It was an early morning and the sun was shining. After a few lefts and right turns as led by my G.P.S. I turned into the parking lot of the prosecutor’s office. This was to be my first true experience as a recovery specialist. I was unsure what to expect. I was frightened, nervous, and excited at the same time.
I was also early and arrived before any of my bosses. As promised, I gathered the belongings I was told to bring, such as my I.D. badge and paperwork. The parking lot was mostly full with detectives arriving and preparing to start their day.
Outside, the weather was warm for this time of year. Behind the fencing of the small office building were normal everyday homes in a normal everyday suburban community.
Inside the building, however, was like a war room to me. To me, I found this address to be like central intelligence where separate divisions of the county’s task force and agencies worked together to put an end to crime in their community. At one point in my life, this place was an enemy. At one point, a trip into an establishment like this would mean I was arrested and looking at jail.
I have to be honest, walking through the double glass doors and facing the metal detector where a man sat beside it, smiling kindly, and yet I still felt so absolutely nervous. He greeted me and asked who I was, what I was doing, and how could he help me. I advised him my name and my position as one of the recovery specialist for a sweep operation.
I never worked with the police department before. I certainly never expected to play on the same team as them nor did I ever expect them to see me as an important or valuable part of their plan. But I was wrong.
I never saw a detective as a normal human being. They were someone with a badge and a separate, unreal entity. I never saw them as people with families and histories of their own. they were cops to me and not real people. But once more, I was wrong about that too
One by one, all the key players to the sweep showed and I was led down a hallway, nervously, and brought back into a large room with desks and cubicles where I immediately lost my breath. As soon as I walked in, I saw detectives working at desks, trying reports on computers, walking around quickly and consulting with each other with papers in hand to discuss different suspects. And immediately, my inaccurate fears from past history came rushing back to me now. I remembered times where I was brought into places like this. I remembered the times I sat in interrogation rooms to be questioned or more accurately, harassed.
This all started as an idea for a career change, Mostly though, this all started because a girl friend of my oldest friend dared me to put up or shut up when it comes to my thought of addiction. Instead of talk, she told me to act—or if not then I shouldn’t talk at all because there’s enough opinion when it comes to addiction. But one thing is for sure—there wasn’t enough action, which is why I took this challenge and decided to act.
The truth is I was young when I got out. Others like my oldest friends and the friends I have who never made it out of their 20’s or the ones who will live in prison for the rest of their lives, or the ones on methadone lines—they had to endure more than I could ever imagine. But I did not come in to compare war wounds or discuss who did more time, more drugs, or who has more scars. No, I came to be a helping hand.
We briefed by the prosecutor on a large conference room. Our position was to act as support once the arrested came in, after they began processing, and then sat in a room.
One of my directors asked if I was uncomfortable. And of course I was uncomfortable. I certainly looked uncomfortable.
When asked why, I simply responded, “I’ve been in places like this before.” And I have been. It was strange for me to be in a room with that many badges and that many guns. It was odd for me to be placed in a room where people discussed law enforcement. And again, I had no idea what to expect. I had no real game plan. I only knew my objective was to support the arrested when coming in, meet with them, discuss an option for treatment, and if they agreed, we would land them in a bed for detoxification.
I am no stranger to the heroin epidemic. At this time, I had just celebrated 26 years of clean sobriety. But of course, the nerves were certainly with me. I wondered who I would see and what they would look like.
Of course, I went back to the stigma of my mental Rolodex and thought of what a so-called junkie would look like. I remember taking a deep breath and deciding, “I’m just going to give them everything I have!”
I decided to let them see me. And by this, I meant I would allow them to see all of me. I wanted them to see my fears, my pain, my regrets, and all the reasons why I nearly killed myself on several occasions. I decided that I would not sit and compare war stories nor would I place honor on misplaced subjects by romanticizing addiction and all of its rituals. Instead, I decided to talk about the reasons about why and the how come?
My first client was a small, younger man with watery eyes, frightened as if he were about to face decades in prison, and sickly because the detectives arrested him before he could fix himself. I sat down to introduce myself and chose my first words as wisely as possible. “I’m not a cop,” I said. “I don’t work for the courts or anything like that.” I introduced myself as me, Ben, an addict and alcoholic, and I kept it as simple as that.
I will call this client Sal to protect his anonymity. Sal looked like a kid I knew back in a place called Re-Directions, which is one of the rehabilitation centers I lived in for 42 days. Sal was small and skinny. He talked a little tough, but it was very clear that he was sick and afraid. He wasn’t sure what was about to happen. So I cleared this up for him.
Rather than play into this with a good cop/bad cop scenario, I went straight to the heart. And there I was opening up to a young man I had never met before, never knew anything about, and in minutes —the two of us were crying in a small interrogation section at a table. He was my first client and he agreed to go for help.
I never felt anything like this before in my life. I never felt anyone else’s pain quite like this either. I saw him as a person. I saw him as a friend and we talked the way people talk. Instead of talking loudly or proudly and placing honor on a game that kills people; we remained humble and spoke the way people should speak to one another.
I recall sitting in precincts, my hand cuffed to a bar beneath a bench, and my head spinning with fear. I remember the smell in the room and the look from the arresting officers. I remember the way I was treated.
I wasn’t human to them. I was a diseased part of our society. I remember the walk down long hallways and entryways through jailhouse holding cells, awaiting my time before the judge—which, that too worked out in my favor.
In truth, I got off easy. I was the lucky one. Whereas others did not make out quite as easily; I was set free for some reason. I survived myself in spite of myself, which meant I was given something. This meant I was given another change —and sometimes when we are given something; this means we owe.
I met some amazing people during this sweep. Many of which I call friends today. I saw people who could not gather minutes become sober for several months and today, they celebrate one year away from heroin. I met people who inevitably went back to where they were. Some cleaned up later and reached out with words of thanks.
This life we live is a funny thing. We somehow think shame works in helping others to “Snap out of it!”. This is false. Shame doesn’t work. Empowerment is the only way to help someone remove themselves from their worst pit and their worst kind of hell.
I worked in this office for a full week. I ended up in the newspaper too. I have to say, this was pretty incredible. I never knew how far this would take me. And the great news is, I still have far more to go. I worked two more operations like this. But more importantly, I was allowed the chance to serve. I was given an opportunity to help protect a community. Imagine what our community looked like if the number of people that helped decided to double, and then triple.
No, not everyone stayed clean. But not everyone stayed on heroin either.
I remember talking to someone and telling them, “My prayers are on your side.”
“Oh yeah,” asked the client. “Do you think that really changes anything?”
“Yeah,” I told him. “I really do.”
That client is clean now. Only, he is a friend. Not a client anymore
God bless him. God bless them all.
And they know who they are . . .