Michael Knighton, age 54, grew up in East Baltimore. “When I was a young boy, I got into boxing because of my brother,” says Michael. “My brother had me out on the corners getting into fights with other kids to earn money when I was about 7. My step-father found out what was happening. He took me off of the corner and to a boy’s club where I could be trained in boxing. I was excited about training and did a lot of amateur boxing.
“When I was 10 years old, my step-father took my mother and brother and I on a boat ride. My step-father saw a little boy in distress in the water. He jumped in to save the little boy’s life. He saved the little boy as well as the boy’s parents. But, on his way back to our boat, my step-father was caught in a current and drowned. I wanted to try to save him but my mother held me back.
“I used to take out my anger in the boxing ring. Boxing was everything to me. When I was 19, I threw a punch and blew my shoulder out. I was rushed into surgery. That surgery led to subsequent surgeries and many pain medications to try to control the pain.
“Boxing had been my outlet to deal with my anger. From that point on, I was heavily into pain medication. I started getting into trouble – forging prescriptions to get more medicine. I was breaking the law all of the time to feed my habit. I was in and out of jail a lot. Eventually I moved from pain pills to heroin.
“For 30 years, I lived dependent on drugs. My body was so used to opiates that, without them, I didn’t feel normal. I was homeless and alone. Earlier in my life, I had gotten two teardrop tattoos on my face. As I walked the streets, I felt that people were always judging me because of my tattoos. I didn’t feel like a normal member of society.
“I finally told myself that enough was enough and it was time to get clean. If I could lie on a prison floor and sober up, I could do it on my own. I went to a methadone program but they wouldn’t accept me.
“I started walking with nowhere to go. I came to the 1000 block of East Baltimore Street and saw the sign for Helping Up Mission. I remembered the good things I had heard about this place so I decided to stay for the night. After hearing about the Spiritual Recovery Program, I decided to give it a try. I had nothing to lose!
“My body was in agony for the first two months that I was at the Mission. My nervous system was a mess as I went through withdrawals after 30 straight years of heroin use. My legs would twitch at night as I tried to fall asleep. I felt like my body had been invaded by an alien being who jumped up and tortured me whenever he felt like it.
“I was assigned to a mental health counselor. I started talking about things that I’d never opened up to anyone about – private matters that I never felt comfortable dealing with. I started to learn to trust people and began to realize that not everyone was judging me. I started to get the sense that people were starting to view me differently and I began to feel accepted.
“As I started to view myself as a different person, I wanted my body to reflect the changes that were happening inside. I decided that it was time to get rid of my tear drop tattoos that, for so many years, had been a visible symbol of my pain.
“My mental health counselor helped me look for a place that could help me with that and she reached out to Maryland Laser Skin and Vein. She explained my situation and how I was working to change my life. They agreed to do the procedures for free. When it was done, the doctor told me the staff was proud of me and to continue on in my good work.
“The first day that I walked around without the tattoos on my face, I finally didn’t feel like an outcast anymore. I was able to walk in stores and not feel like I was being judged as a gang member or trouble maker.
“About that same time, I started working out again. I started out slowly and got back into my old routine before long. I started giving exercise advice to the guys who were in the fitness center with me. It felt great to be able to help them.
“I also started getting dental work done through the Mission’s dental program. When I entered the program, I didn’t have any teeth at all because of an issue with a mouthpiece during my boxing days. Now, I have a full set of teeth!
“I feel so confident these days and am walking with my head held high. People look at me and acknowledge me who would have never given me a second glance a year ago. But, my change isn’t just on the outside. On the inside, I can feel everything going on. My feelings and emotions were sedated by my drug use for so many years. Now I get emotional in ways I never had before.
“I was 19 when my son was born. I was in and out of his life. His life has been filled with a lot of my broken promises. After I came to the Mission, we started communicating again and we are working on our relationship.
“Since I’ve been at the Mission, my relationship with God has grown. I can clearly see how He has been working in my life – no one else could make the transformation happen but Him.
“HUM has become family to me. Every day I look forward to being with the other men here. I find ways to help someone and that means a lot to me.
“I’m so thankful to all of the donors that make HUM a reality. Because of them, men like me and the other guys at HUM get a second chance at life. Helping Up Mission was put here as a gift from God so we get a chance to mend our lives and our relationships with others we have hurt in the past. Today I am the man I always knew in my heart that I could be.”