After the courts had their way and the outcome was final, I returned to The Farm to carry out my sentence. I was remanded to the completion of treatment in a long-term rehabilitation facility. I was to stay clean and comply with the terms of my probation for three years.
I took a program instead of time. Rather than serve behind bars; I admitted myself into a string of rehabilitation facilities. The first was a 28-day spot in the town of Kerhonkson, New York. I was the youngest patient in the house, which was not an easy.
Fresh from my 17th birthday, my skin was still too pale to seem healthy. I weighed under100lbs—or 80lbs to be exact. My ribs poked from my sides, my face was sunken and my eyes had dark rings beneath them. I was unsure in the beginning. I had no idea what sobriety was or the effort that went behind it, but I was about to find out.
I took the treatment plea rather than jail because if I were left to my own devices and placed inside of cages with real mean having little or no regard for my safety or space; I knew there was no way I could fight back or defend myself.
There was no way I could pretend or wave the image I tried to portray as a banner of intimidation. If I went behind bars, I would have had no place to hide. However, this is what jail is. It takes away the freedom of space and leaves you in the confines of your mistakes.
At best, I could have staged a suicide and hoped to be placed in medical or protective custody. At best, I could have taken flight deck and passed through the hallways of the hospital’s psych ward. I could have played the crazy card and do the walk known as the Thorazine shuffle.
The shuffle is when the doctor sedates the patient to a low level of consciousness. This, of course, is done for the patient’s safety and for the safety of those around them.
The Thorazine Shuffle is almost zombie-like from what I have seen. Rather than lift their feet to take a step; the patient drags them across the floor.
The look in their eyes is detached, as if they were unhinged from the world; their mouth hangs slightly open, and the sound of their dragging footsteps echo down the hallway like a telling tale of their lost grip.
I submitted myself to treatment in exchange for a reduced sentence. Either I chose one year (otherwise known as a bullet) plus 90 days behind bars, or I completed treatment.
I chose treatment . . .
After my 28-day stay at an adult facility in Kerhonkson, I moved northwest to an adolescent facility in a town called Liberty. My skin began to return to its natural color. I no longer looked sickly or greenish. I gained more than 20lbs, so my face looked less bony or withdrawn. I was still very thin—but I was not as thin as I was before treatment.
As far as treatment was concerned; I was belligerent and unwilling to comply with the counselors. I was far from serious and had I returned home at that point, I am certain the outcome would have been tragic.
I would have found my way back to the same behaviors that nearly killed me. I would have gone back to the same places as before. I would have stayed with the same people and done the same thing. Had I not been removed from who I was, or where I was, and who I was with, again, the ending would have been tragic.
I was allowed to go home for my court visits, which never lasted long. The attorneys on both my side and the prosecution used large words. They spoke quickly and in legal terms. They shuffled papers and referred to the dates of my incident and the dates of my previous appearances.
The judge sat up high behind his stand and looked down at me from the tops of his eyeglasses. I said as little as I had to. I said what my lawyer told me to say, which was usually nothing more than, “Yes, your Honor,” or “No, your Honor.”
My longhair was cut short. I arrived in court wearing the proper attire, which was a suit and tie. I put on my best set of brown, puppy dog eyes, while I submitted to the question, “How do you plea?”
“Guilty, your Honor.”
Afterwards, I was sent back to Liberty to complete the remainder of my 42 days at the facility. After which, I was to go to a place I heard very little about. I was told about a farm with cows, and sheep. I was told about pigpens and strict house rules, or principles.
I was told, “This place will be good for you.”
But the addiction side of me didn’t like that . . .
I remember the drive back to Liberty. I remember The Old Man saying, “I just want you to know that I’m not mad at you anymore.”
He said, “I just didn’t want to see you kill yourself.”
“You have no idea how hard it is to watch your own son kill himself with drugs.”
“But you look good now,” he told me.
“You have color back in your face. You speak clearly now and you don’t sound like you just swallowed a bunch of pills.”
“I’m proud of you,” he said.
I could not recall the last time I heard my Old Man say that, nor could I recall the last time I gave him reason to say it. Everything I had before that point was sabotaged by my young addiction. I gave away my trust and traded my loved ones for something as temporary as a cocaine fix.
I sabotaged my young life; I destroyed my education, and I lost the opportunities that come with high school, such as going to junior or senior prom. I missed out on the rites of passage—like getting my learner’s permit or taking my road test. I never had the chance to stand up with my class and toss my graduation cap in the air.
Instead, I traded these things for small packages that came from dark city streets.
I slipped into the cocoon, otherwise known as heroin. I took hold of its warmth and weightlessness. I gave in, but I was fortunately redeemed by a sentence of which I had no control over.
“I’m proud of you,” he said.
That too was something I traded and nearly lost. I traded away the love from my family.
After sentencing, I went from Liberty to a town called Hancock. The town was small and far away from the city lights or anything I could recognize as familiar.
On my way, I was driven by one of the rehab employees who encouraged me to take this place more seriously than the others. We drove passed fields of cows. We passed barns and acres of empty land. There were no fancy decorations in the surrounding towns. It appeared to me as if the neighborhoods were behind the times.
“I feel like I’m in the middle of nowhere,” I said.
“Good,” said the driver. “This way you won’t get any stupid ideas.”
The New York accent, which I was used to, had changed to something proper. People pronounced their “R’s” at the end of words like Bear; whereas the accent I was used to relaxed the “R’s,” sounding more like “Behr.”
I arrived on the farm during the heavy snowfall, perhaps an hour or so before dinnertime. It was late October and the sky was nearly dark. Large snowflakes fell from a deep gray sky and the winds were as cold as I have ever felt them to be.
On my way up the long dirt road, we turned onto a long, dirt driveway.
I saw a man emerge from the doorstep. He was a Franciscan Priest, dressed in a brown robe and hurrying over to the main house.
To my left was a tall red barn. There were cows behind it. There was a tall hill with a yellowish-tan sided house to me right. (That’s where Father Anthony lived)
“What’s with the Monk,” I asked.
“I think he’s a Priest,” remarked the driver.
There was a statue of Mary the Mother of God standing in front of the main farmhouse.
“I can’t go to this place!”
“This place is going to teach you how to become a man,” said the driver.
“Look,” he said. “You’re a good kid and I like you. But if you don’t change the way you live, you’re gonna be dead before your next birthday.”
I stepped from the van and grabbed my bag of clothes. The driver took me up to the main house where I was greeted by two men who welcomed me. They shook my hand, introduced themselves, and then they took me into the main office where I answered the same series of questions that were asked in my other facilities—but yet—I was still too unaware to see the irony in any of my answers.
“How often do you drink?”
“How often do you get high?”
They asked, “Did you ever have a blackout?”
“No. At least, I don’t think so . . . I mean, I can’t remember any of them so . . .”
“Do you ever feel paranoid?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you think people are out to get you?”
“What are you trying to say? Are you asking if I’m crazy, because I’m not crazy?”
I can recall two counselors shaking their heads as I answered their questions.
This was the farm.
There was to be no swearing. I was to wear two shirts; a pocket T with an undershirt at all times. I was no longer allowed to wear any of my favorite band t-shirts. They took my leather biker jacket. They took my Walkman, they took away my headphones, and they took away m music.
They mentioned something about cutting my hair, which had begun to grow back. They took away my image, and while I watched the two counselors going through my things, I felt the way I assume some recruits must feel after volunteering for the Marines.
I felt a tremendous sense of regret, but there was nowhere to turn. There was no way for me to get back home. I was too far from the city. I was too far from the life I understood . . . and if I chose to run, I was too far away from the town, which meant I was too far away from the nearest telephone.
I was still unsure about sobriety. I was clean long enough to see the benefits of life without heavy drugs. However, I was still belligerent and I was still unwilling to surrender my thoughts and ideas.
I was shouted at and sat in corners. I was made to wear signs around my neck. I was sent to scrub pots and pans. I waxed the floors by hand on my hands and knees.
Before each meal the entire house sung, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below. Praise Him above the Heavenly Host. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.”
I did not want to do that.
Each time I got out of line, there was a senior member (or someone there much longer than me) to push me back into place. I cleaned pigpens, and picked up cow shit. I attended classes—and I hated class. I hated the farm. I hated the routine and the schedule of constantly doing things I did not want to do.
A senior member pulled me to the side. His blue eyes were steel-like. His Irish jaw was unmoved by my attitude and he was unwilling to listen to anything I had to say.
He told me, “Life is filled with things you don’t want to do, son.”
“You can bitch about it all you want but those pans in the sink still need to get clean. And we will sit here all night until you clean them!”
I fought hard, but they fought back harder.
It was around this time of year in 1989. It was two weeks before Christmas when I heard the news. Father Anthony took me to the side and said, “We are going to take you home today. Your father had a heart attack.”
My first response was to run off. I ran from the large dining upstairs, down the steps, and before I could reach the door to run outside, I punched my fist through the sheetrock wall.
Brian was my sponsor at the time. He followed me down.
“Who are you trying to intimidate?”
Then he said, “You can run as far as you want, but you still can’t get away from this.”
He was right.
For the first time in my life; I surrendered. I gave in and I listened. I did not argue. I did not complain. For the first time in my life, I understood there was such a thing as mortality. I could shout and shake my fists at the sky, but Brian was right. I could not intimidate the situation, and no matter how far I ran, I could never get away from this.
All I thought about was what The Old Man said to me the last time we spoke.
“You look good,” he said. “I’m proud of you, kid.”
All I wondered is, “What if I never get to hear him say that again?”