Karen dropped me off at the state hospital of Dutchess County located near Marist College in Poughkeepsie. I passed this place many times joking about ending up here, with my friends when teasing about mental capacities or incapacities. Well, here I am! Mental? Perhaps, but it would be a place I would call home for more than a week.
This section of the sprawling campus consisted of several adjoining rooms, someone’s idea of utilizing space for those persons addicted to alcohol and drugs. There was a day room where we watched television, played games, had our meals and our dreaded NA/AA meetings! I began thinking I would never get away from them. Perhaps this would be the only avenue of escape from the life I’d acquired but down deep in my soul I just knew something better was ahead. There were two bathrooms containing showers and our sleeping quarters were separated, male from female, by a sheet fashioned as a curtain on a rope stretched across the room as a make-shift divider. The beds were sectioned to provide minimal privacy due to the high amount of life’s casualties.
The residents were about equally divided according to sex, many who knew each other, being a sort of pseudo-community from the greater one we came from. I knew one young lady who I smoked with on two occasions. She recalled our times together and we buddied up to provide some type of friendship to make our stay bearable.
Our day consisted of some of us preparing a simple breakfast of milk and cereal with others cleaning the leftovers then moving to the general areas. Showers could be taken anytime as long as they did not interfere with the planned activities consisting of a meeting with a therapist/drug counselor, our own anonymous meeting with a few outside persons attending, themselves former residents. They were to be our encouragement of what we were attempting if we took things “one day at a time” and if we “kept coming back,” which infuriated me because I wanted something a bit more promising than just “one day”. How about an eternity? And, this “keep coming back” thing, how about “once and for all”? “Keep coming back” sounded very similar to what the drug dealers would say when I made a purchase. That’s the whole point, I don’t want to “keep coming back”—even for recovery. No more struggles. How about victory?
Some of our meetings would be in town so we caught a bus and walked the few remaining blocks. It felt good to be outside when we could. They provided us with two tokens, not money, to keep at bay the temptation of having currency to exchange for drugs. We were warned any deviation from the traveling group would be met with a little cup, which determined our eligibility to remain in the group’s protection and help. You had to want to be there. My friend, on one of our outings, made a deal to meet us when we were finished and returning. Our meeting spot that day was near her home and she wanted to stop there. We wondered if it was true, but it didn’t much matter, in fact, good for her. At least she had a home. Most of us were refugees—no home and this was all we had for the current time. My friend would not catch up with us when we were ready to return; however, she did show up later. They immediately took her into one of the bathrooms to test her urine and shortly, in tears, she was dismissed from our community. There were thoughts and words shared among us as if someone died, it was so somber. In truth, a death might have occurred, we just would not be witnesses to it and in the drug culture we are nothing but the “walking dead”. I can remember experiencing pain for her for having chosen to still remain “out there”. It only reinforced my determination to not be a victim, too, of the dreaded cup. My wounds were still too fresh from IBM’s cup of “employment”, or “loss” of the same.
Toward the end of my time, I was told if I wanted a bed one would be made available at some drug rehabilitation facility courtesy of the State of New York. Although ready for any change which would take me from the hell I was living, I was still resisting the concept I would be a drug addict the rest of my life, having to attend meetings for as long.
One of the meetings I attended, there was to be a celebration for someone. The celebration consisted of a person’s acknowledgement of sobriety for a particular length of time, receiving a personalized cake, a brass coin and other gifts and presented by his sponsor, followed by his own speech of his victory. I think I was more devastated than the celebrated guest because he announced, in tears, how he had taken a drink just the night before, setting him back to the very beginning! I watched while someone rolled the cake from the front of the room, to the back, to take its place with the common fare of donuts to be eaten as part of the break! In their belief, he would have to start at the beginning again. I thought of him as a hero, willing to admit his failure and yet instead of some credit given, there was none. I didn’t want to be part of this. At another meeting, someone was celebrating twenty years of sobriety and still introduced himself as, “Hi, I’m John and I’m an addict!” What do you mean you’re an addict? Twenty years! Doesn’t that count for anything? You can’t be an addict still. But, they were. In truth, they would always be addicts because although they would identify with a “god of their understanding”, they would not be a recipient of the God of Heaven, providing power and freedom. Truly the Bible predicted or identified this group and others like it when it pronounced “having a form of godliness but denying the power.” I wanted and believed in that power.
As they were making arrangement for me, Karen was making arrangements also. On my last day, the staff tried to dissuade me from leaving their program of recovery. Karen made arrangements to further my recovery with a ministry in Bridgeport, CT called “Hosanna Ministry”. Yes, back to Bridgeport I was headed, but not to the former group I’d been associated.
I’ll never forget that day in August heading to my new home. I felt hopeful, first from having to pursue recovery in something I could not believe, to going somewhere where I had some knowledge of; however, not exactly what I would have designed; but it would be a start. My start. I also felt hopeful being with Karen again and that there could be a new beginning to our relationship. If she could see me serious in getting help and kicking this thing, perhaps our marriage would survive. We found the church-like structure surrounded by a white picket fence, in good shape and nicely painted. Pretty impressive and a far cry from the other across town. We were greeted at the door by an elderly gentleman in his 70’s, Rev. Ponton, who with his tattered straw hat, slightly stooped stature, bad English typical of someone uneducated growing up in the South, looking over the gold-wired rimmed glasses, through brown eyes surrounded by a milky-gray film, directly at me as he questioned why I wanted to come into the house. I shared with him my story, beginning to nearly cry for fear I would be rejected, when he said,
“Looks to me you just barely made it, son. Come on into the house and let’s get you started.”
Those words were typical of all his Sunday messages. His major point was in getting us men, and some women, who resided in another house a block away, with his wife and a son dying of the AIDS virus, the devil was trying to kill us because we were special. The devil could see this “specialness” on us and had been trying to kill us to prevent us from enjoying the benefits of God. The way he made it sound, going through these portals to the inner sanctum of the church/residential building, was filled with a great urgency as if a fire were burning or someone getting ready to shoot us. Entering the building into the chapel area, I felt a calmness I had not felt before, as if I were home. Safe. A new beginning. An opportunity to get my life back and finally freed from the addiction of Crack cocaine. Karen and I embraced and kissed good-bye, with her telling me to give it a try and she’d be in touch later. I stood there with tears in my eyes watching her head out to go to the home I had given, rather, “smoked” away, the comforts of being with someone I liked and had fun with. In essence, this was the only place I could go now. There was no other option. I turned around, opened the door and proceeded to carry my bags into my newly assigned room. After placing my bag in the room, I returned to the Chapel, alone, and began praying, thanking God for bringing me to another place to begin again. A place where prayer was not only common but expected. Where one could feel comfortable carrying and reading their Bible. I gave thanks to God because He spared my life. I wasn’t on the streets. I would not be hungry anymore. No more wandering and wondering. I would have purpose.
I was introduced to the other residents and staff members, four men besides the Director, one of which was his son, Barry, who looked pretty much like his dad, we would imitate later in a joking manner. He, too, slightly stooped, although he and I were the same age. (Note: I spoke with Barry, October 3, 2007, and learned his father passed.) He was married, his wife a former heroin addict, as he was, supported his addiction by snatching purses in a life awhile ago. His wife helped with the residents, conducting praise service before Sunday service. Sister Ruth, an older woman in her 60’s, played the organ and was treasurer of the ministry. She would be the only white person I would see involved in the ministry and in the running of the house although holding a full-time job elsewhere. Three other staff members performed various tasks to ensure the smooth running of the ministry.
There were twelve of us students, as we were called, at any one time, and those having finished three months were transported to “The Farm” in Rehrersburg, Pennsylvania, the place where I did not want to go when my time came the first time in Pivot Ministries and it hadn’t changed. I would start in the four man room, then as people were moved according to either time or vacancies, if someone left prematurely, not wishing to finish.
The typical Teen Challenge program/ministry consist of your coming off the street into any one of many homes scattered around the country in major cities, without money or clothing, as most addicts are. Your first thirty days were considered “Crisis”. You would not be permitted certain privileges like phone calls, visits, and trips to the store or even to go outside, except when transported to the various church services, whose churches supported the ministry. After the “Crisis” stage then “Induction”, where you were expected to be past the point of leaving, or wanting to leave, being more inclined to complete the program of an additional two months, and being able to enjoy the privileges not had in Crisis. Then most persons, very rarely anyone going to a place in Brockton, MA, an urban setting, eight month completion, which was similar to the facility in PA except there was an actual farm. I was determined to make it to Brockton, but I had to first get through Crisis.
Unlike the former residence in Bridgeport, Hosanna Ministry was in a neighborhood which wasn’t too bad, but wasn’t great either. On weekend evenings you could sit in your window and watch the prostitutes working for Crack, other drug addicts and alcoholics, loud music in cars, the typical urban-ness of large city, USA. My first month there, I went to the window after hearing loud voices coming from the three lane, one way avenue in front of our house. A prostitute named “Detroit”, apparently well-known by some of our local residents, telling a “John” she had to use the bathroom by shouting, “I got to pee.” I still remember the expression on the white guy’s face when this girl, black, opening the car door, about one in the morning, in August, in the middle lane, bending over after lifting her short skirt and actually urinating in the street. Well, “John” had enough! He didn’t want to stick around and managed even in high traffic to get away from the scene while Detroit laughed hysterically with a hand full of money. Old John apparently gave her $200, because she even shouted the amount, out loud, to purchase drugs, and she set him up by pulling an act that would be embarrassing and putting fear in John who’s occupant was using the outside of his car as a public restroom, definitely an attraction for a passing police car and possibly being arrested or questioned as to why you have a prostitute doing such, and you’re trying NOT be identified, maybe license checked and paraphernalia in the car—oh yeah, too much for John. Hey, too much even for me. Again, my motto, “always go with your money.” John paid for a pretty nice party for Detroit, a party he would not be attending. I wonder if he’ll ever visit the city again. If he’s an addict, just as soon as he could get to another ATM, he’ll be back! I know this by experience.
The devil doesn’t stop trying to trick us once we’ve decided to do the right thing. When I did have periods of sobriety from my sexual compulsion, he would try to stimulate outwardly. At the other home, where the female students lived, there was a huge backyard used to conduct our “flea market” where monies would go to support the ministry. It is where a rather poor community without a lot of money and transportation, who can’t get to the better department stores in the outlying areas, shopped to furnish their homes and apartments. Where they purchased a bed, appliances, clothing, and various assortment of whatever someone else discarded but still had value. My job was to sell these items getting the best price. I was good at what I did, but it opened me to being exposed to other sexual situations.
Once a young lady I had gotten to know because of her passing by twice a day, going to and from work and our changing pleasantries, confessed to “liking” me. One day in pretence of shopping had her blouse open, fully exposing her naked breasts to me. Another time, we had a student, quite attractive, and I would be able to spend time since being at their residence more than the other male residents, exposed her breasts to me. Eventually, the van would be loaded up with those ladies and sent to other programs more suited since having male attendees, too, became distracting. However, Rev. Ponton permitted me to continue being there, even to take my lunch, and I would learn to recognize treatment for women who are in drug recovery has to be different. Addiction takes so much away from everyone but women are hurt even deeper than men. A man when he wants drugs and has no money will resort to robbery, theft, scheming and even aggressive forceful behavior to the point of physical abuse and death. Women, on the other hand, will sell their bodies. You have to instill a woman’s dignity before you can treat her. To do otherwise you will never address the pain issue which she will soon medicate, self-medicate in the only way she knows how, to relieve the pain which never stop. To lose children is harder for women. I noticed when having lunch the women would cater to me, wanting to prepare my food, offering to use their own money to provide a snack for me. Rev. Ponton explained it was my recognition of what he himself was trying to do for them knowing it would not be my intention to begin a relationship with them, would be what they really needed; they needed to feel needed and have the opportunity of nurturing which is so strongly a part of their nature. It was from those afternoons there, eating and talking with them when I formed the idea, “if” I would ever be involved in ministry, like this, it would be more so for women instead of men. Women were a part of my addiction experience and I guess in my own misguided way, even then, looked to make their life a bit easier by taking them off the street, providing them a place to smoke which was safe, giving them food, feminine products, and money to put in their pocket after we were finished, and provide a place for them to shower and freshen up. I never, ever, sexually abused them by intercourse or even touching. Everything was visual for me and they needn’t even remove their clothes, since it was my compulsion. My heart has always felt akin to theirs and I will always do what I can to provide assistance for them.
My time there selling at the flea market wasn’t all work. I looked forward going there because I developed a friendship with someone very special. His or her name was “Tic-Tac”! A squirrel. Tic-Tac, the name given by one of the house students, and I would become so close as friends it would look for me when I was late. Once when we had an impromptu meeting, and walking down the block later than the normal routine, Tic-Tac met me half way, sitting on its legs in what appeared as scolding me! It kept a few feet ahead of me, as leading me to the backyard porch of the other house, where a can of peanuts was kept for its food. Once I opened the can and sat on the ground, Tic-Tac would walk up my leg and sit while I gave it peanuts and scratched the back of its head!
My religious experience after the first week when Barry conducted his version of a Bible study, I asked to speak with him telling him that’s not what I would consider a Bible Study and I would be willing to lend my experience to the ministry. The expression on his face was an interesting one as he listened to me putting down his style of teaching when he kindly said,
“Bro. Roy. I appreciate your wanting to get involved and participate; but you’re here to recover and get healed. Use your time here for that and relax in the Lord. Your time is not now, but it will come. But, not now.” I saw myself doing the same thing I was guilty of at Pivot Ministries. I didn’t want to make the same mistake so I settled down to get all I could for the reason I was there. When we sometimes get a little soberness in our life, a little strength, we think we can return to the world we left. This is when we crash and burn and it comes very hard. We have to learn patience and let God finish was He has started in us. I would learn this process doesn’t necessarily happen in days, weeks or months. For many of us it will take years.
I heard what he said and it would be no problem. I began praying more, participating in their all night prayer session where on Friday and Saturday nights you would be awakened to report to the chapel to pray for one hour, then wake the next person to do the same. The first couple of weeks were easy since newer students would begin at eleven, but the longer time you were there, you would eventually be moved to three and four in the morning, which was tough, but I learned to discipline myself to stay awake, although often I would feel the hand of the night staff member on my shoulder waking me to get the next person, so I learned quickly to just get up and say “Amen”, “thank you, Jesus for listening to my prayer” aloud, to give the impression I was awake, but lost track of time. My God, I hope I didn’t snore while on my knees supported against the chair!
Our weekly services were on Tuesday night for Bible Study, Thursday for Chapel and Friday Night services opened to the community followed by chicken and rib dinner, Sunday morning and afternoon services. This followed the typical Pentecostal weekly service schedule I was familiar with during my days as an associate minister with the Church of God in Christ fellowship in the late 70’s.
On Sabbaths, I tried and wanted to return to my roots but ran into resistance because it would be the best day for selling and as I indicated, I was good and was often left alone to conduct the business when Barry had to be away on an errand. I struggled with this. How could I wanting the Lord to save me from drug addiction, come to a ministry and yet be dissuaded not to keep the sacred day for the sake of the ministry He brought me to? I was confused and greatly. On one particular Sabbath, having eaten lunch at our house, I was in my bedroom praying about it when God told me to go see a particular student named Bro. Al. Bro. Al was a distinguished looking Puerto Rican brother from New York. He and I formed a great relationship and challenged each other singing by holding the longest note during praise and worship. I got off my knees to go find Bro. Al. His room was next to mine. I went inside but he was not there but his roommate, a staff member, Bro. Larry, was. I was just getting ready to ask Larry to give me a word when God stopped my mouth saying,
“Did I not say Bro. Al?”
I backed out of the room and returned to my own. I don’t think Bro. Larry even knew I was there. I started praying and got the urge to locate Bro. Al and got up and opening the door, Bro. Al was standing there with an up-raised fist getting ready to knock! I looked at him amazed and said,
“Bro. Al! God told me He gave you a word for me?” He looked at me and replied,
“That’s right. I do. I’ll be right back.”
In a moment he returned with his Bible. A simplified version which I would not read and had no respect for it’s simplicity, unlike the King James Version I preferred and read many times. He turned to Jeremiah 29:10 through 14 and read those verses to me, closed his Bible and walked out of my room, closing the door:
10 This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 In those days when you pray, I will listen. 13 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. 14 I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”
I was stunned! There was my answer I just prayed to God for. He told me I was in captivity now and had to do what was required of me, for He was the One who brought me there knowing full well what I would have to face, but do not be in despair. Soon He would bring me out, when my captivity was completed, and return me to a stable place where I would be able to worship Him again in the proper way, and will receive the blessings He had in mind, for me, which were always mine. From that day on, I was able to continue my duties without struggling knowing there would come a time when I would never have to violate my conscious again. I wasn’t worried about the Sabbath when I was doing drugs so I shouldn’t worry about it now. It will come. Just be faithful. This was in 1993. My captivity would end nine years later! The captivity of drugs and sexual addiction.
While actively engaged in warfare against drug addiction, my other problem began to surface. I mentioned it briefly not knowing if it would be necessary to share it; but, this book is about God saving me and, I believe, if I can get past my shame and embarrassment and others get past theirs in reading this, perhaps there are others out there who may have a similar struggle and could feel strength and know God is able to bring you out of any and every sin, no matter what it is and no matter how much shame might be associated with it.
When I was six years old and living in the projects of Cleveland, Ohio, I saw two teen-age girls approaching from the opposite direction and I unzipped my pants and exposed myself to them. Why? I don’t know. For years I struggled trying to understand this behavior of mine to the extent of purchasing psychology books to determine the origin of my behavior. It is not as if I received any sexual satisfaction or stimulation, certainly not at age six and not even in my adult years, other than the attention it brought me. Various psychologist and psychiatrist I saw over the years would propose any number of things possible even as to how I was punished growing up, to the position of birth regarding my siblings, or to some source of abuse which I have no memory but manifests itself in this outward display. Over the years, I have never been able to conquer the compulsion which drove me to do this. It was a tremendous amount of pressure, my dealing with not only fear of being arrested but being found out by family members. I tried participating in nudist camps and beaches to even performing as an exotic dancer in my early thirties, neither of which was able to relieve this compulsion to display myself. I even prostituted myself and it did not resolve anything insofar as the compulsion went. In the late 70’s, I participated in hypnotherapy and was taken back to elementary school days, identifying classmates by name I used to sit nearby, in class, attempting to expose myself to them! Yes, there is a certain shame associated with writing this part of my story, but it is a part of my life in a major way which God deals with and I will share in later chapters; but, suffice it to say, this problem rose to the surface in a huge way during my stay at Hosanna Ministries.
From my second story window bedroom, I would wait for women to walk by and pretend to be undressing, getting their attention, or, I would stay up late when everyone was asleep in the house and when prostitutes would stroll, I would turn on my light and appear in the window nude. When school started in September, going and coming from their school, certain of the students would know where to finding me in the window waiting for them. Once I was caught by a staff member and received a strong caution, assigned a room-mate to replace the one who left instead of waiting for a new arrival. One time, the police wanted to have the complainant come inside while they conducted a line-up to identify the guilty party, but after confessing to the Director, staff and other students, they showed kindness, forgiveness and love and Rev. Ponton quickly whisked me away to the next stage, “The Farm”, since it was time to go forward for me. I was completely in his debt for moving, quickly, protecting me from arrest and the complications involved. Persons in recovery form a community of aid to each other unlike many other associations. We remember the pain of addiction and whatever can be done not to retard the progress even if illegal activity is discovered, is put away or avoided to continue that person’s sobriety. To be released from jail or prison can undo so many good days, weeks, months of careful progress and determination, resulting in depression and a return to addiction and even death. So, Rev. Ponton, “many thanks” for your dedication and courage for me.
I already mentioned my sudden need to go to the Farm and the reason why, which Rev. Ponton, after I asked him about two months into the program, knowing it would be an issue and my requesting to go to Brockton instead, so I just left it up to him to advise me which was best for me. He, without hesitation said the Lord wanted me to go to “The Farm”.
I didn’t have too much but the last month working at the flea market provided me with a suitcase. I was told while in the ministry whatever I needed God would provide. If there was something I needed, pray about it and sure enough, I saw this large, purple colored suitcase. Some clothing and books, I had all I needed now to be able to attend the next phase comfortably. I used this suitcase up until 2005, when I would exchange it for a brand new luggage set.
Saying good-bye under the conditions I was leaving, the van loaded with mine and another student’s things, Bro. Frank, who had been there an extra month, who everyone placed in my care since he was, let’s just say, “special”, we were off to “The Farm” in Rehrersburg, Pennsylvania, that cold and snowy night on October 31, 1993.