I lost my life,” he said.
Eventually, he realized he hadn’t lost his life and actually had the opportunity to change it.
Stogsdill focused on his education while in prison, taking as many classes as he could. He earned 187 credits and was only one quarter shy of earning his associate’s degree when he was released. He set to work on completing his degree immediately after getting out — quite literally, as he was sitting in a classroom at Pierce College on a scholarship within an hour of leaving prison.
Stogsdill also listened regularly to “Love Line,” a radio show hosted by Dr. Drew Pinsky — or Dr. Drew — while in prison.
“His show helped me to understand myself more,” he said.
Stogsdill had the opportunity to meet Pinsky about a year after he got out of prison. He said at that meeting, he thanked Pinsky for the role he played in his life and just blurted his story to Pinsky. Pinsky wrote the forward to Stogsdill’s book and Stogsdill said the other man’s support has been “amazing.”
“He’s played a huge role in my life…for him to support me, I don’t know, it’s just unreal,” Stogsdill said.
FROM PRISON TO PHD
Taking classes and listening to Pinsky’s radio show set Stogsdill on a path toward working with kids. He said he was watching the news in prison when he received an “aha” moment in which it all became clear.
A young man of about 17 had been arrested for the same crime Stogsdill was serving time for and Stogsdill — who was about 19 at the time — remembered thinking the teen was very stupid for doing what he had done. But then Stogsdill realized he was in no position to judge, given his situation. While watching the news broadcast, Stogsdill saw the teen’s eyes and said he knew how he felt.
And like that, Stogsdill said God showed him what to do.
After receiving his associate’s degree, Stogsdill transferred to the University of Washington as a junior with a full-ride scholarship from the Martin Family Foundation Honors Scholarship Program. Stogsdill earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology and went on to earn his master’s degree in clinical psychology from Argosy University in Seattle. In a couple of weeks, he will go back to school to earn a doctorate in psychology at Northwest University in Kirkland.
While he was going to school, Stogsdill volunteered and worked with at-risk youth. Before he was a volunteer at KTUB, Stogsdill was a paid employee at the teen center. He had also previously been a volunteer at Redmond’s Old Fire House Teen Center.
KTUB Director Emily Smith has known Stogsdill for two or three years and said he has been part of the center for a really long time. He is a familiar face and consistent role model for the teens, she said.
Much of what Stogsdill does at KTUB is intentional relationship building, Smith said. He spends time with the youth, will go to the park with them, talk with them and just make himself available to them, Smith said.
“He’s a people person,” she said, adding that he is also not afraid to ask the teens difficult questions. “He’s somewhat of a KTUB legend.”
Stogsdill’s time with the teens is more impactful, Smith added, because he has learned many of his lessons the hard way.
“(He is) somebody’s who’s ‘walked the walk,’” she said.
In the time he spends with the kids and teens — both at KTUB and through his counseling practice — Stogsdill said he talks with them, but he also takes them out to do various activities. He uses action sports such as snowboarding, BMX biking, skateboarding and indoor skydiving to build relationships with the youth, who range from about 11-17.
He said through these activities, the conversations are more organic. The teens are also exposed to what life has to offer and they are participating in something exciting and challenging, which helps build confidence, Stogsdill said.
While he doesn’t know for sure, Stogsdill said if there was someone like him who took the time get to know his younger self and show him what else is out there, he may not have gotten into so much trouble.
“If they could be real with me and transparent with me about what they went through as a kid and they accepted me,” he said, “that may have helped me.”