Darius Tabrizi was born and raised in Israel. “My mother’s family originated from Israel and my father’s family is from Iran,” says Darius. “I have a twin brother and younger sister.”

“My father came to the US to start a better life for us. We were not able to come right away because we weren’t able to leave during the war. In 1991, the Gulf War ended and my mother brought us here. I was 11 years old. I didn’t speak English when I came here – only Hebrew and Arabic. Baltimore was very different than our small town facing the Mediterranean. I was beat up within my first two weeks here.

“At the age of 14, I was introduced to marijuana and alcohol by boys in the neighborhood. My mind had always been racing and wondering what people thought of me. When I drank, it numbed that and I felt accepted.

“I had gotten into trouble for fighting in Israel and that continued at my public school in Baltimore. I was expelled from two middle schools and three different high schools for fighting. I got my GED through the Youth Corps program.

“I joined the Navy in part to escape legal issues I was facing due to serious drug charges. After finishing boot camp, I was sent to Japan. For two years – I was a great sailor. I received several commendations and awards. My alcohol use was limited to social drinking.

“The War on Terror was under way and I started experiencing racial discrimination. I tried to blend in and said I was whatever ethnicity people thought I was. That really disturbed me and I started drinking heavily. I met a guy in Tokyo who introduced me to drugs – cocaine, crystal meth and ecstasy.   For the next year and a half, I was still in the Navy but began selling drugs on the side. When I had the best looking car on base and an apartment in town, it started to raise questions.

“Unknown to me, NCIS was doing an investigation on me for six months. Just months before I was done with my tour, I was arrested and thrown in a Japanese prison. NCIS pulled me out and took me to a marine corps brig in Japan. I was there for three months – after two months, I was put into solitary confinement for fighting with a corrections officer. My JAG lawyer met with me and I was given an other than honorable discharge and was released.

“I arrived back in Baltimore broken in every way. I was 23 years old and homeless. I came to Helping Up Mission as an overnight guest. For several years I was in a cycle of running the streets hard core and then coming to a homeless shelter for a week or so to regain my strength before going back out again.

“In 2010, I went to American Rescue Workers In South Baltimore. I was tired of my lifestyle and gave my life to Christ. Life started turning around for me. I got a job at McDonalds and started running with Back on My Feet. I joined an apprenticeship program and became a really good electrician and was hired by Hirsch Electric. For the first time ever, I had my own apartment. I started my own business and was going to night classes. I celebrate 4 years clean and sober.

“My life was going great and I had so much distance from my old life that I began to forget. I put everything ahead of my recovery – I stopped going to church and meetings. I got into a motorcycle accident and starting taking pain pills. It was a quick progression from pain pills to alcohol to street drugs. Within a year, I was homeless and had lost my business, girlfriend, truck, home and my savings.

“My father died of cancer in November of 2014. It was one of the worst years of my life. I spent Thanksgiving in a rental car out of gas off of the side of the road. I was estranged from my family and all alone.

“I ran into an old friend, Barry, who works at Helping Up Mission and he told me I needed to come back. I came to the Mission in December 2014 but left to deal with legal issues. I stayed sober for a few months but eventually relapsed.

“I came back to Helping Up Mission in the spring. This time I’m doing things differently. I’m not cocky like I was before and I’m willing to do whatever it takes.

“My mom sells mushrooms at the Sunday farmer’s market under the Jones Falls Expressway. She reached out to me to find out if HUM could use any vegetables for the market. Each week, I go to the farmer’s market to help my mom and then collect the leftover produce from all the vendors to bring to HUM.

“I’ve always loved my mom dearly. It feels great to be able to help her at the farmer’s market. There was a time where she thought I wouldn’t make it. Now she doesn’t have to worry about me.

“Helping Up Mission helped me reestablish my relationship with God, reaffirm my values and learn how to handle situations and personalities that conflict with my character. I lean more on God now. I am 100% serious about and committed to my recovery this time.

“Helping Up Mission is the best. I have been to every homeless shelter, recovery house and transitional house in Baltimore. HUM is the most genuine, caring and influential program I have found. They genuinely care about you and you can feel it. It’s not about filling a bed – it’s about your future.”

Kevin Hough, age 50, grew up in West Virginia, near Charles Town. “My father left when I was 3 years old,” says Kevin. “I have one brother who is four years younger than I.

“In the sixth grade I started experimenting with drugs – pills and marijuana. When I was in seventh grade, I quit school because I wanted to go to work and make money. I worked at the race track walking and galloping horses. It was at the track that I was introduced to cocaine which was a big deal in the ’80s.

“My aunt and uncle helped me to get a job locally. At 17, I started working in Reston, Virginia as a laborer for a construction company so that I could make more money. The man who owned the company would drive us there every day. We all used every day.

“I eventually became a carpenter helping to build houses. I was able to do that much closer to home.

“I met a lady and we got a place together. We were both smoking marijuana and drinking. I didn’t let her know about my cocaine use because I knew she wouldn’t like it.

“Eventually, my addiction took over and I lost my carpentry job. I had a hard time finding consistent work. I started using more and stealing to feed my habit.   The house was eventually foreclosed on.

“I went to jail for a year for cashing a bad check. Everything was gone at that point, including my girlfriend.

“After I got out of jail, my mother and brother let me stay to get straight but I messed that up. I was homeless for about a year. I stayed in churches overnight and wandered the streets bumming money for drinks during the day.

“My Aunt Cathy stepped in and told me I could do better for myself and encouraged me to get help. After I found out about Helping Up Mission, my family drove me to Baltimore.

“Once I joined HUM’s Spiritual Recovery Program, I was ready to get started! I realized that all that time, God had been leading me to a different path.

“I started attending Miss Carol’s weekly art class. I appreciated it because it gave me time to think. I also joined the choir. We were preparing to sing at the annual graduation banquet. It helped me because it allowed me to be myself.

“I used to run in High School. When I heard about Back On My Feet’s running team at the Mission, I knew I wanted to join. When I first started with the team, I couldn’t even run a mile. The first race that I completed was a 5k and now I am training to run the half marathon at the Baltimore Running Festival in October.

“When I arrived at HUM, my teeth were down to nubs because I used to grind them a lot. Through the Mission’s dental program, I was able to get a whole new set of teeth.

“I knew that I wanted to work on my education. When I first took the placement tests for the program to earn my High School Program, I couldn’t pass them. So, I started Adult Basic Education classes so that I could pass the placement tests. After passing the placement tests, I started studying and, in February of this year, I got my High School Diploma. Now, I have the confidence to have a conversation with someone and look them in the eyes.

“I started talking with HUM’s vocational coordinator about my future. He encouraged me to get a certification. I was able to get a grant and attend CCBC for a one-year heating and air conditioning certification program.   There were still some expenses left to cover and I was able to get a scholarship from Central Scholarship and Back on My Feet helped me with the cost of my books. I’m signed up to the Advanced Electricity Class and then will take Commercial Refrigeration.

“While I continue my education, I am living in HUM’s graduate transitional housing. It’s a great opportunity. There is no way I’d be able to focus on my education without it.

“If I didn’t make the decision to straighten up my life, I’d still be out on the corner somewhere wishing I had done something. Living straight and living right has really changed me. I used to worry a lot about what people thought. Now that I know who I really am, I am at ease with myself.”

Jerome Dorman, age 57, grew up on the Eastern Shore with his seven siblings. “I first tried alcohol at 8 years old,” says Jerome. “My parents would have company and leave drinks lying around. I decided to give them a try. I thought it was something cool to do.

“When I was 15 I started drinking beers with my buddies and eventually I started smoking marijuana as well. I dropped out of school when I was in the 10th grade. I wanted to be with the in crowd and just wasn’t interested in school at that time. I had been a good student but I was bored.

“There was a lot of field work on the Eastern Shore – hauling and picking watermelons. I was always able to get a job.

“My addiction started to really escalate when I was 18 years old. I was living with my grandparents. They sort of knew that I was using but never said anything to me about it.

“When I was 20, I started smoking coke to try to fit in with the in crowd and by 21 I was shooting dope. I had an uncle that shot dope and I had always wanted to try it. My drug use just increased from there. I was using drugs all day, every day. I got to the point where I couldn’t keep jobs. I’d lose one job and move on to the next.

“I was arrested several times for assault and paraphernalia charges.   I went to jail for the first time at 18 years old and by the time I was 39, I had spent over 10 years in jail.

“I met a woman and we had a son together. Becoming a father brought me in from the streets. I was still getting high but I wasn’t hanging out in the streets as much. She eventually got tired of my drug use and having me in jail and, after 8 years together, we broke up.

“I moved back in with my grandparents. I was smoking coke all of the time. I had a lot of friends that sold coke and they always kept me supplied.

“My grandparents both died within a short amount of time. This really upset me and I went off on a big binge. They left the house to me and my siblings. One of my brothers and one of my sisters were living in the house with me and they were both using drugs. I went to jail for 8 months for a parole. When I got out, I came home and the house had been destroyed. They hadn’t taken care of anything while I was gone. The utilities hadn’t been paid and the water and electricity had been shut off.

“With nowhere to go, I was homeless. I slept under a bridge for a week. I knew that I wanted to make a change and needed help. I told myself that wasn’t how I was supposed to live. I went to the health department and they referred me to a 28 day rehab program at a state hospital. On the 27th day, I was talking to my counselor and told them that I still needed more help. I had been using drugs for 40 years and needed more than 28 days. I didn’t have anywhere to go that would be healthy for me.

“My counselor called around the Eastern Shore but couldn’t find an available bed for me. The only place that I could find was Helping Up Mission in Baltimore. I was reluctant to come because I am a country boy and didn’t know how I felt about going to the city. She told me to take the day and think about it. I decided to give it a try and they drove me to the Mission from the Eastern Shore.

“When I arrived at the Mission, I settled in very easily. I already had 28 days of clean time when I arrived so I was used to recovery at that point. I started watching the guys that had been here for a while and I realized that this place would be alright.

“When I arrived at HUM, all of my teeth were gone due to drug use. I found out about the Mission’s dental program and was able to get a new set of teeth.

“After being at HUM for a month and a half, I started working towards earning my high school diploma. On May 22, 2011, I earned my high school diploma! After getting it, I was so excited that I decided to keep going and go to college. I watched 3 of my HUM friends who were enrolled at Sojourner Douglass College and they inspired me. I wanted to become the first member of my family to graduate from college.

“I enrolled at Sojourner Douglass and got set up with some grants. Living in transitional housing at HUM has allowed me to focus on my education. I am studying to become an addictions counselor so that I can help others that have struggled like me.

“I plan on going back to the Eastern Shore because I know there are a lot of people there who are struggling with addiction. There are a lot of guys I grew up with that are still out there doing the same things I was doing 4 or 5 years ago. I hope they see me and the transformation I have made, I hope I can influence them to change their lives.

“HUM is an amazing place. It has really helped me and taught me a lot. You won’t find another place like this for recovery. If anyone out there needs to go somewhere for recovery, I suggest they come to Helping Up Mission. Even on my worst days, my brothers here lift me up.”

Bryan Modecki was born in Baltimore.  “I had a rough childhood,” says Bryan.  “My father was never in the picture and my mother struggled with drugs and alcohol.  She was abusive but I know she was doing the best she could and I still love her.

“My mom let my brother and I do pretty much whatever we wanted.  I started using drugs at age 14 and it wasn’t long after that I started selling drugs as well.  I went to Dundalk High School.  I made it through the 11th grade.  At that point, I realized I was making more money selling drugs than my teachers were making so I decided to drop out of high school.

“I served my first jail time when I was 18 years old and I got my high school diploma while I was behind bars.

“When I was 24, I was sentenced to 10 years in prison for a possession with intent to distribute charge.  I did eight years of that sentence and was released when I was 32 years old.

“I started using and selling drugs as soon as I got out.  My heroin habit got bad very quickly and that affected my sales.  Things went downhill from there.  I was staying here and there with relatives and anyone that would have me.  I was weary of trying to come up with money to get high and places to stay.

“I started searching for God.  I started reading the Bible and other religious materials looking for God.  I sat at a bus stop and prayed and asked God to help me.

“I went to Johns Hopkins Bayview in search of help.  They admitted me and I stayed there for a week and a half.  When I was discharged, they recommended that I come to Helping Up Mission.

“On the cab ride to the Mission, I started to put myself into a survival mindset like I would on my way to jail.  When I arrived at the Mission, I was completely surprised!  I had no idea anything like this existed around here.  I grew to really like the place and I could see miracles happening around me.

“Unfortunately, I started wanting to hang out with girls and old friends.  I had some money in my pocket and thought I didn’t need HUM any more.  I went out with a girl and got high.  I came back to the Mission 2 days later to pack up my stuff and leave.

“After I left the Mission, I was back on the streets – selling and using.  Staying at HUM had been part of my probation.  Six months after I left the Mission, I went to see my probation officer.  She said if I didn’t get back to the Mission, I was going to jail.

“I came back to HUM in July 2013.  The first time I was here, I wasn’t focused.  I didn’t really work on the things that I needed to deal with.  I didn’t stay away from the things I should.  This time, I actually gave myself a chance to do something different.  I knew my triggers and avoided them.

“For the first 6 months, I only left the Mission to go to meetings.  I stayed focused on my recovery.

“I started thinking about what to do with my life.  I didn’t want to do manual labor for the rest of my life.  I realized my best option was to get training and I decided to go to culinary school.  I received grant money and a loan and enrolled in Stratford University in Baltimore in January 2014.

“I have done very well in culinary school.  In September, I learned that I was the recipient of a scholarship that was awarded based on an essay I had written on the topic of how culinary school had changed my career.

“I started running with the Helping Up Mission chapter of the Back on My Feet running team.  I run a few miles every day and participate in every race that I can.  My goal is to run a marathon.

“I was asked to speak at the annual Back on My Feet Bash in November. The Bash was held at the Marriott.  After I left the stage, two Marriott executives approached me and asked me if I would like to interview for a position as a chef.  I was in shock — I had never held a job before.  All my life, all I’ve ever known is selling drugs.

“As I was sitting there, taking it all in, another man approached me.  In my speech, I had referenced being self-conscious about my poor teeth and how I feel they are a hindrance to my career.  This man offered to set me up with a dentist and pay for my dental care.

“That following Friday, I got information about my scholarship. I interviewed for, and got, the job at Marriott. I received the information about the dentist and got an e-mail telling me that I had made the honor roll!  What a day!  I can’t believe how everything is coming together for me.  I now know that God is guiding me and He has a plan for me.

“I am reconnecting with my family. I enjoy visiting my mom and cooking for her. My brother is in prison and I send him money when I can. I visit his kids and go to their sporting events.

“I am thankful for Helping Up Mission and call it my home.  They basically gave me the chance to save my life.  They are the reason I have the chance to do all of this!”