Teen Challenge’s “The Farm” is located on what is called “God’s Mountain”, which in actuality is more or less on the level of a mole-hill, but it would be the next phase on the road to recovery for the next fourteen months. It sits on a considerable parcel of land housing more than four hundred students, a full compliment of staff and their families, men and women dedicated to God in service to men who struggle(d), depending where you were, with dependencies of more than just drugs. One can say they “overdose” you with religion in order to keep you from overdosing on chemicals, but its’ concept goes, or at least tries to, much deeper than that but the student has to allow himself the freedom, courage and willingness to let God direct their lives. This is what I intended to do from my first day.
On the first day, all new residents appear before the staff for introductions during their monthly morning meeting. You state your name, city of residence and any comment about your expectation of why you are there. Afterwards, you are gathered together again for orientation and learn what your work assignment would be. Everyone will participate in some way and my fear, which kept me from coming here and caused me to want to leave prematurely the first time, was due to being in the company of animals or working in fields. Oh, I’m aware of how we get closer to God by communicating with nature, but I’m definitely an urban dweller whose idea of nature can be simply a patch of dirt with one tree and I’m satisfied. I had the fortunate experience and privilege of coming to Teen Challenge when it was regarded as the time when most of the original students, now administrators, had the most impact on the lives of hundreds if not thousands of men. I will mention several but my first exposure to staff would be to Jimmy Rivera. Jimmy was your typical New Yorican, slight build, bilingual, former hard-core addict who, too, made this trip before me. His role was Vocational Director, responsible for the job placement of students. He had an assistant, another student, who preceded me by four months. Jimmy gave us a message about our lives revolving on a principle, a three-pronged basis of spirituality, physical and vocation. I was most impressed since he had to translate for those Spanish brothers just arrived from Puerto Rico, from such places as Bayamón and Aguadilla, places I’ve never heard yet would become very familiar later in my adventure toward recovery.
When the job selection began, a student would stand giving his name. Prior to arriving, the ministry which sent you, already sent a brief description of your participation, skills and other abilities, they believed, would be of interest to the staff here; so often enough, they would have already determined where you would be before you arrived. Such was my case. When my turn came and I announced who I was, the Assistant acknowledged me as, “Oh, you are Roy Martin? You stand over here” separating me from those who already received their assignment. My job would be the assistant to the Assistant to the Vocational Director. I would be spared a fate worse than death! At least I would work in an office environment and wear a shirt and tie, just like being back at IBM. Even in recovery I would be held in an esteem position.
My gifts were soon realized because typing was often needed and Bro. Jimmy had a computer with a database of all the students and their work assignments versus days of Bible classes in Microsoft Access. I was not familiar with that software, but my knowledge of drop-down menus and other Microsoft software would make it easy to learn. Because Bro. Jimmy’s being able to off-load tasks to me would make the Assistant and I bump heads as to who was the most important, which eventually led to a falling out although we still had to work together. Usually, very seldom we would have to work at the same time, since he and I would alternate work days so Bro. Jimmy’s office would have coverage. However, I was glad to see the brother leave so I could run the office the way I believed more efficient, eventually bringing on board my own assistant and replacement when I graduated.
My alternate days of education proved to be a bit tedious. The ministry was based upon a man having a beginning knowledge of Biblical matters, so in most cases, I was bored especially with having to recite Bible text from memory. There would be discussions with Pop Rainbow, the gentleman/pastor and chaplain recognized being there from the beginning, who retired two years after I left. He was quite familiar with Adventist teaching, so was kind in not throwing zingers making me want to answer in a controversial manner. In fact, my lesson learned with him was one out of tolerance and to respect those of differing beliefs. This was not the case with my counselor, Bro. Mark Ortiz; who replaced Pop as Chaplain during my time there, whose mother was an Adventist and he himself exposed to my faith. He and I would go several rounds, with my being humbled because he was a staff member, in a well-structured environment known for discipline; but, I still loved reminding him of his roots.
When Bro. Jimmy answered the call to ministry and began a church in Allentown, PA, Hugh Clark (see photo) would continue providing his support for the Mail Room and now Vocation Department. Bro. Hugh was perhaps the flashiest brother in the place, always impeccably dressed, groomed and looking as if he stepped out of GQ or Ebony Magazine. Bro. Hugh was married to a woman involved in education living in Staten Island, and a daughter attending college elsewhere. If you watched the funeral of President John F. Kennedy and noticed one black color-guard who participated, that was Hugh Clark. Bro. Hugh formerly worked as a police officer for New York for ten years then as a State Investigator for another ten years before succumbing to a heroin addiction bringing him to Teen Challenge and staying on as a staff member. I spent hours talking with him, him counseling me, for the most part running the Vocational Office with him merely signing off on my activities, which was kind of him because he trusted in my abilities to get the job done. When I graduated and became a staff member, he let me stay at his trailer one weekend while spending time with his wife, and I enjoyed being off campus for a weekend. I was also his assistant to a choral group and drove to various churches in the New York area and managed them.
(Had a wonderful phone call with Hugh July 29, 2017 after almost 25 years of no contact. He has become an author like yours truly. Contact me for information regarding his book on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.)
Everything in Teen Challenge is believed to be guided by God for your good. That’s the premise and I have to believe it was definitely the case for me. There were areas in my life God would use situations and people to bring out the best in me and at the same time bringing out the worse, to see it as He did, to get it resolved. Let me share with you several examples.
In the beginning of my stay, after the first month, the month of weeding those who are most likely to stay versus those who figured they could make it now, or were tired of getting up early in the morning to mix it up with the cows and their smelly byproducts, I would be assigned a room with three men. David, ahead of us newcomers by two months served as the photographer for special events. Mark, a quiet, yet profound thinker, the only white among us, with his long hair, refusing to wear a necktie, jean wearing, country western-style swagger but a master carpenter got assigned to the Carpentry Shop and recognized for his skill and craft. And Bro. Curtis! Bro. Curtis probably my favorite person of the bunch, in custodial service and made you think it was the best job on The Farm, since he could find a place to rest and catch a few snoozes between mopping and cleaning windows. Curtis was all of about three hundred pounds, big-headed with a large gap between his front teeth, a family trademark I noticed when I saw a picture of his daughter, a teen who looked just like him except for the fact she had slightly longer hair and he had none or kept it closely cropped. We were like the cream of the crop of the Graduating Class of June 1994, of course except for David, who left one month before he completed the course, with us trying to convince him to finish, but his attention focused on his recently new born son. We had a fear, a real fear for those who did not finish and hearing too many bad reports of what happened to those who thought they could make it. One report came from a guy’s mother who called while in our first month about another student, Danny, who decided he was ready to move on. Danny was found in the bathroom, dead, with a needle still in his arm!
Prior to David’s leaving we had a new arrival fresh off the turnip truck from the hills of Kentucky. I mean a true Appalachian, red-neck, country-bumpkin sounding hick, who’s “howdy” rankled the short hairs on my neck and who’s “Praise Gawd” could be heard from anywhere in the Chapel. We knew he was serious, but he just wasn’t one of the guys, if you know what I mean. When David left, the three of us guessing who we would get until that morning the door opened and my not wanting to acknowledge by even turning my head. We were rudely disappointed to hear that “howdy” and seeing that round-headed, pink-faced, country-sounding, hillbil—gentleman!
There would be several lessons to be learned having him in our midst. Perhaps the one which affected me most was when I graduated and asked to stay on as a staff member. One of my responsibilities was to tend to the Commissary and soda machines. One day I was in the process of collecting monies and reloading, having shut the machines down for service, and this by merely announcing to those standing by, “machines closed” when who would appear to want a soda? Yes, him! I told him the machines were down but he proceeded to get a soda anyway. I stood in front of the machine to block his effort of inserting coins, when he placed his hands on me, shoving me. It would be all I needed to have him disciplined. Another student saw the act and supported my report. One can be put off the mountain by fighting, but this hardly could be considered a “fight”. The next and last time I would see him, his discipline determined, I was working in the executive building and a car drove up and he was sitting as a passenger. He was there to say his good-byes to the staff, having been dismissed from the program! I don’t know if he was going back to the ministry which sent him, which was usually the case, or if he decided to leave altogether, but what I did know and felt badly about was my hatred of him because of his, rather, my perceived ignorance of him, from the very beginning, would cause this man to leave a place where I knew I depended upon for help from a life-threatening situation. I was responsible for his non-completion and possible return to death or at the very least, further rejection by family and friends, which was usually the ultimatum for most of us if we did not finish this ministry. Over a simple can of soda! He noticed me coming into the lobby on an unrelated matter and looked me in the eye, smiled and waved saying in his trademark voice, copied later by others, “Praise Gawd”. The irony of it all! Over one can of “Mountain Dew”.
One of the methods God tested me was in the area of humility. My nemesis left and I was the head assistant to the Vocational Director, Hugh Clark, and had the keys and pretty much administered the job when one of my friends needed to make a phone call. Although I never made any personal phone calls myself, I, in my “most important” position allowed another student to make a call. Again, God works mysteriously. It was learned a phone call was made and thankfully I hadn’t lied when questioned. My punishment would be to leave the coveted position and thankfully not work on the actual farm, but I would have to spend a month in Maintenance. It was humiliating enough. So, instead of my white shirts and ties, I’d dressed in casual clothing of jeans and with a mop, broom, squeegee, solution bottles and duster, would begin my punishment—cleaning. My roommate Curtis, perhaps the finest maintenance engineer—ever, or so he called it, his life’s work, took me under his wing and showed me the best and easiest way of accomplishing these chores with pride. I even learned how to strip and wax floors using a machine! Little did I know how this education would affect me in another way years later. The other students weren’t so kind and made comments regarding my no longer walking around campus with a cup of coffee and clipboard, but now feather duster and sponge. Needless to say, I was glad when the month ended and restored to my former place.
I would have several other testing experiences. I determined from the beginning to do well here and complete the program in hopes of winning Karen back. I had seen many men change their minds mid-stream, for various reasons, but mostly over family matters involving wives—not girlfriends, but actual, living, lawful wives. Somehow it was impressed within my mind to continue forward and not allow any concerns keep me from finishing.
It was an unseasonably warm Sabbath day in January, two months after arriving here, I had the surprise visit of Karen. It would be unfortunate because Karen handed me divorce papers! I was crushed. Where many men had given up and left, their wives being their main objective for staying, I was determined not to become depressed and leave, too, after all, the reason why I first wanted to complete this program was no longer an option. Where would I go? I no longer had any home or hope for my marriage. I looked inward and remembered my commitment to finish the ministry knowing and having witnessed lives being guided by God. I knew He was more than capable of restoring my marriage if I kept my eyes off Karen and placed them fully on Him. And I determined to do so.
When she drove away, I walked slowly along the same path, dead of winter, cool but not cold, without a coat, needing to pray for direction and help to continue forward. I knew what waited should I go backwards and I did not want it. It was then I started to pray for God to take me to “where the sun never stops shining”. When I would have my personal prayer time normally in the early morning or late evening, I’d go and look at the sun and think about where it was headed and wanted to be there. I don’t know why I began to pray that prayer, perhaps because I now felt willing and able to travel and go wherever He would send me, and this prayer He would answer, seven years later, or so I thought.
I still believed Karen would change her mind even up until the day of graduation. I was sitting with my fellow graduates and on the other side of the auditorium I thought I saw her! I was excited. In my thinking, I thought Karen stayed, purposefully, away from me so I would not become distracted, even so far as to begin divorce proceedings. I, to, with my other fellow students would be leaving this place–tonight, although I enjoyed the experience and they asked me to stay on as a staff member for six months, I was going home! I kept looking over at her, trying to get her attention. It wasn’t until I had gotten my medallion and walked across the stage, expecting to be greeted by her on the far side closest to her, I learned this woman would only have a striking resemblance to Karen, but it would not be Karen. I kept my face smiling although totally disappointed.
As a staff member, I was given a stipend of $35 a pay period or $70 a month. My first month, I earned a weekend pass and decided to spend it on a hotel room, just to be away from the ministry and on my own for a weekend. With a few dollars in my pocket, it didn’t take me long to find a source for Crack in Reading, Pennsylvania, about a half hour away. When the weekend was over, I returned to my former behavior of walking miles instead of talking a cab to the point of pickup, not having any money—again—because of drugs!
I asked for and receive the duty of running the commissary, increasing my wages to $140 a month, but it didn’t prevent me from stealing quarters and dollars from the seven soda machines I serviced and when I worked the commissary, not registering the actual amount taken. In two months, I pocketed $500 for another weekend, this time in Philadelphia. Two months later, another weekend trip to Philadelphia, this time with $1,000! I would store the singles in bundles of one hundred wrapped in my socks to avoid keeping the money on my person.
My second trip to Philadelphia, I arranged to get a room, retrieved the Crack and smoked from Friday evening straight through until Sunday afternoon, just in time to catch the return bus to Reading. During this trip, I, too, would suffer a brain seizure similarly to what the young lady suffered four years ago in Poughkeepsie.
I couldn’t find a glass stem so I unscrewed a metal fixture from a lamp, brass and hollow and about the length of a glass stem, packed it with chore-boy and smoked. The metal not cooling as rapidly as glass, nor could I judge the resin buildup, because I could not see through the metal and eventually I was unable to get smoke through the stem. With a hanger I managed to shove the blockage which thumped onto a table surface in the consistency of a lump of soft gum, a sticky black mass of goo. I replaced the filter and started smoking again.
When I finished smoking the rocks, and of course, looking for more and not wanting to go outside and deal with thieves in the middle of the night, in a city I did not know, in streets I could not determine where I was headed because of my being “high”, I looked at the chunky mass I removed earlier. When I touched it with my finger it was harder but still like the consistency of gum. I cut a piece and put into the pipe, figuring it must be loaded since it was melted crack upon melted crack and leaving enough passage for air, perhaps I could get a good hit, placed it to my lips and lit the lighter, not being able to see how much I was ingesting, drew into my lungs the amount I normally consumed; not knowing I was taking in the most concentrated amount ever to that time then and perhaps ever later. I was standing when I took the hit, facing a mirrored dresser, bed behind me, television, a floor model on my left. I’m not sure what happened next but I fell over backwards landing straight on the bed. Thankfully, I was in that position when I took the hit, otherwise I might’ve landed on the floor hitting my head. I can remember laying back, hearing all kinds of sounds, voices, thinking people were coming into my room, with my laying on my back, lighter and stem in either fist unable to let go, and now unable to breathe! I remember gagging and having the presence of mind to turn my head toward the television, moving my tongue to the side to allow air to flow into my lungs. But what was happening on television was what held my attention. I was on it! That’s right! I was one of the actors in whatever movie was being played. I was on the screen and felt as if I were a part of the television experience! Amazing! There was a time when I couldn’t have a television on and definitely not a radio. When in the past I would hear a radio, I thought the announcer was speaking to me and so I never permitted this distraction because I needed to be able to hear when the police would try to come in and get me. I do not know how long this lasted, but it was the most intense high I’d ever experience. When I did return to soberness, I looked at the remaining chunk and just said, “Wow, now that was a hit!” I put the other half in and this time sat down before lighting. (Note: Even as I wrote the last paragraph, this incident occurred over nine years ago and I still relived the horror and feelings I had then. I had to get up, walk around and get my perspective back. Drugs are insidious. They’ll sneak up on you when you least expect it. That’s why we must pray to be healed from memories as well. It’s the memory which takes us back and we begin to desire the creation of new ones. Let’s move on.)
I’m sure the Accountant at Teen Challenge noticed something wrong regarding the amount of monies, and knew something was not right, or most definitely God stepped in and determined it was time to move forward, because my term of six months as a staff member was not going to be renewed.
At that time, I was supporting the Director of Development, Merrill Smucker. Yes, of the well-known name, whose sister is Mrs. Anne Beiler of the “Auntie Anne’s” pretzel fame, who, over a breakfast meeting would be the one to tell me my stay would not be extended past the end of December 1994. When I returned to the office, I sent a resume to Manpower in Philadelphia, and received an immediate telephone call requesting me, to begin work at Mellon Bank, Market Street, Center City, Philadelphia.