Rubin Taylor remembers a critical period, a little more than two decades ago, that changed his life.
He was serving the final three years of a 10-year New Jersey state prison sentence at Integrity House, a residential substance-abuse and mental-health treatment center in Newark, where with the help of private counseling and group-therapy sessions, he started facing his past, got clean, and began to heal from trauma wrought by family sexual-abuse while growing up as a child in Plainfield, NJ.
“It was a slow process, but eventually I was able to be bolder and tell people about what happened to me as a child.” said Taylor, who is now 67. “Other residents would say, ‘You know what? That happened to me as well.’ They didn’t judge. They were receptive. I was no longer alone, and I saw that my sharing could help others.”
Integrity House staff recognized Taylor’s connection to his fellow residents and asked him to start facilitating group sessions. It was a powerful experience, which made him realize he had a calling and eventually led him to return to school in 2019 for professional counseling training, first at Essex Community College, where he received an Associate’s Degree in Social Work after five semesters on the Dean’s List, and currently at Rutgers University–Newark, where as a first-year student he is majoring in Psychology with a minor in Social Work.
“Biggest decision of my life, deciding to go back to college at age 63,” said Taylor. “People said I was crazy, but I knew it was the right choice.”
A Fraught Past
Taylor’s life has been both challenging and remarkable by any measure.
The third of five children from a troubled family, his parents married and divorced each other twice during his youth. After his father was discovered to have sexually abused him and his four siblings and his mom had a what he calls “a nervous breakdown,” Taylor was sent by the courts at age 10 to live with an Amish family in Grove City, Pa., who took in children and cared for them along with their seven biological offspring, all of whom tended to the family farm.
“It was weird being a Black kid in an Amish family, but the Amish don’t see color, just personality,” said Taylor. “We lived a simple life with no electricity or modern conveniences, but my Uncle Bob and Auntie May raised us well, with scripture, farm chores and discipline, and lots of love.”
When he turned 17, Taylor left the farm and joined a federal Jobs Corps program in Indiana, earning a certification in air-conditioning and refrigeration repair, and then did a four-year stint in the U.S. Navy. As a Petty Officer Second-Class, he was stationed mostly in Barcelona, Spain, transporting combat-ready and injured troops and taking the opportunity to travel widely to countries in Europe, the Mediterranean, and South Pacific. At age 22, he received an honorable discharge from the Navy and returned home to Plainfield, only to experience culture shock and spiral downward.
"My original family was so different from my Amish one. I tried to fit in, but it didn’t work,” said Taylor. “My family was dealing with substance abuse and promiscuous behaviors that trauma brings, and I got caught up in it.”
He managed to hold down a job during this otherwise shaky period, working as a firefighter for the Plainfield Fire Department, but he also started doing drugs and ended up in prison twice for burglary, all while getting married and having a child. Fatherhood was overwhelming and triggering: He remembers picking up his son, Rubin Jr., from his crib one day and having a flashback to his own childhood trauma. He broke down crying.
“I was thinking, How can a man hurt a child like this? I went to some dark place of detachment, wanted to dissolve and felt worthless,” said Taylor. “I’d thought having a child would stop the process, stop the pain, but it hurt me even more.”
Taylor soon felt the urge to flee Plainfield and enlisted in the U.S. Army, starting in the Eighth Armor Division at Fort Knox in Kentucky and serving at a military base in Addison, Ala., before receiving another honorable discharge after two years. Understandably scared to return home to Plainfield, he headed west to Sacramento, Calif., and enrolled at Sacramento City College, fulfilling most his requirements before dropping out two semesters shy of earning a B.A. in anthropology.
“I almost graduated but just wasn’t stable enough and couldn’t understand why,” said Taylor. “I was just damaged."
He returned home to Plainfield and served in the Army Reserves at Camp Kilmer in Edison, NJ, but got caught up with the wrong crowd and spiraled into drug use and crime once again, this time getting slapped with a 10-year state prison sentence for robbery. Taylor received no counseling while he was incarcerated and built a reputation as a fighter, vowing to himself that no one would hurt him like his father had. He also picked up the scriptures again and taught a fellow illiterate inmate how to read, which he credits for helping to turn his life around.
“We built each other up, and I realized I never wanted to return to prison again,” said Taylor.
Road to Redemption
Serving the final three years of his prison sentence at Integrity House also changed his life, as did continuing with therapy, surrounding himself with healthier role models and moving in with his girlfriend, Mitras, who had stuck by him while he was in prison and was waiting for him with open arms when he was released. This support system, which he amassed over time, was key to helping Taylor assimilate, build his self-esteem and take on new challenges, including enrolling at Essex Community College and, while there, interning at New Directions Behavioral Health Center in Newark, where he was mentored by the organization’s president, Roy Hargrove, and where he continues to work full-time as a substance-abuse and group-facilitator counselor/intern while juggling his coursework at RU-N.
Over the last five years, Taylor also took seminary courses, interned with local clergy and was ordained. He is now the pastor of New Generations Worship Center in Newark, an extension of the congregation’s nondenominational church in Plainfield.
Taylor looks back at his life with humility and pride, feeling sadness for the boy who was gravely injured and the adult who attempted to outrun his trauma for decades before getting the help he needed to face his demons. He’s in a good place now after years of work, celebrating his growth and that of his three biological sisters, all of whom turned their lives around as well: One earned a Ph.D. from Rutgers–New Brunswick and is a psychotherapist, another works as a psychiatrist, and a third is a nurse.
“All of us who were hurt by our father went into fields focused on helping others,” said Taylor.
He is also grateful for the support he’s received from RU-N and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, who have made his current educational endeavor possible.
“I’ve felt like Rutgers-Newark has taken special care of me, synchronizing everything with the VA office in Newark and giving me exactly what I need to become a professional counselor,” said Taylor. “I’m confident I’ll earn my B.A. this time around.”