Dele is Feeling Your Christmas Blessings
“I started to become ME again”
Ayodele, 35, who goes by Dele, was born in Baton Rouge, but raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Growing up as a child of separation and divorce, Dele lived with his American mother and older brother during the week and spent every other weekend with his Nigerian father. Dele did well in school, had a good home life, and was an all-star caliber baseball player as a child. At age 15, all of that changed when he started smoking marijuana.
“My brother introduced me to “weed.” Since I was comfortable with him, smoking weed did not take a whole lot of thought. And things progressed to drinking beer. My grades started slipping in high school and with three months left to graduate, I told my mother that I was done with classes. She responded, “if you are done with school, you cannot live here.” I immediately moved out and began living with my cousins. And my addictions just took off from there. A lot of partying and drinking.”
“My father had a lot of lofty expectations. He wanted me to become a doctor or a lawyer. He would say, “work now and play later.” I reversed that to play now and work some other time. He did not want to talk about anything other than education. I did not even know what I wanted for myself. I became rebellious toward him and in ninth grade, I got into a fight with him on school property. I ended up in juvenile detention and that was the beginning of my in and out of jail phase.”
Dele would cycle between violating probation, and 90-day juvenile programs. “It hardened me. I did what I had to do to fit in. I was in and out of the juvenile detention facilities until I turned 17. And then I went straight to county jail. I got out of prison for the last time in 2013.
“My older brother was in an out of rehabs at the time. He had finally gotten clean, and by seeing him go through the process of sobriety, I thought I should try it as well. I went to rehab for the first time in 2015.” Dele started repeating the in and out process, but this time with rehabs. “But my spirituality started to grow. I could hear God speaking. He would tell me to remove myself from situations – to not go.”
Dele, recounts a pivotal moment God told him to “not go.” “One late night, I was running out of drugs (cocaine) and I could hear Him say “don’t go.” But I had to find more. It was three o’clock in the morning and I am going back and forth in my head. My addiction finally wins, and I went looking for drugs. A dealer pulls up in his truck and a gunshot rings off inside the vehicle. He pushes the victim out of the truck and takes off. A guy runs up and starts wrapping the victim’s head while hollering out for someone to call the police. In my mind that was not what I came here for. Nobody called the police. We just walked off in our separate ways. “
“For some time, what I witnessed kept playing through my mind. If I did not stop using drugs now, I might be next in line. At the time I was a member of Back On My Feet Atlanta (BOMF) and told them that I wanted to leave Georgia. I wanted to get clean and I was not going to do so there. They introduced me to Helping Up Mission (HUM) through the BOMF team in Baltimore. I got on a bus with a suitcase and a map and arrived at HUM in June of 2019.”
“When I started the Spiritual Recovery Program (SRP) at HUM, my heart and spirit were hardened. I did not want to make any new relationships with people. But little by little, as I went to meetings and classes, things changed. The camaraderie at HUM, guys checking on you to see how you are doing and making small talk. Overtime, I would speak up more and more.”
“I started volunteering. I helped build the patio at the Chase Street Women’s Center with Coca-Cola Consolidated. I also volunteered at St. Vincent de Paul church on Friday evenings. Pretty soon, I began signing up for everything that HUM had to offer and my true personality began to come out. I was eating and sleeping well and, in the process, I started to become ME again.”
Today, Dele is back in school, pursuing a degree in respiratory therapy. He graduated from the SRP and is building his connection with his Higher Power. Dele is also rebuilding trust and restoring relationships with his father and his 11-year-old son. “My dad and I are a lot closer than we have ever been. I commit myself now to be there for my family. To be there for my son. I am excited about having a future that does not involve drugs and alcohol and my biggest problem is which courses should I take in school.”
“Thank you to all of the donors for making HUM possible. For me to come here all the way from Atlanta and feel comfort and safety. To be here at Christmas. It is all a blessing.”

Because of your generous contributions, Brian (age 41) has focused on his recovery and learned to ask questions. Brian was raised in Pasadena, MD and had a good childhood. “I came from a middle-class family. I never wanted for anything. My parents divorced before I was two and my stepfather became my dad, while my father bounced in and out. He was a holiday father, only visiting on Christmases and birthdays. I knew that I wasn’t the reason for his actions, so I don’t let it affect me. I grew up in a very strict environment. I did what I was told, when I was told. It wasn’t an ask why kind of household,” recalls Brian.

Drugs and alcohol were introduced to Brian’s life at age 12. “I began using psychedelic drugs like ecstasy and acid at an early age. But I didn’t realize that I had a problem until my thirties. In my twenties, I was a Union sheet metal worker. I could party, go to work, and go to school while using drugs. I never ‘had a problem’ until I met opiates. Once I did everything spiraled downhill.”

“When I was in my 20’s and early 30’s I was shy to an extent. I would stay in the house and only come out when needed. When I met opiates that changed. I ventured out of the house. I wanted to talk. I started hanging out on the streets, and once I did that, I became a part of the street life.”

Eventually jobs became harder to hold on to. One day Brian got hurt on a job and ended up going to pain management. “I figured out how easy it was to obtain large amounts of opiates. I went from two cars, a house and motorcycles to losing everything. Soon I was living in tents and abandoned homes. And by the grace of something I’m still here.”

Brian attended and completed a six-month program on his own free will. “After months of sobriety, I was walking down 25th and Maryland Avenue and the crack dealer said ‘testers’. At first, I kept walking. But then I thought ok. I could do this.” Shortly thereafter Brian was once again, living on the streets panhandling in West Baltimore.

Eventually an ‘Old Friend’ found Brian and told him that he was going to Helping Up Mission (HUM). Brian responded, “Really? You’re going to that place on Baltimore Street? He said, “just come with me man”, at first, I said, “no”. Yet, when I pulled up out front of HUM, it wasn’t anything like what I had in mind. And it was January and it was cold.”

“At HUM I had a question for everything. When I was a child we only went to church on Christmas and Easter. I never was religious. But the Spiritual Life staff has been open to my goofy questions. My beliefs have been opened. I want to learn more about religion, but I want to learn about all aspects of it – the good and the bad.

For the most part, Brian acknowledges that his work therapy assignments have had right timing. “I chose to come here, to fully work and focus on myself. I didn’t come here to get my kids back, for a good girlfriend, or a good job. At first, I cleaned toilets, and then I was a peacekeeper at the 23 desk. The 23 desk is a focal point of the building dealing with 400 different personalities (as they check in and out). It taught me patience. Finally, I started working in the Treatment office, where I ask a lot of questions and talk a lot with the men. I get to help people daily.”

On relationships, Brian has reached out to his father. He is also rebuilding the relationship with his mother. “Recently, I got a phone call from her, stopped by the house and when I was getting ready to leave, she asked if I would come by the next day. But family doesn’t have to be blood. My daughter’s mother has been there for me this whole year. We can relate. The other day I texted my daughter that I only had two weeks until graduation and she said, “I know. I am proud of you.” And that brought me to tears. So, through me being selfish in my recovery, I have earned back respect and relationships. I’m not perfect, but I am living reasonably happy. Now, I plan on doing the next right thing.”

“After graduation I’m going back to work and possibly taking the steps to become a part time Peer Recovery Specialist. I plan on getting my alumni badge and coming back here, to keep asking questions. I have a newly discovered passion for helping people. Now, I love talking to people.”

“To the donors, you ladies and gentlemen are truly a blessing, because of your blessings HUM gives so much opportunity and Hope.”

HUM was the best place to go for help.

Dean is 60 years old from West Baltimore. “We weren’t rich and we weren’t poor. Pretty much, everything I asked my mother to get me, she got it for me.” Dean recalls that he had to go to Sunday school each Sunday or else he could not go out and ride his bike afterwards. He started singing in church and it was the only thing he liked doing. “Even when I was in school, I used to cut class and go in the broom closet and sing. We got in trouble, but it was fun.” He would sing a bit of Jackson 5 or the Temptations with his friends.

Dean had his first experience getting high after high school graduation.  “I thought it was the only way to have fun.” By his twenties, people around him started dying. At that point, he would get high to protect him from the pain of losing loved ones.

“I was getting high and trying to hide it from people.” His younger sister died of brain cancer, so he started using more to cover the pain. Then his brother died of colon cancer and he increased the usage to help with the pain. Finally, his wife had lung and brain cancer. He quit his job to be with her. Dean recalls, “While she was in the hospital, I laid the drugs down. I said I wanted to be with her with a clear head.” After seeing all of the death around him, he just gave up and didn’t care anymore.

He had his own lawn service that made him enough money to buy his drugs. People kept telling him he wasn’t looking right, so he just pulled away and became an introvert. He recalls that people recognized that he had  problems, “but they didn’t have guts enough to say, ‘Dean, you need help.”

One day, his mom saw him cutting grass. She tried to call to him and he didn’t answer. Eventually, she got in his face and said, “Boy, what’s wrong with you. You need help.” That evening, his family sat around and told him he needed to get into a program. “I tried to play it off and play the jokester, but they told me now is not the time to joke.” They asked if he wanted to be homeless. “I have always been with family. They told me if I didn’t get myself together and find someplace to go, I was going to be homeless. That rocked my world.” The intervention included information on several options for help. His church had donated to Helping Up Mission, and his sister had done research and said HUM was the best place to go to get help.

The next day he came to HUM

He agreed and then went and got high again. “I wanted help, but I really didn’t know how to ask for it.” “Part of me was saying nah, you don’t want that kind of help, you can go another year like this.” The next day he came to HUM, but was in such bad shape that he ended up at Johns Hopkins for a brief detox to help get him over the rough spots. After detox, HUM welcomed him back and told his family that Dean would have a rough couple of weeks. Dean remembers, “I was sick as a dog. Didn’t want to be bothered with nobody and was thinking of ways to get put out. But I guess God had other plans, because I am still here.”

Finding good people to be around

The spiritual life classes really hit home. “I said to myself, I am going to give it a go, I am going to try.” Dean believes that being held accountable at his work therapy also helped get him through his seed phase. Likewise, it really helped him when he found good people to be around. He met great friends in his dorm. “The whole dorm was just guys that were feeling what I was feeling.” They approached him and said, “I feel your pain. I done been there, I know what you are feeling.” That really encouraged Dean. He recalls, “Just surrounding yourself with people who are honest with you and are not going to tell you what you want to hear will get you through this.”

We would cry together

Every morning now, Dean wakes up and prays to be a better person than he was yesterday. He believes that the many opportunities here at HUM have really helped him. The pastors, the book club, the art room, and the treatment coordinators have all really encouraged Dean to grow. But if you listen to Dean, you will know that his counselor and his time in the choir really had an impact on his time at HUM. Dean describes his counselor, “We would talk, laugh, and cry together. She taught me to look at life a different way.”

It took him four months to join the choir. He explains, “I had to work on me. [But] I heard them singing and it was like a magnet, it just drew me to it. Just singing praises to the Lord and being in the company of that group of guys. They helped me through my hardest times.” Dean is not one for talking, but singing allows him to express himself.

HUM helped Dean through the hurt

Dean has had to deal with death again since coming to HUM. A friend left the program early and died from an overdose. It was very difficult, and he is sure that if he was on the street he would have tried to numb the pain like he did so many times. But, he had his support from HUM to help him through the hurt.

Dean explains, “If I went back out and used again today, I would be letting a lot of people down. First of all, I would be letting myself down. And today, I want to live. It hasn’t always been peaches and cream through this journey. But, I have had more good days than bad days.” He says that now they are mostly good days. Dean says, “I graduated, I became an intern and I have stuck around… I’ve got a purpose today.”

Thanks to you, Dean has found the man he always knew he could be. He is singing again, worshiping a God that won’t give up on him, and making sure that he will be leave his mark on this earth as a man who was dependable.

Robert is 67 years old and just recently celebrated three years of hope being clean and sober after fifty-two years of addiction. Better known as Blue by everyone at HUM, he explains that someone once joked about him being one of the Blues Brothers and while he didn’t see the resemblance, he loves the blues so he let the nickname stick.

Blue was born in 1950 in Baltimore. He started drinking and smoking by the time he was twelve. At the age of fifteen, a friend’s older brother introduced him to heroin. He explains, “It was just the sixties. I was a hippy. I was high through the whole time. When I wasn’t sleeping, I was getting high off of something.”

Blue recalls, “This is the era of Vietnam with the draft. So, guys like me didn’t really have anything to look forward to. None of us wanted to fight in some jungle that didn’t make sense. So, when I went down to the draft board I was extremely high, and I never got drafted.”

Blue was arrested for possession of heroin.

In 1968, a month after graduating high school, Blue was arrested for possession of heroin. Blue said, “I went on methadone after I got busted. My mother and father didn’t have a clue what to do.” They took him to a psychiatrist who prescribed the methadone.

During this time, he met his wife and fell in love. They were both on methadone for ten years, and then he detoxed off of it. His wife was taken off of it abruptly and overdosed a few days later. Blue gave her CPR and brought her back to life. After a few days she overdosed again, and this time, he could not bring her back. Blue was devastated and did his best to bring up his daughters without their mother.

“I got high for fifty-two years.”

Blue explains, “I was jumping from one thing to another. I was in a program; I wasn’t in a program. I was shooting dope; I wasn’t shooting dope. I was drinking because I would go to that when I didn’t want to do dope because I would get strung out on it. I smoked a lot of weed. I got high for fifty-two years. I didn’t get high off of any one thing for fifty-two years, but I was getting high off of something for fifty-two years. I didn’t go three months where I didn’t get high a couple of times.”

“I got so cold.”

In 2000, Blue lost his job because he was shooting dope and couldn’t work without it. He ended up homeless and set up a makeshift shelter between two buildings. After about a year of living on the streets, he found an old broken-down hearse in a parking lot. The back was unlocked and he moved in. He remembers, “I almost froze to death on Christmas Eve in 2004. I was dope sick. I didn’t have any money. I went into the back of the hearse and covered up with every piece of clothing and blanket that I had. I got so cold. I will never forget that.” He went into a shop and sat there to try to warm up, but was forced to leave. As he was walking down the street, a lady saw he was distressed and let him sleep on her couch and get warm. “It was quite a Christmas. It is not something I am trying to go back to ever. When I see [homeless] guys come in here at night, I know what it is like.”

Blue had been in and out of programs so many times

In January 2014, Blue went to Bayview Hospital to detox. He had lost so much weight and gotten into such bad shape that he couldn’t walk. He was sent to a rehab center to regain the ability to walk. He was physically getting better. But in September of 2014, he took some pills and drank a pint of vodka and woke up in an ambulance on the way to St. Agnes. The social worker at St. Agnes told Blue’s wife about HUM. He had been in and out of programs so many times and had always focused on the physical and mental health side, but never had he thought about the spiritual aspect of recovery. When he arrived at HUM, they told him that it was a year-long program and he was not ready to commit to that. He admits that he thought, “Oh no! I am gone. I headed to the door. The only reason I came back is because my wife stayed at the desk and stared at me.”

“I was in really bad shape, really.”

The first three or four months Blue struggled and did not sleep much. “I was in really bad shape, really.” When asked what changed for him, he explains, “I stopped fighting God. It sounds like something you would say because it sounds good. Just the difference of not having to fight.” His entire life he had been an agnostic. He could not explain the existence of God and the existence of bad things at the same time. Now he says, “It has been a relief not to have to understand, I know what I know. I learn what I can. I help whoever I can. I do the best I can.”

Each week, at the graduation chapel, Blue sits in the same place and jumps up to give a hug and hope to those who are celebrating their graduation from the one-year Spiritual Recovery Program. He explains, “I feel very strongly emotionally about what is happening here. I know what it took for me to do it – to come in here and go for a year. I’ve been out there for so many years, and I’ve seen how this struggle is with drugs and alcohol. To me, a year is a miracle. So, yeah, I hug them guys when they make that year because you started something, and you finished it. We don’t do that a lot. We’re good at starting things, but not finishing them.”

“I came to understand that God kept me around…”

Blue is a graduate intern here at HUM as a Treatment Coordinator Assistant and sees his role now as to help others who are struggling to get clean. “I came to understand that God kept me around through all that stuff. God let me survive all of that. So what’s the purpose? I am 67 years old. I spent 52 of those 67 years getting high off of everything. So, I can look at my life in two ways; I’ve wasted my whole life. Or no, I’ve put 52 years of hard experience to understand the stuff nowadays. So, I choose the second.”

Blue is well known at HUM. He explains, “I am a firm believer that the small things in life make the difference. The big [things] are going to happen to everyone. The little ones are gifts. When someone talks to you and they actually care, it’s something you remember. It can make a huge difference in the rest of your day. It might make a difference in the rest of your life. Care might be the difference between life and death.” This New Year, Blue will continue to do what he can to offer hope to the hurting.

“I had accepted in my head that I was going to be a dope fiend for the rest of my life.”   Josh is 29 years old and was born in Boston to an Air Force family. He moved to Middle River, Maryland when he was seven and he graduated from Eastern Technical High School. Josh started using marijuana around the age of thirteen. He remembers the older kids in the neighborhood using. “Curiosity was a big part of it,” and he thinks the media had something to do with it, too. Throughout high school, Josh used the party drugs – ecstasy, acid, mushrooms, cocaine, etc. It wasn’t until his senior year that a friend introduced Josh to opiates and he explains, “I fell in love immediately”. After high school, Josh worked in sales and went to community college. He managed to do okay balancing out a life of partying, working, and going to school. Eventually, he realized that managing his social life and friends had become overwhelming. “I had no rest. So, if I wasn’t at work and if I wasn’t at school, I either had a group of friends over at my house partying, or they were hitting me up. [They wanted to know] about what bar are we going to, or can you get me this drug and do you want to do some of it with me? Josh remembers that “it became a burden to continue in that role.” Josh’s friends at work reintroduced him to oxycodone during this time. “I started to lose interest in work and school and hanging out with friends.” At first, oxycodone helped and kept him motivated to keep going. “Eventually, my friends started seeing different changes in me, that I was becoming a straight addict with these pills [as opposed to a social user]. They started not wanting to be around me. I started resenting them not wanting to be around me. Then I started lying about how much I was using. That’s when the isolation started to happen.” Eventually, Josh dropped out of college, and his life became about going to work and getting high. When he was twenty-four, taking prescription drugs became too expensive and more difficult to find, so he moved on to heroin. “The idea of shooting up had disgusted me [in the past].” I had always taken a lot of pride in myself and had a lot of confidence in myself, and the needle took that away from me. I couldn’t do it in a room with a mirror because I didn’t want to see myself.” After a while Josh wanted to get clean, so he called Mercy Hospital’s detox unit and went through three days of detox. “Luckily I had a friend that was clean at the time, and he introduced me to Narcotics Anonymous. I went to a meeting, and I didn’t like it. The guy who shared, I judged him the whole time. Even though I was an addict, I judged everyone in there the whole time. I left there and got high. I called my buddy, and he told me to come back.” Josh kept going but decided he didn’t want to do anything they were telling him to do. “It sounded like a lot of work.” He refused to give up alcohol and six months later, while he was drinking, he started using heroin again. Josh overdosed four times after he started using again. He explains, “Before, when I was disgusted about what I was doing, I didn’t hate myself. I just hated what I was doing. I knew I was better than that needle. But, at this point, I had tried all these different things and had lost the willpower to get clean. I had accepted in my head that I was going to be a dope fiend for the rest of my life and I was okay with that.” Eventually, Josh was arrested and charged with possession and disorderly conduct. He had also received several traffic violations over the years. At his hearing, he was sentenced to four years in jail because the judge was afraid that Josh would either kill himself or someone else if he was allowed to go free. When he was clean, Josh had met graduates of Helping Up Mission. He told his dad about HUM and said he wanted to come here. So, when Josh filed for a modification of his sentence, he came to HUM. When he arrived, adjusting wasn’t that difficult. HUM wasn’t what he expected and “looked like a hotel.” At the end of his blackout period (the first forty-five days), he started to show up to non-mandatory meetings, hearing the NA literature again and met a good group of guys who seemed to want the same things he did. “When we got off black-out, we were [out at] meetings every single night.” Josh came to Helping Up Mission just before Thanksgiving. “That week was just amazing. We eat well here, anyway, but that week I ate amazing. We had the Ravens players come out, and it was cool meeting those guys. A lot of people were festive and in good moods. I was used to being in jail where everybody was angry the whole time, and there was a tension that you could cut with a knife that they didn’t have here. It was relaxing to me.” Josh’s parents visited around Christmas, and he sees them more often now. He is working on building up the relationship with them. His brother has even brought his dogs to meet up with Josh at local parks. While at Helping Up Mission, Josh has grown through his work therapy experiences. He started off as a peace-keeper and then moved to work as Pastor Gary’s assistant. He was there for several months when another opportunity presented itself. Josh had a casual conversation with Martin, the IT director at HUM, and mentioned some of his experience. A little while later, Martin asked Josh to work for him in IT as an undergraduate intern. The opportunity to work on technology has been incredible for Josh as he rediscovers his interests, especially in network security. Josh has a bit longer before his graduation. He wants to stay active in his twelve-step program and has been asked to lead a group here at the Mission. He plans to eventually go back to school to study the field of IT and network security. He says, “I’ve learned to trust the process and God’s plan for me.” Josh and a friend at HUM recently reminisced, “When we got here we didn’t want to stay for a year.” Now, they might stay beyond a year to continue to grow. “This is a good place for me right now. As long as I keep doing the next right thing, then I will never know what it’s like to get hit with NARCAN again.”

Thanks to you…Greg has learned his purpose in life is to help others. 

Greg is 25 years old, and like many of the young men here at HUM, he grew up in a family that provided every opportunity for him. His family regularly attended church and Greg, like his two older brothers, attended a private school. 

Greg admits that he has always been a bit a rebellious. A fireworks incident got him suspended in seventh grade, and by eighth grade, he was drinking with his peers.

At the beginning of his freshman year, Greg moved from alcohol to marijuana. By his junior year, Greg was using OxyContin and cocaine. His family tried to help with rehab programs, but Greg began a long spiral of accidents, incidents, rehab, short periods of sobriety, and eventually, relapsing. 

In 2015, at the age of 24, Greg’s parents kicked him out after he robbed them. “I was homeless, but I couldn’t do it. I slept on a bench near HUM, but didn’t know this was the Mission.” After two nights, he called his dad who told him about Helping Up Mission and Greg agreed to give it a try.   

He arrived, still dirty and high. When he came into the building, it wasn’t what he was expecting. It was comforting to see someone from his church working at HUM, and that helped, but he still struggled. He called home hoping to leave, but his dad told him, “Greg, this is that moment where you make the decision if you want this.” For Greg, this was the time to surrender. 

Greg spent ten months at HUM, went back to college, and was doing well. But, he stopped going to recovery meetings, was not working the 12 steps and decided that he should celebrate his birthday by using. After all, he was doing so well; perhaps he could get away with it just one more time. Looking back, he says, “Part of me thinks that it was because I was doing so well – maybe I could get away with one.”

He borrowed his parent’s car, telling them he was going to a meeting. Instead, he went to his usual place to get drugs. “I shot up while driving and I just had an immediate overdose…the last thing I remember was a loud crash.” Greg crashed into a bus on Maryland Avenue. He remembers, “My next conscious memory is three weeks later in Johns Hopkins ICU surrounded by doctors with machines and tubes everywhere. My parents are there and crying, so I started crying.” He had been in a coma for three weeks, having nearly died several times.

Greg recalls his mother was “just praying that she didn’t have to bury her youngest kid.” She wasn’t the only one praying: the HUM staff, his friends, and his church family were all praying for Greg. After a month in the hospital, he went home and took another month to recuperate. 

In May, Greg returned to HUM. “Ever since I got out of the hospital, all I wanted to do was come back to the Mission. I have never been clean for ten months since I started doing drugs. I’ve been to many treatment centers…but God is doing something good here.”

Greg returned and started the year-long Spiritual Recovery Program all over again. He remembers, “Three weeks after I came back, I watched the seed class I came in with graduate.  My mom came and watched with me. I was happy to be alive.”  

“I try to do two things each day for my recovery: trust God and help others.”      

The staff at HUM saw a difference in Greg this time around. Greg explains, “When I got out of the coma, I had learned that two of my friends did the same thing (overdosed) and didn’t wake up the next morning. I did, so I knew that I had a purpose. There is no reason why I should be alive. I saw a purpose in my life.” 

He is actively working the 12 step program now and encourages those struggling with the steps, “don’t look at them like they are hurdles you have to get through. Look at them like guard rails that you have to stay in between. You do them on a daily basis.”

Each day is new, and Greg has a plan for today. He offers this explanation: “I try to do two things each day for my recovery. That is to trust God and to help others. You don’t have to be an addict to relate to my story. You just have to be a human being and realize that you guys are alive for a purpose. If you trust [in God], then you start to live life with a purpose. You start to see value in things.”

“The second part is helping others. That is the key. When I am helping another, I am focused on them entirely. That is what works for me today.”

Greg is now in college, studying human services administration. He would like to go into the substance abuse field to share his story and help someone else not make the same mistakes he made. He wants to help others to see that they have a purpose.   

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Wes, 33 years old, was born and raised in Baltimore.  His family sent him to an all male private high school to allow him to get a good education. “While I was there,” he explains, “I probably didn’t enjoy everything about it. But after graduating, I really appreciate having the opportunity to go somewhere like that.” However, while in high school, Wes started gained access and started using substances, like Ritalin and Aderall – taking prescription medication for Attention Deficit Disorder, even though he was not diagnosed with ADD. From there, he moved onto other drugs, including marijuana, hallucinogens, and OxyContin.   

Wes graduated high school and moved on to Towson University, where his addiction intensified.  He was eventually expelled for selling marijuana from his dorm room. For several years Wes worked dead-end jobs in order to support his habit. Then he started selling again. “I kind of felt like it made people need me in their lives,” he explains. “I always had trouble making friends on my own, so I figured…if I sell addictive substances, they’ve gotta be my friend.”

Eventually his house was raided, he was arrested, and he moved back in with mom. At that point, Wes knew he was on a downward spiral. He was only twenty-eight years old. Wes was going through what he called “spiritual decay and just feeling tired with life.” At this point he knew, “I had nothing to sell; I had nothing to give; I was just really taking everything… trying to fill the void inside with drugs.” 

Wes went back to Towson University, managing to get good grades despite continued drug use, and earned his degree in Environmental Science. But even after earning his degree, he getting dead-end jobs, staying up all night using and sleeping all day. He thought it was the chemicals that caused the schedule, but since he has been at HUM he has realized: “It was really a lot of self-image and self-esteem issues, being ashamed of showing my face outside in public. I didn’t want to see the light of day, or the ‘normal’ people going about their business.”

Thanks to you… Wes is gaining confidence to live as the man he was created to be!

At one point, Wes went to ask his mother for money. She suggested he get some help, but Wes protested that he didn’t have insurance or any way to pay for a treatment program.  But, his sister’s boyfriend had been to HUM and told him about it. Wes spent that night in his mother’s basement, thinking, and finally decided he was ready for something else. So at the age of thirty-two, he started his recovery journey at HUM. 

When he first arrived, Wes was in a fog, but was ready to surrender. He was surprised that everyone seemed friendly and willing to help him. It took a while to settle in, though, because he was used to the schedule of sleeping during the day and staying up at night. 

At about four months, Wes started to acclimate to recovery. “Making regular class attendance, grudgingly waking up for work therapy, and at least trying to do the best I could do” are all things he says have helped.  “It really has gotten easier. As somebody who would go to sleep before the birds wake up, my work therapy [has me] wake up with the birds and go clean up cigarette butts on East Baltimore Street. I am out there dancing around with my music on, and I am having a blast.”

Besides his work therapy, Wes suggests that other aspects of life at HUM have really helped, especially the sense of community. “I’ve never experienced anything like it,” he says. During his time here, Wes has also taken the opportunity to meet regularly with his mental health counselor. “The mental health coordination is great. I can be honest with my counselor, tell them whatever is going on with me inside.”

For Wes, one of the most meaningful parts of the HUM community has been the choir. It took him some time to gain the confidence to join, but once he did, Wes found he was in his element. “The people who sing in the choir get a lot out of it – finding some purpose – helping us to realize that we need to trust God and just do the best we can. I love getting up there. I have always been an introvert, and never thought my skills would be enough to be on a showcase. But, I love getting up there and showing off my moves.” Through the choir, Wes has had some additional leadership opportunities which have been personally affirming. It has been an encouragement to Wes to realize that “people see more in me than I can see in myself sometimes.”

Wes graduates in a few months, and he is waiting on God as he discerns the best way to move forward.  Wes is thrilled to have a better relationship with his family. Where he used to be a hindrance, he is now a help.  His self-image issues have come a long way, and he is learning new ways to live in confidence and freedom. While he would eventually like to work in his field of study – Environmental Science – Wes is not anxious. “I can take this time, figure out what is best for me, and set things in motion.” He knows that God will make a way for him.

What does Wes think of HUM? “It saved my life, and I think it can work wonders in anyone’s life, even if they don’t think it can.” To all friends and supporters of Helping Up Mission, he has this to say: “Thanks for showing me that God loves me!”

WesR

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Born in Chesapeake, Virginia, Doug Coffield’s parents divorced and he was raised by his grandmother at age five. “Grandma was like mom to me and living with her was the happiest part of my childhood,” he recalls.

But, at 12, he was sent to live with his now-remarried father and there was constant strife between Doug, his stepmother and stepbrother. So, by age 16, he started experimenting with a variety of chemicals – and alcohol became his drug of choice.

Looking back, Doug says, “I wasn’t addicted yet, just trying to fit in with friends. I was really shy and it gave me courage.”

Out of high school, he started working construction and quickly moved to driving trucks. “The big rigs came naturally to me; like I was born to do this,” Doug says. He became a professional long-distance truck driver.

He also kept up his drinking and using drugs. “Looking back,” Doug says, “I’d become an alcoholic in my early 20’s. I had to have a bottle of Jack Daniels with me in the truck all the time. By this time, I was getting high on almost everything – including doing speed (methamphetamine) to stay awake driving all night.”

Doug found peace

Then, at 33, Doug had a spiritual moment of clarity – in a prison cell in Hagerstown, Maryland! “One night in a bar, a guy disrespected my girlfriend (now my wife!). We got into a fight and I ending up shooting him in the thigh!” Charged with assault and attempted murder, Doug received a 50-year sentence, with all but 5 years suspended. He served 2 ½ years and was released on parole for good behavior.

During that prison time, Doug knew he needed the Jesus his grandmother had introduced to him. He started praying, reading his Bible faithfully every day and attending every church service they had. “It was a true spiritual awakening for me,” he says.

Upon his release, Doug shared it all with his wife. Together, they started attending a small country church regularly and Doug became very active, attending Sunday School classes, participating on the church council and singing in the choir.

“But the pressures of life started to build and I didn’t know how to handle them,” Doug recalls. “My wife would use drugs from time to time and my spiritual focus began to deteriorate. After about 6 months I started using again.”

“Sadly, that’s how our marriage has been from the beginning. One of us gets clean and the other doesn’t – then we both wind up using again, together! In my 40’s, we both got hooked on heroin. I was in and out of recovery programs – both in jail and on the outside.”

First arriving at Helping Up Mission in 2014, Doug really wanted to stop using – and he did pretty well here, but left and eventually started using again.

When he felt like he just couldn’t take it any more, Doug came back to HUM, willing to do whatever necessary to stay clean – for him and his wife’s sake! He says he knew he could not do this himself and really needed God’s help. “I’m going to do whatever it takes; I’m done. Take me and I will do whatever you want,” was his prayer.

That was the summer of 2015. He was 59 years old…and it was surrender!

After being back here a while, Doug says he got peace and joy back in his soul. He started singing in the HUM choir. “I love to sing and try to always do it from my heart – others can feel it, too! It’s an important part of my recovery,” he says.

This summer – and now a HUM graduate – Doug was invited to help lead an evening Bible-focused recovery meeting on campus. Doug recalls the night he was to lead it by himself. “I was scared to death and it was hard getting started. But God helped me and the guys encouraged me.”

“I just tried to talk honestly about myself and how God is helping me. I also shared that I don’t really know what God has for me, but am waiting patiently. Afterwards, one guy said to me, ‘God is already doing something in you and through you.’ That helped!”

Doug says people have started to respect him now. “That’s pretty amazing because for the longest time, I didn’t even have respect for myself.”

Beyond his service here at HUM, Doug is also involved with a community outreach in Brooklyn Park, where people whose lives God has transformed, are available to help transform others. It’s been very meaningful to him.

This fall, Doug also enrolled at Faith Theological Seminary, working toward an undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies. “I want to be ready for whatever God has for me,” he says.

“My wife is doing well these days, too!” Doug is quick to add. “She’s working and this is the first time in 
our lives that my wife and I have 
been clean together – God is doing something new!”

Doug laughs a lot more these days

Yasin Abdul Adi was born in Detroit, MI but, while still young, his family moved to Knoxville, TN – the places he considers his “hometown” today. Yasin says he always felt a God-connection and tried many things to deepen it – including 25 years practicing Islam. Here’s his story.


My high school graduation present was to be allowed to hitchhike to California and that’s when I experimented with marijuana, alcohol, LSD and heroin (but didn’t like the latter back then). In those days I associated getting high with new life and experiences.

Later on in life, we would sit around and get high, talk about the country and how bad it was; how it was for black people. I started using injectable drugs and eventually got around to shooting heroin.

I had some pretty good jobs during those years – iron worker, welding and data processing. But in 1984, after going through a divorce, I was put in jail for public drunkenness. Later charged with armed robbery – I received a 35 years! But I wasn’t a bad guy and, after 10 years, was paroled for good behavior.

I completed two years of college while in prison and, when released, enrolled in the University of Tennessee – earning a degree in psychology. With my psychology degree I worked as a youth teacher/counselor, wilderness therapist, crisis interventionist, community health coordinator and supervisor at a residential youth house.

But one of the things I struggled with was setting proper boundaries in relationships – I tended to get too involved. So, after working four years, I relapsed. And for the past 20 years it has been a cycle of crack cocaine and alcohol, getting locked up, getting out, using again and getting arrested again. It seemed like whenever I used drugs I broke out in handcuffs.

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When I was released from prison in 2013, my mother had Alzheimer’s. I’m really proud of her – she was the first registered black nurse in Tennessee and later joined the faculty of the University of Tennessee. I tried to take care of her and did well for a while…but eventually relapsed and wound up back in jail.

Upon release I went to Knoxville Area Rescue Mission (KARM) and joined their program. It was working for me but I relapsed again. KARM put me in contact with HUM and that’s how I arrived here early in 2016.

Along the way, I had given up on Islam and came to realize that there was something different about Jesus. He personified mercy, grace and forgiveness to all of us – even though we continually fall short. I had a transformational moment at a tent revival in Nashville when they sang “Have Thine Own Way, Lord” – and I surrendered. It wasn’t emotional…it was just time. Jesus is the only One who personified mercy, grace and forgiveness, while we continually don’t quite hit the mark. That resonated with me.

I love Gospel music…because I love Jesus…and was so grateful to be able to join the HUM band when I arrived here. Knowing I always do better in recovery when I stay involved with physical activity, I also joined the Back On My Feet running team (BOMF) here at HUM. But BOMF isn’t just about running – they also offer financial literacy, resume classes and community service.

So in October I’m running the full marathon in the Baltimore Running Festival, representing HUM and BOMF. I need a team because of my loner tendencies. And I’ve learned a lot from running – I’m learning to slow down.

I’ve benefited greatly from my mental health counseling here at HUM. So I’ve started working on a certificate in drug and alcohol counseling which will count towards my masters in applied psychology and counseling. It will take a couple years…I’ll be 66 when I am done!

But I’m excited to help other people my age gain insights into their own possibilities – of training, of enlightenment, of being aware of all they can still do and be!

Yasin

 

You may have heard about Mark Ramiro in the news. Late one night in July 2014, he was with several friends – all high on drugs. They were filming stunts in the basement of his South Baltimore home, until things went fatally awry. Mark’s friend of 15 years, Darnell Mitchell, strapped on a bulletproof vest and asked to be shot in the chest. But Mark aimed inches too high, and the bullet hit Darnell just above the vest. Mark rushed his friend to the hospital, but it was too late.  

Mark came to Helping Up Mission in June 2015. He had already successfully participated in several short-term recovery programs, but he was still awaiting sentencing, and constantly wrestling with the trauma and shame of what he had done. In March 2016, Mark Ramiro was sentenced to 4 years – but he went to prison with 9 months’ clean time and, more importantly, a new perspective on his past and his future. Our chaplain, Vic King, spoke with Mark in jail.

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Both my parents worked all the time to put food on the table, so I was pretty much on my own with my friends. I didn’t really know who I was, because I looked Filipino, but I talked and carried myself more as a West-Baltimore American. I just went with the flow. I started experimenting with alcohol and weed in middle school, and by 9th grade I was a real heavy weed smoker.

When I was 21, I went to art school in PA and got a degree in fashion marketing. I was making and selling t-shirts, doing tattoos, and filming music videos for local rap artists. But I started using pills – Percocets, Oxys, Opanas, Benzos – and it started affecting my whole character. And that led to my friend’s death.

You came to HUM on house arrest. What was it like at first?

Well, I broke the record for the longest restriction in Helping Up history (laughs) – it was either HUM or going to jail. So when I first got there I was upset; I didn’t want to be there. But I found Pastor Gary and Mike Rallo interesting. Pastor Gary would make me write the character quality of the week on the board every morning, because of my artistic skills.

I got real close to different guys. Mike is the security guy at the 23 desk, and they put me there for work therapy. We didn’t talk much at first. But he’s a giver, always helping other guys, and I would just observe him. Then we started talking. He trusted me for some reason, and that meant a lot to me. He could tell when I was going through stuff.

What aspect of HUM’s program helped you the most?

For me, I liked the spirituality – reading the Bible, praying, talking, meditating. A lot of times I would slip into the chapel, and sit in the corner where nobody could see me, and just think.

So how has God helped you in the midst of all this mess?

He’s helped me in trying to forgive myself, helped me not blame other people for my own screw-ups, helped me be open with other people, to talk with people. A lot of times in my life, I was antisocial. Maybe it was my character or maybe it was due to my drug addiction, I don’t know. But I try to follow what I’ve seen.

Before your sentencing, you were able to meet with your friend Darnell’s family. What was that like?

It was emotional, but it was good. It broke the ice. They were upset at me, which they have every right to be. I can’t be mad at that. For what I did, they were upset, but they were open, and they were forgiving. They hugged me a bunch of times. They told me how it hurt them, how it affected them. I apologized – words can’t express how sorry I am.

Describe your transition from HUM to prison.

Court was nerve-wracking. You pray for the best and expect the worst. I got nine years with five suspended. God works in mysterious ways, and I think he prepared me for that. Nobody wants to go to jail. I don’t care who you are, this place is not for anybody.

It was different from 2014 when I came here; it just felt different. I’m happy. Not to say I’m happy to be here, but I’m cool. I know this is temporary. I don’t know what the Big Man’s plans are for me, but this is part of it. This was like the icing on the cake to set things straight. And I think this is Him testing me too… Is this kid going to turn his back on Me? Is he going to lose his faith? Is he going to give up?

I still pray, frequently. I was reading the Gospel of John this morning. I think my faith in God kept me together. ‘Cause if you knew me then, and if you know me now, you could tell. I’m in the system… and I’m cool. I know it’s temporary. Walking around with a chip on your shoulder is not going to help. At all.

What are your hopes for life after prison?

I’m going to get a job, stay sober. I’m going to continue to do my artwork – paint, draw, hopefully open a t-shirt business. I want to tell people my story – the mistakes, the drug addiction – and see if I can help someone.

What would you want people to take from your story?

Be yourself, be honest. Have faith… because you have to lean on something beyond yourself. If you put yourself first, and you think it’s all about you, then you’re already lost. Stay clean, stay drug-free. I know it’s cliché to say, but it doesn’t lead anywhere but jail or death. God didn’t give you the blessing of life to waste it and to get trashed every day. You weren’t put on this earth for that. I’m happy to wake up every day, open my eyes and breathe.

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