Friends in need
It’s Sunday morning about 9:30a.m. I’m standing on the second story steps, overlooking the parking lot of the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. I’m waiting for my friend Nolland, who for reasons obvious to me didn’t come back last night. Why am I at the Rescue Mission? It’s a long story, and I will be more than happy to share it with you, in a bit, but back to my friend Nolland (not his real name).
I’m waiting for him because, as I said, he didn’t come back last night. We’re both part of a program for drug addicts and alcoholics; we have a curfew of 9:30 p.m. every weeknight and 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays. He’s 12 hours overdue. I continued to wait since he’ll be coming thru the gate any time now. He has to get his things, fore when you relapse you are asked to leave the program and there’s no doubt in my mind Nolland did relapse.
Well here he comes. Yeah his head is low a sure sign. He looked up and sees me standing there, and shakes his head in shame. He gets about 50 feet from me.
“Hey Ron, I screwed up man.” I moved down the stairs, we reach each other and I put my arms around him and held him tight. I know how he feels. I’ve been down those dark streets of hell many times before; add we had become best friends while at the Mission.
“Man I let you down; my son’s going to kill me.” My sorrow turned to anger.
“What do you mean?” I shouted? “You can’t do this for your son. He ain’t got the drug habit man, you do.” He dropped his head.
“I know,” he said.
“Why did you go out there? I told you not to go out there Nolland.”
“I couldn’t help it man; I didn’t go out there looking to get high— it just happened,” he said, looking down at the ground.
“That’s not true man and you know it.” When you walked out of here yesterday you knew exactly what you were going to do. All addicts know what they are going to do when it comes to getting high.”
Nolland and I had gone walking the night before; we had walked up Haley Street, which was known for its prostitutes and drugs. We had no business going back to the Mission that way but at the time I didn’t think anything about it. It had triggered Nolland’s drug habit, which I was sure didn’t take much to do.
“Oh come on Ron lighten up, I’m feeling bad enough as it is.”
But he didn’t understand where I was coming from, he didn’t understand that him going out, him relapsing, meant another black man would be useless as a father…. as man to some decent woman and useless to the black community. No wonder black kids were killing each other up like a national past time. All for the right to sell death and destruction to the black community including there own parents or anyone else who came into the Hood? The word was, if you wanted to get high go to the hood. Now another brother was biting the dust.
How could black leaders con black people into thinking that every thing was the fault of the white man? In my entire time as a dope fiend I had never bought any dope from any one but a black person, in a black community. For sure people were dumping the stuff into the community. We as black folk living in the hoods, sure didn’t own any boats or planes, but he wasn’t making us use the stuff either.
“You’re going to make it Ron,” he says to me.
“Why do you say that?” I asked?
“Cause you’re strong,” he said.
“Man, I’m not any stronger than you are any other person in this place. I just want this more than you.”
I knew what the word was on me. Jim Rye (not his real name) and others who ran the Mission had bets going that I would not make the one-year that the program called for. But they didn’t know me I was determined to graduate. Their feelings were based on the fact that I had been in a number of news papers and on TV and would not submit to the program, I would rebel.
“Yes you are, man,” Nolland continued. “They got big plans for you here at the Mission,” I didn’t say anything. I was just there to get clean nothing more.
“Come on,” I said. “I’ll help you pack.”
We walked through the dining room area, where, daily more than one hundred men and women who are homeless in the Santa Barbara area are fed. The forty or more men who are in the drug program also use the area. Here we watched sports, studied our bibles, (a large part of the program) and just hang out. Since its Sunday morning there’s no one around because everyone’s at church, a place I’m supposed to be, but I felt Nolland would need the support. We entered the front hall area where we processed the homeless. Some of the people who come to eat also stay overnight. To the left is a desk with a computer with the names of men and women and how long they have stayed. Men are allowed ten nights while women are only allowed three nights. The reason that women get only three nights is that the Mission at the time was not set up to keep women; we usually let them stay over night in the chapel or the handicapped dorm. Later, after I left the Mission, I think they did put in a homeless area for the women, along with a place for those who had children. To the right of the front door, leading to the courtyard is the chapel, straight ahead you come to the laundry room and clothing room where the homeless personnel along with the program members, can get anything they need in the way of clothing and toiletries.
The people in the community donate most of these things. Located inside this area is also a shower where on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays the homeless personnel can take a shower in the morning.
We walked up the stairs, and came to the second floor main hallway. Inside the door there’s another large bathroom, which we call the line bathroom. This is where those who are homeless and are staying overnight change their clothing, get pajamas, and take a shower. From here they head down the hall pass A Dorm which is the largest of the program dorms, then the work dorm (why they call it the work dorm I don’t know since all of us have to work) then B Dorm, finally at the end of the hall on both right and left of the hallway are the homeless personnel dorms; are as we in the program call them, the Line Dorms.
Nolland and I went into A Dorm where we are both assigned. As I said A Dorm is the largest of the five program dorms, sleeping some ten clients in the program. Nolland has the bunk in the far corner and the best spot in the dorm. He got what personal things he needed, and told me to put the rest of his things in the storage area that the Mission has for people who have somewhat of an over flow of personal Items and can’t fit everything into the lockers we are provided with. The storage area is also a temporary storage for those who like Nolland are rejected from the program for any number of reasons including relapsing.
We went back down stairs and walked out to the parking lot. As we were going to the gate Doug, (not his real name) a staff member and former program member himself, working the front reception desk hollers out the door.
“See you, you loser.” That of course makes Nolland feel worst than he already does.
”Man,” he said. “Why did Doug have to see me?”
“Don’t worry about it man, you know how Doug is. He doesn’t mean anything by it.” I had known Doug since I had come to the Mission. At first I didn’t like the guy, but the longer I was around him the more I understood him as being just a fun loving guy who would do anything for the Mission and the men in the program, including myself. We got to the gate.
“Well,” he said. “I guess this is it.”
“No man this ain’t it. You got to hang in there. Don’t give up.” I hugged him and watch as my friend walked down the street back into a world that I never wanted to return to. I knew just from all my reading on drug addiction, that when a person relapses they fall deeper into their addiction. I knew Nolland was in for the fight of his life out on the streets to stay clean. I didn’t think he would make it.
I along with a number of other men in the program would go to Sonny who was the men’s program Director and ask that Nolland be given another chance. But Jim, Sonny’s boss said no, he was also the Director of Ministries. I have my reasons for why he said no but it really doesn’t matter, Nolland had messed up and that was that.
I went back upstairs to my dorm and fell down on my bunk. I wanted to take advantage of the quietness that now filled the room. With eight other men in the room, some being young enough to be my sons, the noise could and did get a little nerve-racking. I turned my clock radio on very low; Frank Sinatra was singing the song Laura. I looked over where Nolland used to be. He’d be sitting playing his music, which we both loved. We’d exchange tapes, him teaching me about jazz, me teaching him about R. & B. I was going to miss him.
I had come a long way, from the streets of Cincinnati to L.A. to Las Vegas, back to Cincinnati back to L.A, to where I laid now in Santa Barbara California, all in the course of about twenty five years. I had been everything from a top clothing salesman in Beverly Hills, to a booking agent for a concert promoter, to a union rep of an Environmental Service Department in a hospital, to Director of Public Relations of a civil rights group. From head of the Black Panther Party, to working as desk clerk at a hotel in St. George Utah, back to the head of the Black Panther Party. I had been everything yet I felt I had been nothing. Now I was homeless, trying to beat the only thing that had ever defeated me, Cocaine. And defeated me it had.
I had lost everything, from jewelry…. to cars… to a wife… to a son and most of all my self-respect. I in no way could say that I hadn’t been given or had not gotten chances in life that most with my education would have kill for. But like so many young people I thought I would live forever and would keep getting the chances and kept making the same mistakes, expecting different results. I had spent three months on skid row in L.A. all behind crack cocaine, yes it had defeated me, and I could no longer deny it.
The question that you may ask is how does a man like me go from where I’d been to a rehab at a Rescue Mission, who am I? Where do people like me come from?
What’s my story? Well return with me to those days of yester year.