Tuesday, April 15, 2008

‘Just addicts helping addicts’

‘Just addicts helping addicts’ Former Orland junkie opens recovery house
(Caution, strong language — ed.)
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Red Bluff – Phoenix Rising house resident and recovering 10-year meth addict Matthew Beaver was at a breaking point and knew he “was going to get fucked.”

But on his way to find another hit, he was stopped at the door by house mate Scott Rohrs.

“(Scott) went and asked me, ‘You want to walk with me?’” Matthew recalls. “We walked for like seven or eight miles.”

He reflects: “Just addicts helping addicts.”

The house is managed largely by former Orland junkie Jason Gray. On a Friday afternoon, eight mostly muscled, mostly white men in their late 20s to mid-40s, drift in and out – plopping down on red and beige living room couches to watch NASCAR and car auctions on the Speed channel.

They must deal with only two refrigerators, one bathroom and four smallish bedrooms.

And they must deal with the addictions that have plagued most of their adult lives.

‘My last trip to prison, I had a lot of time to think’

Matthew spent eight years in the Marines; he fought in the first Persian Gulf War. Looking for an “alternative high,” he “spent 10 years on the streets doing meth.”

A buddy from the Corps, now an alcohol and drug counselor, brought Matt up to Red Bluff from Sacramento. Then, he said, he had “no urge to get clean.”

“If I didn’t have that, I would have stayed in my addiction until I got killed, or I killed someone,” he said.

Greg (not his real name) is 45, and has spent three years in prison since first getting in trouble 10 years ago for DUI.

“My last trip to prison, I had a lot of time to think,” Greg said. “I don’t want no part of that no more. I’m too old.”

When Greg was locked up, his teenage son Corey (also not his real name) was living in Orland with Corey’s mother, and started getting in trouble – “going down my path.” Now that Greg’s out of jail and working full-time, that’s not happening.

“I’m working on getting my driver’s license back, getting my motorcycle. I’ve got new clothes, new shoes, I pay child support,” Greg said. “Oh yeah, I’m happy.”

“It takes time; the more good things that happen, the more you want” to stay clean, he says.

And “the more you get strung out,” Matt says, “the more you just don’t give a shit.”

‘Everything could change in a day for a guy that uses’

Almost all say they say they’re working their situation out — slowly, as it must needs be.

There are a few hopes: Scott, 45, has a wife of six years and stepchildren, a 14-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl.

“You want to walk home, open the door, walk in, have dinner, give them a hug.”

Yet, almost alone in the house on a Friday night, watching The Shawshank Redemption, he still knows that “it’ll take time.”

Two months ago, Scott passed out in the driver’s seat with his kids in the car; his stepson had to grab the wheel. He omits this detail when telling me his story; house manager Tom Ebaugh tells me later, saying Scott was likely too embarrassed to mention it.

“I pray every day that when I get things right, we can be reunited,” Scott says.

“I love them more than anything in the world,” he adds. “But my wife is tired of broken promises, ‘everything’ll be fine,’ ‘everything’ll be hunky-dory.’ And she’s got every right.”

“Everything that’s ever happened to me, drinking has been behind it.”

“The main thing is working on me so I don’t do it again. God will give me the same thing over and over again, until I learn.”

Tom – 45, single, childless – mentions vague hopes of finding a woman and marrying her, but he says he “doesn’t really talk about long-term goals.”

“They’re too far out. This is more of a stepping stone, one day at a time.”

He recalls large backward steps; a time he got fired from a job at an auto parts store for breaking in and stealing parts while drunk.

“Everything could change in a day for a guy that uses.”

“I try to ignore them, not let it rub off on me.”

At the house, the men bond.

“I’ll make spaghetti,” volunteers Scott.

“You make good spaghetti,” replies Matthew.

“If you like the real deal,” says Scott. He laughs, then starts listing extras. “Tomatoes, mushrooms, green peppers …”

“The best friend he has here is his bunkie,” says Scott of Greg; the two room together.

“He snores, he stinks, and he’s gay,” shoots back Greg. “I swear, if I didn’t have these earplugs I’d sleep on the couch.”

And, they clash.

Later, born-again Scott sits on a chair by the window, while Tom and fellow resident Luke Green, 27, sit on the couches, trading porn on their cell phones.

“Come over here, I’ve got something to show you,” calls Luke, smirking.

As Luke wanders onto the porch and Tom to the back, Scott gets up, taking quick, measured strides across the room and speaking quietly.

“That’s the hardest thing about living here,” he says. “I try to ignore them, not let it rub off on me.”

Later, Luke comes back in, talking about going to parties and getting laid. Half-jokingly, he extends an invitation to Scott.
“I’m a married man,” the older man replies sternly. “I don’t do that.”

With eight men in one house, says house manager Tom, “there’s so much drama around – work, girls, everyday stuff.”

“If it lasts any longer than a day, I’ll take them aside,” he says.

Tom speaks of those quarreling in the same terms as past residents who used drugs while living there.

“They’re disrespecting the house,” he says.

“This is a clean and sober environment. We pay $450 a month for that.”

‘There’s no girls in prison, no money’

“I got out of prison with $200, and it took $100 to get to Red Bluff,” Luke says. “I gave Jason the other $100.”

He had to borrow money from his family to tide him over, but wasn’t going back.

“Your old friends don’t send you money when you’re in trouble,” said Luke. “Why should you talk to them after that?”

“You’ve got no future in the other life. There’s no girls in prison, no money.”

People usually go to Phoenix Rising after getting in trouble with the government.

“The biggest reason for women is that they lost their kids” to Child Protective Services, says Lesley Junk, who runs the house with fiancee Jason Gray. “For men, it’s parole.”

Unfortunately, there might be no money in prison, but rehab is expensive too.

Ms. Junk recalls her own experience, with comprehensive recovery programs costing $1,500 per month. Next to that, she says, the $450 per month it costs to live in Phoenix Rising – a step down is restrictiveness from rehab centers – is a bargain.

In a sense, it’s an entrepreneurial opportunity: a group of recovering addicts together is worth more than the members are apart.

‘You’ve got to change people, places, and things’

The residents must attend three recovery meetings a week, like AA or NA; church also counts. Most of the men living in the house have jobs; a couple get work somewhat regularly at a local temp agency. They have to obey a 10 p.m. curfew on weeknights and can be drug-tested at any time; two positive tests and they’re out.

The location in Red Bluff is a big part of the success – and failure – of those living there.

“People from Red Bluff that come to my sober living house usually don’t make it,” said Jason Gray. “People that come from Orland, or Redding, do.”

That was true for him.

“I gave my life to God,” he says – and then he moved from Glenn County to Red Bluff, where he didn’t know anyone, to start his new life.

Matthew is from Sacramento. Greg is from Orland, as is Luke. Tom was a contractor in the Bay Area originally. Scott used to live down the street.

“You’ve got to change people, places, and things,” Mr. Gray says.

Another part of their staying clean, Mr. Gray and Ms. Junk say, is running the program and helping others. In a little over a year, they’ve been able to open two houses, with 11 total residents. And they dream bigger; in four years, they hope to have 10 houses.

‘I hadn’t talked to him in 10 years’

Talking about Scott’s upcoming court date, Tom says he’ll “be there to support him.”

“If he got it bad, he’ll want to go and get drunk,” Tom adds. “That’s what I’d do.”
Together, they have hope.

“When we’re in addiction, we fuck up all our credit, all our families,” says Matt. “We’ve got to start again, like little kids.”
Looking for a job, he mentions he put in an application to drive a train; his dad worked at the railroad for 46 years.
“I talked to my dad last night … he said, ‘put my name down,’” said Matt. “I hadn’t talked to him in 10 years.”