PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A man who says he’s been to hell and back is trying to keep kids from traveling the same path. Philadelphia Daily News columnist Solomon Jones knows what it means to have everything and lose it all. He says that’s what happened to him.

Writing is what 43-year-old Solomon Jones does for a living. He writes a column called the Weekend Warrior, a humorous look at marriage and parenting. He has also written seven books as well as articles for major magazines. But Jones said writing is more than earning a paycheck.

“Writing saved my life,” said Jones. “Writing remade my life.”

Jones said when he was 20, he was an alcoholic and living on the streets or in shelters. He stumbled into a writing workshop, and it changed his life.

“It was cathartic for me and helped me deal with the mess that my life had become,” said Jones.

To help keep high school students from making bad decisions, Jones developed the Words on the Street Program, teaching young people how to express themselves through pen and paper.

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“Whatever your experience is right now, you can rise above it,” said Jones. “Through writing, through using your own voice and telling your own story, nothing is impossible.”

At three Philadelphia-area high schools, Jones volunteers his time once a week helping about 60 students develop their writing skills. Eighteen-year-old Malachi Armstrong says he likes writing, and Jones helped him see how words can have an impact on the writer and the reader.

“When you’re writing and expressing yourself, I understand what you’re expressing, because it’s freedom,” Armstrong said.

“What I want them to know is that they can think, I want them to know that they can create, and once they see that, the sky’s the limit,” said Jones.

The student in the program with the best story will not only have their story published in the Philadelphia Daily News, Jones will mention that student’s school in his next novel, which comes out in August.

Reported by Dave Huddleston, CBS 3