My parents rubbed alcohol on my gums to stop me crying. They did that with all us kids. We grew up with parents who drank all the time and they didn’t care about us drinking too! I worked on assembly lines from when I left school. I’ve never done anything else. In my teens I started with wild mood swings. For days I’d be on a high and do crazy stuff then I’d crash into days of darkness and despair. I heard voices too. Alcohol and drugs helped with the lows. I remember one time I had an ulcer and almost died. I was drinking and not eating. Back in the day people like me were stigmatized and categorized as being “possessed with the devil.” Jail was often the only way to deal with the crazies like me.
Twenty five years ago I served 5 years in the penitentiary. Whilst there I was diagnosed with bi-polar and schizophrenia. They classified me as someone with a dual disorder: a mental disorder and a substance abuse disorder. I was 40 years old - it took that long to get a diagnosis! They told me that it was probable that Theodore Roosevelt and Einstein had bi-polar, so I was in good company!
They say when you do a long stint in jail you become a better criminal or a better person. I got into books, a 12 step program and I was baptized into the Episcopalian Church. I realized I was dealing with something that was killing me. I knew that when I got out I would have to change the people I hung out with, the places I hung out at and the things I liked to do. I continued to live in Chicago for a while, but it didn’t go so well. I decided to make a complete break and moved to Kansas City. That was 16 years ago. I’ve been a dry drunk since then. It’s still a struggle every day, but I believe in myself now and I’m grateful for everything I have. I knock on God’s heart every day for help and help comes.
During the last few years my health has deteriorated. I’m 65 now and have advanced arthritis, high blood pressure and diabetes. In January 2016, I was struggling to make ends meet. A glitch in the system meant I wasn’t getting my disability check. I couldn’t make my rent and I was in danger of being evicted. My back was against the wall. I’d been homeless before and I couldn’t face that again. I was desperate!
I saw the RS sign from across the street and I got talking to the people who gathered on the wall opposite RS by the bus stop on 31st and Troost. They said if I went to the RS Café and asked for Sandy I might get some help. RS helped me with my rent and to get stable. Later they helped me to get a bad tooth pulled and some new glasses. Mr. Turbo took a special interest in me. He’s a big old teddy bear with a big old smile that got me smiling too! He’s a champion for the little people. I like to think I’m a bit of an old teddy bear who looks out for little people too. I seem to fit in well with RS and I’m now happy to say I volunteer as a jack-of-all-trades for them. I work in the food pantry on Mondays; make coffee, clean tables and bathrooms on Tuesdays and Thursdays and, on Friday, I help serve the evening meal.
I live just around the corner so it’s home from home for me. The work regenerates me. I feel a part of something good and that I belong. I serve the people who come in and enjoy talking with them and I go across the street and sit on the corner with the men and talk. I won’t put them down. I like to break bread with people from all walks of life.