From addict to model scholar; Aerospace student regains footing at City College

Aerospace major Breece Phipps spent five year in prison prior to his academic career at City College. | Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson

Chanie McCleary
Guest Writer
Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson

He was born perfectly healthy: 10 fingers, 10 toes. His mother cried tears of joy and wondered what he would become.

When he was in eighth grade, he became student body president. When he was in high school, he fell into a bad crowd. Shortly after, he says he became addicted to narcotics. As a college student, he was sentenced to prison. His mother cried again, and wondered what he would become.

Today, Breece Phipps, 30, is a City College student. He is on his way to a four-year university. Phipps is finally on the right path after serving five years in prison. Born and raised in Sacramento, this resilient student didn’t expect the darkest time of his life to lead him toward a bright future.

“I never gave up hope,” Phipps says, “even at my lowest low, because I knew I was meant for more.”

Phipps looks like he walked right out of a Calvin Klein ad. Students passing by the 6-foot, 2-inch, 215-pound guy on campus would never suspect he was once an addict. His healthy, golden tan skin doesn’t tell that story. His electric blue eyes don’t look like they’ve ever seen the inside of a penitentiary.

He works out at the gym near his house for about two hours daily to maintain his strong build. He has been encouraged by others to pursue a modeling/acting career, and lately has been building a modeling portfolio.

It took a wake-up call to bring him around to the healthy life he lives now.

“In the depths of my addiction, I still thought I was doing ok,” Phipps says. “In retrospect, I was at rock bottom.”

Without his mother having a clue, Phipps would consume between 20 to 30 pills a day. He would meet his local dealer to pick up narcotics. One day he was met with a surprise that would change his life forever.

After being set up by his longtime dealer, Phipps says he encountered Roseville police officers and their flashing red and blue lights. He was arrested because of his less than perfect record, and he was sentenced to prison.

“I was so blind back then, it wasn’t until after my withdrawals in prison that my life started to change direction,” Phipps says.

He became clean in prison and was able to develop a positive sense of self he has maintained since he was released from prison three years ago. He has been a full-time student since.

Not one missed assignment, not one missed day, not one tardy. He works hard on several honors courses and joined the Honor’s Club. Phipps makes time for Phi Theta Kappa meetings and participates as a member of the Science Club. For work, he does construction with his father, which doubles as bonding time.

The people who know Phipps best now are his school counselors and professors.

“Breece has been a rock,” says City College psychology professor Mark Dennis, a mentor to Phipps, as well as the Phi Theta Kappa faculty adviser. “Breece is very intelligent. It’s a gift, but he has that work ethic. What makes him especially different is that people with his focus and drive tend to be self-absorbed. Breece isn’t like that.”

Students who know Phipps know that he is the right guy to study with if they want to pass class. He has a strong study ethic and is helpful to his peers. Bryce Sullins is also a student at City College. If you see Phipps, you see Sullins,

“He isn’t like my other friends, he is a positive influence on me,” Sullins says, explaining why he considers Phipps his best friend. “He makes me want to be better, do my homework and study. He keeps me out of trouble.”

Both students are majoring in aerospace engineering. The two have plans to open their own aerospace engineering firm once they complete their educations. Before that happens, Phipps says his plans are to design satellites radar and rockets for Elon Musk’s company, Space X.

“It’s my dream job to work for Space X,” Phipps says. “I don’t care, I’ll clean the bathrooms there if I have to.”

For now, Phipps will do what is necessary to fulfill his dreams.

“My life didn’t start when I was a baby; it started when I was in prison,” Phipps says. “That’s where everything changed for the better. I feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be.”