Chapter 9. Caught in the Act (1996)

Beth and David met me at the bus terminal in Reading and I was so glad to see them.  I felt, if I wanted, all my past problems could finally be left in the past.

I had gotten to know Beth during my staff days at Teen Challenge.  One day while driving a van of interns, I passed a church noting it was a SDA Church in Lebanon.  I decided when I could I would stop by.  When I did, I was told a woman lived very close to Teen Challenge so I called her.  Beth, a woman in her late sixties, from Canada, beautiful personality, taught piano in her home, married to David, early seventies, tall with a thunderous accented voice from his birthplace, England. I developed a relationship so close they were like mother and father to me.  They lived in a three-level home, within twenty minutes walking distance from Teen Challenge’s property, and she would meet me every Sabbath and mid-week service.  Beth did not like to drive in bad weather or at night, so it was my privilege to do so for her.

Our church, pastured by Elder Mike McCabe, previously mentioned, was a small church with about forty in attendance weekly, and there was much love directed toward me.  I was the only African-American but it was never commented upon and I grew to love the members and develop friendships.

It felt too good to be true to actually live in a comfortable home with my own bedroom with a bed, so comfortable and not on the floor as some of my previous living arrangements.  The room nicely appointed, my first night having rested so completely, I had to comment to them.  The one difference I noted in contrast to where I came from, it was dark and quiet.  I had forgotten what it was like.

David took me out in the beginning of the week to various employment agencies and registered for work and it was not long before I would find work at a bottling distributor.  Although I worked in an office, it was quite different from anything I had ever done, or wanted to do.  My job was tracking inventory, receiving and distribution, with some time actually spent in the sweet, sticky smell of various beverages being bottled, cased and stacked.  There were always broken glass and sticky surfaces of ground to avoid.  In fact, I believe my own consumption of bottled juices and soda might have been reduced since I saw first-hand the process.  I left shortly after finding work at the Caron Foundation as a medical transcriptionist.  By now, I retrieved the rest of my belongings from Philadelphia, feeling determined I would do much better here.

I worked in an office with my supervisor, Cherrie, as she preferred to be called.  Caron was a private drug and alcoholic rehabilitation facility reserved for those either with good insurance or wealth to stay there for the required minimum thirty days.  They were known to attract celebrities and stayed in private cottages on the grounds rather than the hotel-like residential building where the less wealthy clients lived.  My duty was to transcribe the cassette recordings of the various counselors for their student’s records.

I worked there two months, still living with Beth and David, relishing the instruction I was learning and experiencing from actually living with a husband/wife, mother/father I did not benefit from in my early years.  Their being married for as old as I was, allowed me to see the interpersonal relationship between a man and woman, helping me to feel confident if I ever got the chance to be married again, I believed my marriage would stand a better chance of succeeding.  My job performance was noticed and my manager, Pat, who also managed Caron’s outpatient satellite office several miles from the center in Wernersville, in a city called Wyomissing, near Reading, questioned if I would be interested in taking over her job at this office as the Office Manager!  I was excited and both pleased to receive this opportunity because it would be the actual first permanent job I would work since I was dismissed from IBM five years before.  The thought of having a steady job, benefits, salary, a great level of responsibility, people I’d interact with on a professional basis was indeed very exciting.

I interviewed with the center’s manager whose responsibility was for the overall patient care, and directly supervised the therapists.  My responsibility was to manage the office staff of four employees and provide support for the therapist and direct support for her, my boss, who reported to the Director of the foundation.  I would have my own office, sizable and impressive with my name on the door, which I hadn’t had at IBM.  I would supervise all the building’s aspects and the computing technology, being a very visible presence.  It was a lot of responsibility with many long hours with a sizable increase to occur in six months which would put me near to what I was making at IBM’s base salary.

I felt so impressed and inspired by this opportunity when interviewed, I shared with my future boss the real reason I left IBM, and thought it would be a milestone in my career if I could have the opportunity and privilege of working in the capacity of helping those with whom I was so closely related to in terms of affliction.  I had first-hand knowledge of the disappointments, frustrations, losses as a result of drug addiction.  She was impressed with my work history and could see I was up to the challenge of making her job easier and efficient.  I got the job!

It was something for me being introduced as the “Office Manager” of the Caron Foundation at Wyomissing.  Finally, to be on a payroll, have authority and dignity, to be able to handle people’s complaints and find resolution.  Although I did not agree with the methodology of the organization because they conducted A.A./N.A. meetings and encouraged its participation, I was respected for my beliefs as one having achieved the same goal without them.  I knew enough not to voice my opinion to a paying client, nor would my duties comprise of ever having to relate to anyone in any capacity other than as the Office Manager.  My ultimate concern was the smooth running of the operation, not their chosen method of provisional care.

When I took the job, Pat introduced me to her landlord who had an apartment available.  It was time for me to move from Beth and David’s home.  Their goal was met in my being re-established and I needed to strike out on my own to start living life.  I was not quite ready to move into an apartment.  I did not have furniture, dishware, etc., not that I would not be able to afford it because I could, but there was a fear, a very real fear we as addicts experience. It’s not only the fear of success but it’s our acceptance of failure.  We may have good intentions and desire to fulfill certain goals but we are afraid, if we fail, of falling backwards too far.  Sure, relapse is a part of recovery and there will be slips, but the fear we face is in the slipping.  Will we be able to recover with minimal consequences?  In truth, we are afraid and do not know how to live in society again.  There is really nothing which can prepare one to re-adapt to this return to life, although there are many methods which we will try, but one eventually has to cut all strings and go without a safety net and begin to live.  There’s no other way.   I chose to go the way which would be the most comfortable, easiest and convenient.  A residential motel, perhaps my choice was not the best.  (Note:  As I type this April 12, 2005, I had an epiphany of why I was directed to come to New York and to live in a “hotel/motel-type” facility.  I would have to overcome my fears and failures of the past and one could only do so by having the opportunity to live—successfully—through what might have been a failure of the past.  Interesting how I not only work at a hotel but live in one as well.  My whole existence, now, consists in association with the very places where my drug addiction was nurtured.)

Not having lived in this area, I chose a familiar motel I passed frequently heading back and forth from Reading.  It had an attractive blue cone-shape roof and I inquired regarding its availability and cost, particularly because of its proximity to my office.  A drug addict’s mind is always thinking about “what if”. I wanted to live close enough so if I did have a bad moment, I would be close enough to be able to walk to work.  I was, this time within a half hour opposed to Philadelphia’s three and a half hours.  I purchased a car but just in case I couldn’t afford gas, could I get to work?  I could—easily.

Secondly, if I could save money, I could start buying a few pieces of furniture and could store it in my room.  I would have access to laundry facilities and if I wanted, housekeeping.  Those who knew where I decided to reside tried to dissuade me from doing so.  Nice appearances do not necessarily mean nice places.  I have to admit, today, I did have a fear of moving there initially, not because of the possible environment, but could I overcome being in a place where my addictive behaviors were often done?  I felt I could do it and wanted the opportunity to prove it.  I imagine I was still after the quest of overcoming my addiction started June 1989.  It was now March 1996.

When Pat was showing me my responsibilities, in my office, I felt the old stirring of addiction when she pointed out the safe in my office was broken.  Part of my responsibilities was to manage the “Petty Cash”, which should never exceed fifty dollars.  Our location received payment for services as well as sold books and other materials germane to its purpose helping people to get clean.  My receptionist would prepare the daily deposit and I would drop it into the night depository at a nearby bank.  That’s the way it was supposed to happen.  Within the first few days, although I diligently dropped the bag into the depository, I was making withdrawals from the Petty Cash!  I determined since it was my office now, I could merely move money around to cover myself until the following Thursday when I would get my first paycheck providing more than enough to reimburse the account, pay my rent and have plenty for my chosen recreation this weekend.

The following week, I made it appear someone broke into our building and stole my boss’s portable sound center, valued about $250.00, and reported the incident to the police, who investigated and I suggested the possibility of an employee who was fired for not wanting to work for me, and thought he should have gotten the job, having worked there years before I even started as a temp.  What I did not know was Pat, although not her job, was still keeping track of Petty Cash and saw a discrepancy, and Pat knew, too, I was a former addict.  Former?

Wednesday night, closing the office and anticipating the next day when I would replace all monies stolen, as well as one night deposit which did not get deposited, I noticed for the second time an envelope written on the front, taped to the receptionist shelf where it would be obvious to anyone observing the work area.  The writing:  “Give to Joyce when she comes for payment for Avon products.”

I held the envelope close to a light and could make out a five dollar bill!  Well, not enough for me, then I saw another five!  Well, maybe enough now.  I still could not make out the third bill unless I opened the envelope.  I did.  A ten!!!  Plenty for one evening!  I took the money and envelope to replace later.

I stopped by my favorite pick-up spot, handed over the bills, got the drugs and headed back home.  The other night, I received the same amount for the nice stereo system!  The next morning, I was filled with anxiety knowing everything was going to be fixed and righted again and no one would have suspected anything.  I would take care of the Petty Cash, make the night deposit drop and as a gift to the boss purchase a stereo for her and another one for my own office, to show goodwill.  When I showered that morning, I noticed purple ink spots on my hands and fingers as if I broken a pen and got ink on myself, not a large amount, just small dots.  I noticed it last night but was too involved to care; however, they seemed more pronounced and did not go away even with soap!  I was perplexed, but not too concerned.  I was getting paid today!

While at work, and at the reception area where I was doing something, Pat came in, made a comment and disappeared when I got a phone call from the detective who was assigned our recent break-in.  He told me he had a few questions and asked if I could come in.  I told him I was pretty busy and could arrange to meet with him a little later in the day.  He made it sound as if it was too urgent to wait and, I, being the cooperative person and responsible Office Manager that I am, left letting my receptionist know where I was headed and would be back within an hour.

I was shown to the detective’s office, he made only one remark.

“Roy, we have a break in the case.  We can go one or two ways.  Either you can be honest with me and I’ll do what I can to help you, or, if you lie to me, I’ll crucify you!”

I swallowed a swallow that wouldn’t swallow, if you know what I mean.  Having been a student of theology and fully understanding the term “crucify”, I decided to tell the truth.  He showed signs of gratitude to not have to go through any further probing questioning and asked if I noticed my hands this morning.  Those blue dots of ink!  They marked the bills and it would show under a special lamp but concentrated areas would show like ink stains on flesh.  Under the special light, my hands looked like Christmas trees in Rockefeller Center, at midnight!  The detective could hardly contain himself and laughed when he thought about the drug dealer probably wondering why his hands were becoming purple the more he washed them.  It might have been funny even to me, but not now considering the circumstances.

I completely confessed all my activities even telling him I planned to take my paycheck to reimburse everything, even purchasing a stereo to replace my boss’s loss.  He informed me my job was lost and although a good gesture it would not be necessary to do so.  When he took me to be arraigned he was gracious enough to have me sit in the front seat holding the cuffs until I got out of the car, giving me respect in return for what I gave him.  During the court hearing he informed the Judge of my willingness to cooperate and believed I should be released on my own recognizance, and I would not leave town.  Afterwards, he drove me back to my office, retrieved my personal items and paycheck and returned me to my car in their parking lot.  I thanked him for his kindness then went to the electronic store where she told me she bought the unit, purchased another one getting free headphones being offered this week and dropped those items to the detective to deliver to her. I went home thinking it would have been smarter to have kept the almost three-hundred dollars spent to live on because my court date was three weeks away and I did not know where any extra money would come from.

The police detective called me days before my court appearance and asked if I would do him a favor.  He often lectured at a local elementary school and invited me to go with him and speak to a group of sixth graders about the dangers of drugs.  I agreed to do so and with him sitting in the back of the room with the teacher, a nun, I spoke to those kids and poured my heart out to them.  They asked me questions and I answered as openly as I could in hopes of saying something to them to keep them from traveling along the path I had.  The two adults in the room, the detective and the nun, well, let’s just say, their eyes were wet.  When leaving, he said to me, “Your story is amazing.  Never would I have thought anyone like you could have experienced the things you have.  I truly hope you will make it this time.  Thank you for giving to those kids what only you could give.”

The next three weeks would be a very difficult time for me.  I met a young woman named “Rose”!  Yes, it’s true.  You’d think by now I would have had enough sense to avoid anyone who did drugs with that name.  It’s like the name “Cynthia”.  My father’s second wife, my first wife and my youngest brother’s first wife, all ending in divorces!  She was addicted to heroin and I offered to give her rides to her pick up spot in the opposite direction from mine, but I desired company since my days were free.  Whatever money was left from the paycheck was gone quickly, and I did qualify and received a $116 monthly allowance from the welfare department for food-stamps.  I could not get any housing allowance because I did not qualify—yet.

I was thankful when my court appearance came due.  I saw Pat and my boss in the lobby, neither of whom would speak to me.  Unfortunately the Judge was not able to meet with us and our case was postponed for another three weeks.  I could not do it.  I had no money, no job and beginning to have no hope.  I began to consider suicide again when I received a phone call from my brother Brian.  Out of the blue, is how secular people describe coincidences, but Christians prefer to refer to it as a “blessing” to come home.  His words were I hadn’t been home in a long time and he would like to see me and not knowing the particulars of my predicament, just offered to help and to let other family members help as well.  It was difficult to decide at first because I’m sure I would not receive permission to leave the jurisdiction, but it was either leave or die, or at least an attempt to do so.

I loaded up my car leaving the motel room to a couple who were homeless with the explicit instructions they needed to be out by morning and headed for Beth’s house.  I explained to her and David I was going back to Cleveland.  Beth drove in her car behind me to the nearest gas station and filled my car handing me twenty dollars and made me promise I would not spend it on drugs but leave the area for Cleveland.  I promised and did exactly as I said.  I headed for home.

Chapter 10


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