Anniston man earns GED after years of struggle
Oxford, Ala. — Sawyer Munsch stood at the podium at the Oct. 4 graduation for those earning their GED at Gadsden State Community College. He was nervous but the audience couldn’t tell. He spoke with confidence and pride as he praised those who helped him go from a drug addict to a successful salesman.
Here he was, standing before a packed Oxford Performing Arts Center, telling his story without shame or embarrassment. He tells it often, hoping to inspire others to never give up. He is proud of the man he is today.
“I am not proud of a lot of things I’ve done in my life, but it’s all in the past,” said the 26-year-old. “I’m here to tell everyone that it’s possible to make a positive change, even when you think you’re at rock bottom. With the right support system, anything is possible.”
Munsch’s life has been littered with challenges since he was a child. He was born and raised in Tallassee, Ala., by his single mother, Myra Sides.
“My dad left when I was young – only about 1 or 2,” he said. “He had a problem with alcohol. He was asked to choose between me and my mom or alcohol. He chose his poison so it was just me and my mom. My dad was dead by the time I was just 7 years old.”
Sides worked a lot to make ends meet for her and her son.
“I spent a lot of time with my friends because my mom was always working,” Munsch said. “I became very mischievous and I took full advantage of her not being home.”
By the time he was 14 years old, he was drinking alcohol and experimenting with drugs. He was also breaking into cars and homes to steal money and valuables to support his habit. As a freshman in high school, Munsch did his first stint in a rehabilitation facility in Mobile.
“It really didn’t affect me,” he said. “It didn’t work well for me. I got into trouble the very day I got back home.”
In high school, he played soccer and was social with friends. Still, he continued to abuse alcohol and soon was hooked on his drug of choice, crystal methamphetamine. During his senior year, his world fell apart when he was arrested two days after his 18th birthday for having drugs at school. It was also the day of his class ring ceremony.
“I was so excited about my senior year and that I would be graduating,” he said. “But, I blew it.”
School administration told him to withdraw from school or he would be expelled. He chose to withdraw with plans to earn his GED. That didn’t happen.
“I was dependent more and more on drugs and alcohol,” he said. “I was doing it all of the time with the free time I had on my hands. I wasn’t working. I wasn’t in school. I wasn’t playing soccer. I was a mess.”
Three months later, he was arrested for felony burglary and theft of property. He remained in jail for three months.
“I missed Christmas with my family because I was locked up,” he said. “It was awful.”
Munsch left jail vowing to change. He landed a manufacturing job but was soon doing drugs and stealing again. He was rearrested on the burglary charge and sentenced to three years. He was out after 10 months. Soon, he was back to his old ways.
“I was doing really good for about four months, but then I became restless and bored,” he said. “I started dabbling in drugs again.”
Munsch was afraid to see his parole officer as required because he knew he would fail a drug test. He chose, instead, to go on the run. He bounced from place to place still battling drug addiction. After eight months, he moved to Albany, Ga., to work with a commercial roofing company.
“I thought getting away would work better for me but it didn’t,” he said. “I still found drugs. I still found people doing drugs and selling drugs. I stopped visiting home and I ended up quitting my job. I lived on the streets for two months.”
After being strung out on drugs, being homeless and losing down to 160 pounds, he decided he had enough.
“I called my mom, my lifeline,” he said. “Thankfully, she came to Georgia and picked me up to take me back home.”
After a year of being clean and working a telemarketing sales job, Munsch decided he was ready for a new adventure. He started traveling with a company that remodeled movie theaters.
“I was doing great until meth came back into play in December 2018,” he said. “I was right back into the drugs and I lost my job four months later. I had no choice but to go back to Tallassee.”
He returned home but made no improvements. In fact, he added gambling to his list of addictions. He said he was at rock bottom.
“I was either in the casino gambling or I was doing drugs,” he said. “It was the end of the line for me.”
Munsch stole a car from an acquaintance, planning to sell it and buy more drugs.
“I thought I’d get away with it but I didn’t,” he said. “I had a warrant out for my arrest for stealing the car and I didn’t even know it.”
One night, another drug abuser ran Munsch off the road, severely damaging the car he was driving. Law enforcement was called to the scene. That’s when he found out he was going to jail again because of the warrant for auto theft.
“They called my mom to come get my stuff out of the car since I was going to jail,” he said. “She found meth and needles. She found a bunch of stuff a mother should never find in her son’s car.”
This was a breaking point for Sides. She was no longer willing to bail him out of jail. She wanted him to learn his lesson.
“I tried to call everyone I knew to come get me but my mom had already called them and told them not to bail me out,” he said. “She was tired of the cycle. She said she was not going to get me out unless I got help.”
A friend told him about the Center of Hope, a 12-month, Christ-centered residential addiction recovery program in Calhoun County. Services are offered to both men and women at no cost.
“I found out about the Center of Hope from a friend on a Friday, and on that Sunday, I was on my way to Anniston,” he said. “All I had was a box of snacks and a Bible.”
Munsch was determined to take advantage of the resources Center of Hope offered. He was going to get off drugs, earn his GED and find a career.
“I was tired of hurting myself and hurting the people I love,” he said. “I needed a change. Drug addicts think they can change the people they are around, change their jobs and change their location to get better. That doesn’t work. I knew I needed to change my heart or nothing else was going to change.”
Munsch dedicated his life to Christ and lives by the written word in Jeremiah 29:13 – “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
“When I was growing up, I went to church every Wednesday and Sunday but I never sought God,” he said. “I realized that I needed Him to help me do whatever I needed to do to make a change in my life. There was not much more I could do on my own. I needed to give my life over to God so He could change me. I didn’t need mending. I needed changing.”
At the Center of Hope, he took advantage of all the programs it offered, including counseling, Bible classes, literacy classes and job skills training. He also took GED preparation courses through Gadsden State. He not only earned his GED but he scored “college ready.”
“I was able to do things I never thought I could do,” he said.
In July 2020, he completed his GED requirements and graduated from the Center of Hope. He had a new direction. Because of the continued support from the Center of Hope through job placement and housing opportunities, Munsch decided to remain in Anniston.
“The Center of Hope changed my life,” he said. “They were great to me. They gave me a chance.”
After working stints at a furniture store and pizza restaurant, Munsch found a job that he could consider a career. He has worked as a salesperson at Superior Hyundai since December 2021. He now lives with his fiancée, Mallorie Wiggins, a Gadsden State student and tutor. He’s proud of the place he is in his life.
“I have a career in sales, and I really enjoy it,” he said. “I am engaged to a girl that I adore. I now see that the only reason I wasn’t succeeding is because I wasn’t trying. I gave everything up for drugs and alcohol. I thought I was stupid but I just never applied myself. Because of Gadsden State’s Adult Education Services and the Center of Hope, I have found direction and meaning. I’m loving life.”
Sawyer Munsch is pictured with Dr. Kathy Murphy, president of Gadsden State Community College, at the Oct. 4 graduation ceremony for GED completers. It was the first GED graduation to be held since the COVID pandemic in 2020.
Sawyer Munsch is pictured with his new car at Superior Hyundai, where he has worked as a salesman since December. He recently earned his GED thanks to the support and education he received from Center of Hope and Gadsden State Community College.