The Woodward News

Local News

May 25, 2014

Jennett looks to help at-risk youth

Mixed Martial Arts fighter and outreach director Jimmy Jennett of Woodward didn't always make the best choices for himself.

But the prize winning, "two for two" MMA cage fighter and roughneck for Nabor's Oil Field Drilling Services wants to take those lessons in values he learned from cage fighting and his own past mistakes and use them to help at risk youth.

"I came to Woodward to make enough money working in the oilfield rough-necking to eventually open an MMA clean and sober men's home," Jennett said.  "It would be a place where there will be a gym and anyone across the country could come and get themselves clean and sober and deal with their issues."

Jennett, 36, was born in Sacramento, Calif. His father died when he was just a young boy and so he lived much of his late teen years in Oregon with an extended family member.

At 6 feet 8 inches tall and 275 pounds, its hard not to stare at the gentle giant simply because he's there.

His building-like stature and cauliflower ears are living testament to his seriousness about everything he takes on, including his primary desire now to volunteer his time with incarcerated and at risk youth.

His own personal story is why Jennett has a special mission to open the hearts and eyes of at risk youth.

“This is something that has been on my heart to do a long time,” he said.

Jennett graduated from Cottage Grove High School in Oregon where he was the jock star in basketball and the homecoming prince, he said.

"I've always been an athlete. My best sport was basketball and I easily could have gotten a four year scholarship," Jennett said

But not all was as it might seem on the surface.

Jennet’s life had always been fraught with difficulty. His father died when he was 7-years-old and at 15, he watched his mother go from smoking pot to becoming a full blown methamphetamine addict in just a short time. In fact it was within his own home where he was first introduced to hard drugs, he said.

“Everyone thought it was cool, they could hang out with Jimmy and do drugs at his house,” Jennett said.

By 16, Jennett was fully initiated into the hard drug lifestyle and yet was still trying to achieve in sports and in high school. Finally, beating the odds, but still fully addicted, Jennett graduated and went on to play basketball at junior college.

"But I only played a year of basketball in junior college and dropped out into drug dealing and being a thug really."

Those poor choices and a growing involvement with the violence that went along with the world of drugs landed him in California's Folsom Prison for a two year stint, he said.

"When I was in prison I thought a lot about things and how I had gotten here," he said. "I had some pretty dark times there in prison, but God revealed himself to me a couple of times and then I realized, this had been the longest stretch in years that I had been clean and sober."

The result of those close encounters with God was the birthing of the idea for his outreach program "Checkered Past," he said. It was also the birth of a fire within him to get out to the thousands of teens and at risk youth, tell his story and reach them before they lost their lives.

“That life killed me. I was spiritually dead,” he said.

After getting out of prison, Jennett began working in road construction and in his off time began taking boxing lessons. He boxed in the California Golden Gloves  - the Road to Beijing in 2007, he said. And that is when he began putting together his passion for combat sports, a fledgling relationship with God and began to lose his desire for the drug lifestyle.

When you talk to Jennett, it becomes clear that his fights are symbolic. He’s not just fighting another amateur fighter, he’s fighting something he feels is stealing the lives of thousands of young people. He’s fighting the thing that tried to steal his life.

Now, sober for several years and enjoying his MMA and working careers, Jennett's other dream has begun to come to fruition too.

With the help of other MMA fighters who want to be a good influence, he has put on free workshops and clinics for youthful offenders and at risk youth in Oregon through his new foundation.

He has begun communicating with local law enforcement officials here and across the county in an effort to begin a ministry in the local jail and with other organizations who work with at risk youth.

Most recently, he has made plans to go to Woodward County Jail and just sit and share with some of the inmates there, he said.

His program with youth is simple really, he said. Typically it involves some warm up time and some MMA drills as well as some of the MMA fighting styles, he said.

Checkered Past MMA Outreach uses the physicality of MMA competition and the push to achieve the finest results and combines that with Jennett's honest willingness to talk about why it is important to make good choices, he said.

"This is not so they can go clean up on the playground and I tell them that," he said. "It is stuff they would do in Karate and it's about discipline. But every once in a while, as I'm doing the program, I will thank the other mentors and point out to the kids that we are all getting along well up here and that is because these are good people I surround myself with." And that’s key, he said.

“Look, you can’t hang out with people who do drugs and stuff because if you hang out at the barbershop long enough, you’re going to get a hair cut,” he said. “You have to surround yourself with people who live the life you want to live.”

So if you ask Jennett why he has been so successful in his new lifestyle, he'll tell you three things;

1. He remains a part of the clean and sober community

2. He sets clear boundaries - meaning he does not spend time with people who do not share his values for a clean and sober life.

3 He remains connected to his spiritual life and builds his relationship with God daily.

Even when Jennett is working, such as this week, when he was drilling an oil well near Liberal Kansas, he is aware that somewhere, in the town he is in, someone’s life is being altered forever.

“People think this can’t happen in Woodward or Liberal and yet I know, at the moment I am sitting here talking to you on the phone, there is some kid, right here in Liberal, who is trying hard drugs for the first time,” he said. “Sometimes it just takes one person to offer them a different option.”

These days, when Jennett is not drilling an oil well, he is using his two weeks off to train and to make contacts to begin to volunteer here in Woodward through Checkered Past.

"I fight because it gives me a voice with those kids," he said. "I talk to them about setting boundaries. I show them some fighting moves and I tell them to do this you have to be at your best and you can't be your best when you are doing drugs or not listening to your parents or not doing your homework."

He plans to continue, despite his age, to fight at more organized events since in many ways he feels MMA saved him. But he reminds us that this is just the way he opens the minds of the youth and opens the door to what he really wants to do, and that is something he likes to call "perpetuating the saving"

"I want people to experience strength and hope and I want those people to share that," he said. 'This is not just about saving yourself, it is about perpetuating the saving and helping to save someone else.”

For more information about how to book Jennett and Checkered Past MMA Outreach, contact him on his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Checkered-Past-MMA-Outreach/

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