Lyle Yates-Bourasa is an August 2023 graduate who reclaimed his life after being arrested on drug charges. He’ll walk the stage with a bachelor’s degree in theater arts.
Lyle Yates-Bourasa carried his tray through the county jail's cafeteria. He found a seat across from another inmate; the cold meat on his plate was as appealing as the company seated across from him.
The inmate, an older man, looked up at the 27-year-old and offered a completely toothless grin.
The older man had just received a long sentence and was telling his younger dinner mate all about it.
“Whatever you did,” the old man said, “you better turn yourself around, or else you're going to end up in prison with me.”
He continued to spoon dinner through his gums.
Lyle, who was being held on drug charges, realized he was looking at his future. For the former high school football star, if there was a rock bottom, this was it.
Loss & Lack
Lyle grew up in Conroe, Texas just outside of Houston.
“My sister and I were mainly raised by our mother,” he said. “My father worked a lot to provide for us and our half siblings.”
His father made an effort to show up to games though.
Lyle was his high school football team's running back and point guard in basketball. He also played baseball and ran track. He was a celebrated athlete and enjoyed the notoriety that came with it at school. More than anything, he loved when his father attended games.
“I didn't see much of him outside of that,” Lyle said. “Maybe that's part of why sports were so important to me, they made my dad proud.”
Lyle also had another passion – theater.
“I loved storytelling,” he said, “but my coaches encouraged me to focus on sports. I
was more likely to be recruited to college for football, so that's what my coaches and family encouraged me to do.”
Lyle knew it was because they cared, but he let others' opinions drown out his own desires. As far as college went though, they were right. Lyle was recruited to play at Blinn College in Brenham.
This worked for a while.
“I was not academically disciplined at all,” Lyle recalls. “Even in high school, I struggled to keep my grades up.”
He vividly remembers a conversation with his high school counselor. He and his mother were called into the counselor's office and listened as the woman told Lyle he was not prepared for college. The leadership Lyle showed on the field unfortunately stopped there. When it came to academics, he let deadlines slip by, unmotivated. The counselor explained with Lyle's grades and lack of discipline, he would fail in a college environment.
“I couldn't tell you what that counselor's face looked like because I could never bring myself to look her in the eyes,” he recalled. “There was a sense of shame that lingered over me ever since that day.”
Lyle set out to prove the counselor wrong. But the ghosts of his past kept coming back.
“I didn't grow up with an example of what it means to be a man and take responsibility for myself,” Lyle said. “That's not an excuse for my choices, but I think it's part of why I struggled.”
As Lyle started classes at Blinn, the perfectionism used to get him through high school athletics fell away and was replaced with a recklessness that mimicked relief. And in a perfect storm, that recklessness was met with substances that began a decade-long spiral.
“The dorm I lived in at Blinn was lovingly referred to as ‘8 Mile,'” he said.
Much like the film, the residence hall was filled with students using drugs and alcohol to cope.
Lyle began using drugs recreationally. At first, just some marijuana here and there, then heavier stuff. Soon, he was skipping out on football practice. His grades were abysmal and after a few semesters, he dropped out.
“I was just having fun,” Lyle recalled. “I guess I was more stressed about stuff at home than I realized because when I got some freedom, all I wanted to do was blow off steam.”
After some time back at home, Lyle applied to Sam Houston State University. He had friends there and thought maybe a fresh start at a school with different people would do him good. But the claws of addiction had already sunk in. It wasn't long after arriving at Sam Houston that, despite good friends and a supportive girlfriend, Lyle was using again.
Rather than scoring from people in his dorm, he tried to keep that part of his life separate from school. He didn't want to get his friends or girlfriend into trouble.
As hard as Lyle fought to keep his drug use from affecting his friends, it certainly affected his schoolwork. His GPA dropped even lower than it had been at Blinn, and he soon knew that he'd blown it – again.
“That was rough,” he said. “It wasn't bad luck or a bad fit anymore. I put myself in that situation twice and the common denominator was me.”
Lyle lost his girlfriend and moved back home. At this point, he was approaching his mid-20s and had no direction. He looked at photos of graduations and weddings posted by friends from high school and felt nothing but the sting of comparison and shame. Still in denial about his addiction, he spent his days either getting high or figuring out where to go to get high.
Everything revolved around the next hit.
“I was doing every drug you could think of,” Lyle said. “Synthetic marijuana, cocaine, meth, opioids, benzos and so on.”
Eventually, it caught up with him.
“I got arrested for possession in early 2017 and was put on probation,” he said. “It was a wakeup call for a brief moment, but whatever good intentions I had were overshadowed by relapses.”
Lyle couldn't shake it, and part of him didn't want to. He moved out of his mother's house, not wanting his addiction to affect her.
“I respected her too much for that,” he said.
He moved into his car, the only thing he had left to his name, that and an incessant need to numb any real feelings.
“I felt so depressed,” Lyle said. “This sense of shame kept chasing me. Sometimes I would want better for myself, but I couldn't seem to forgive myself. I thought I didn't deserve to do better.”
He had set out to prove his high school counselor wrong and make something of himself. Instead, he confirmed every doubt she had.
It got to the point Lyle was using so heavily he feared it would kill him.
“Many memories from that time are fuzzy,” he said. “But I vividly remember one night praying to God that I would get caught, that I would get in trouble. I knew it might be the only way I survived.”
Lyle was unaware there was any help outside of expensive rehabilitation centers. He knew he couldn't afford that, and he had no knowledge of any other resources.
Being arrested was the best thing that could happen to him, he thought.
And maybe he was right.
In October of 2017, Lyle was arrested for violating his probation. Picked up on drug charges again, he was facing hard time. He went before Judge Kathleen Hamilton of Montgomery County.
Rather than immediately sentencing Lyle to prison, Hamilton told him about the Lubbock County Court Residential Treatment Center (CRTC) and suggested it might be a good fit. Hamilton was aware of resources in Lubbock due to gaining both her bachelor's and master's degrees at Texas Tech.
“I asked her, ‘What's Lubbock?'” Lyle said.
“It's in West Texas, where Texas Tech University is,” she replied. “You'd be in the treatment center there for nine months.”
“When I heard nine months, I was out,” Lyle said.
He didn't know what the program entailed but he wasn't interested in a lengthy rehabilitation process. So, Judge Hamilton gave him an ultimatum.
“Well, you're either going to Lubbock or you're going to prison,” she said.
But then she said something else – something that prompted Lyle to look her in the eyes.
“I see something in you that you don't see in yourself. People who go to this treatment facility can go on to attend Texas Tech and do very well. I think you have it in you to do that, too.”
Lyle had no idea what the judge saw in him, but something about her words replaced the shame that had been spoken over him all those years ago.
Someone thought he could do it.
And even if Lyle didn't believe it himself, he borrowed the judge's faith until he could find some for himself.
Lyle returned to the county jail for almost two months waiting to move to Lubbock. On an evening shortly after his hearing, he sat down for dinner with the toothless inmate. Lyle prayed the treatment center would be what he needed to avoid a similar future.
The increasingly cold and dark autumn weeks were the longest of his life, his body going through painful and terrifying withdrawals every night in his cell. Before going to bed, he would pray, rather plead, that he'd wake up in the morning.
“I was so scared I would die in my sleep,” he said, eyes widening.
The fear drove Lyle to a place of faith. He started praying more than ever before. His mother had always been a woman of faith, but Lyle had kept God at a distance.
“There's little room for anything outside your control when you're an addict,” he said.
But suddenly, everything was out of his control. Lyle had seen friends die of overdoses and knew there was a chance he might not make it to Lubbock. After praying and going to sleep on the night of Dec. 3, 2017, he was awoken at 3 o'clock in the morning by a guard opening his door.
“Time to go,” he said.
Lyle squinted and tried to make sense of the suddenly bright room.
“You're going to Lubbock,” the guard said.
A bus dropped Lyle off on a cold West Texas day. He looked at the large brick building ahead, took a deep breath and walked inside.
The CRTC is a residential treatment center that houses around 150 male offenders at any given time. Their nine-month program centers around cognitive-behavioral therapy and puts an emphasis on education and coping skills for those coming out of substance abuse.
The first few weeks were a whirlwind of emotion for Lyle.
“All of the anxiety, shame and guilt I'd been suppressing came and went like a thief in the night,” he said. “However, hard days only forged my resolved.”
Two months after arriving at the treatment center, Texas Tech's Center for Collegiate Recovery Communities (CCRC) came to visit Lyle's group. The center was started in 1986 and has since grown to become a national model for other college campuses around the country.
That day, one of the speakers sat down and talked to Lyle.
“He had been in a similar place,” Lyle recalls. “He'd been where I was sitting, and Texas Tech helped him turn his life around.”
Lyle listened politely until the pitch was over and informed the man there was no way he'd get into a school like Texas Tech with his 1.2 GPA.
But the man was adamant that Lyle try.
“He kept saying how it could be different now that I was clean and how there were people at Texas Tech willing to help,” he said.
With persistence and a bit of colorful but necessary language, the man got Lyle on board. Lyle figured he'd apply but had no high hopes of acceptance.
“I was pretty sure that guy was nuts,” Lyle laughed. “There were tons of other guys in treatment who had more promising transcripts than me.”
The difference was not a single other person took advantage of the scholarship.
Lyle was shocked.
“I never understood how out of 150 people, I was the only one who even applied,” he said. “I guess it shows how hard it is to find faith in yourself and believe you're worthy of something good when you're coming out of addiction.”
Lyle graduated from Lubbock County's treatment program in August 2018, around the same time he submitted his application to Texas Tech. It was too late to be accepted for the fall semester, so he hoped for a spring 2019 acceptance.
“Almost every day that fall, I'd walk from my apartment to campus and check on the status of my application,” Lyle said.
Lyle worried he was trying the patience of staff members, but he was always received with kindness. Anna Trevino, assistant director at the CCRC often talked with Lyle during that time.
“When Lyle first came to us, he was afraid of success,” Trevino said. “It was hard for him to trust the process, which I understand because I was once in his shoes.”
Trevino took part in the scholarship program many years ago, later graduating from Texas Tech with two degrees.
“Lyle would come up to our office a lot when he was waiting,” she said. “But we loved having him around. We'd encourage him to stay persistent and that's what he did.”
In October of 2018, Lyle got his acceptance letter from Texas Tech.
The Power of People
The past four and a half years have been an adventure with unexpected kindness at every turn.
“Everyone at Texas Tech has been so gracious to me,” he said. “The relationships I've built here are priceless.”
Part of Lyle's healing process was not only getting clean but honoring himself and the things he felt called to do. With that in mind, he declared a major in theater, returning to the dreams of his younger years. He immediately knew he'd made the right choice because he flourished under the mentorship of faculty members in the School of Theatre & Dance.
While juggling courses, performances and ongoing recovery, Lyle often worked more than two jobs at a time to cover living costs. For a while, he worked at the Rawls Course on campus. Always attentive and quick to get his work done, a member at the course noticed Lyle walking to work every day. It was a few miles round trip, which meant an hour of walking each day – two if weather was bad.
The member, Vince, made Lyle an offer.
“Vince told me he was going to give me a truck and allow me to pay it off on a timeline that was realistic for me,” he said.
It was the first time in a long time someone put total trust in Lyle. It was an act of kindness that came as a total shock.
“I thank God that he trusted me enough to pay him back because walking to work every day was hard,” Lyle said.
Around the same time, Lyle was recommended for a job at Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Southwest, located within the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center campus. The job was for an evening resident manager. While it did not pay, it offered free room and board on campus, an arrangement that would save Lyle a lot of money.
Lyle got the job and has been there for the past four years.
“That job has been so humbling,” Lyle said. “Being there and seeing those kids fight the battles they're fighting has given me the strength to keep fighting my own.”
Lyle's recovery hasn't been all uphill. Succeeding in a collegiate environment was certainly a learning curve that came with setbacks and dark days, but Lyle always met a Ronald McDonald House family who needed hope as much as he did in those moments. Perhaps coincidence, he said, perhaps divine intervention.
“I don't know if Texas Tech is a magical place necessarily, but there's just something different about it.”
According to Lyle, the magic lies in the people.
One person who has made a lasting difference in Lyle's journey is doctoral student and instructor Troy Scarborough. Lyle had Scarborough for a few undergraduate classes and Scarborough became a mentor to Lyle, a role needed in the young man's life.
“Students like Lyle are the reason I went into higher education,” Scarborough said.
The doctoral student plans to create the first MFA program at a historically black college with all African American faculty. He believes he is on the planet to teach students who need that extra push – that belief in themselves.
“Lyle is an ideal student because he has an awareness of how precious life is,” he said. “You don't find that in many undergraduates.”
Scarborough knows Lyle's journey has not been an easy one, but he's also observed that's the very reason Lyle is so open to the learning process.
He believes Lyle has the range and possibility of being a hybrid between leading man and character actor.
“Lyle has a natural likeability that comes easily to him,” Scarborough said, “his affability is effortless.”
And while some things are effortless, Lyle never takes for granted the effort it took to get where he is today.
“I can't believe I'm actually graduating from college,” Lyle said, shaking his head.
This is the end of a 15-year journey. Commencement will mark a day Lyle never believed he'd see. He's even saved up money to fly his mother to Lubbock so she can share the experience with him.
“A few years ago, my prayer was just to survive the night,” he said. “Now my prayer is to use my education to reach others in their darkest night.”
Lyle's story has a happy ending, but many addict's stories do not end that way.
“It's hard when some people get better and others don't,” Lyle said. “All I know is that I am better, I deserved better, and I want to help others get better. A huge part of that is because of the people at Texas Tech.”
And that started with one alumna seeing Lyle's potential and a community of Red Raiders seeing it through.
“As someone in a position of authority,” Judge Hamilton said, “I try to offer kindness and encouragement. Many of the people who come before my bench have never heard a kind word in their life. They need someone to believe in them.
“Not everyone is rehabilitated as successfully as Lyle, but those who are, have a unique power to make a difference in the world.”
Which is exactly what Lyle wants to do after graduation.
“I am not a man impaired by addiction; I am a man shaped by it, honed by it and freed from it,” Lyle said. “I am a testimony of hope that even from the depths of despair, we rise.”