At the Our Daily Bread Employment Center (ODBEC) Dinner, Justin told the story of how he is rebuilding his life with help from Catholic Charities. Here is a copy of his remarks.
I am here tonight as an ambassador for Christopher Place Employment Academy, a part of (ODBEC). My goal is to give you my small part, in the bigger picture, of Catholic Charities.
I had a pretty good upbringing. I was raised in a middle class family (when we still had them), in a middle class neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey. I went to Catholic schools because my mother wanted the best education she could afford. I had everything I needed and most of what I wanted. If I didn’t have what I wanted it was because I didn’t stomp my feet hard enough or hold my breath long enough or I felt it wasn’t worth the effort. I also travelled in and out of the country extensively, which greatly broadened my horizons. This created inquisitiveness in my spirit. I was always willing to try and explore new things, as the world was my oyster.
Of course, there are two sides to every coin. I was also very naïve, trusting and optimistic. It was very easy for me to try things without worrying about the consequences. Through some friends, I was introduced to a new drug in our neighborhood. They had all kinds of names for it, but never its true name. Three weeks later, I was reading the New York Times, (being Mr. Intellectual and all) and went outside to discuss the news with my friends. I told them heroin was back out on the street and they laughed at me and said, “What do you think you’ve been sniffing for the last three weeks?!” By then it was too late. Heroin was my friend.
In three short years, the fire in me was extinguished. No longer was I inquisitive, no longer did I have the ambition to make a lasting mark on the world, leaving it better then when I came in. My only thought was where was I going to get the money to buy more heroin. I must say, I have been in many places and done many things I am not proud of, chasing an empty shell.
As a result, I left my family in New Jersey and found myself in Greensboro, North Carolina, trying to pick up the pieces, trying to relive that former life. But there was always something missing. Finally, I took a leap of faith and decided I would try again and reconnect with my family. I resigned from my job, collected my last paycheck and with a bag on my shoulder, took a train to Baltimore, Maryland. I spent ten days in the parking lot across the street and nine nights on an overflow cot in a school gymnasium before coming to Christopher Place.
Christopher Place Employment Academy is a wonderful program. Its name is misleading. Christopher Place takes a holistic approach to helping homeless men reclaim their lives. It helps men change their mindset. I walked into this process with a broken spirit, an extinguished flame and a feeling of helplessness looking for a new way.
I began to engage in the process. Christopher Place gave me the chance to be still for a moment and figure out who I really was. Through many classes and activities, I learned a new way of approaching life, on life’s terms and not my own. The ashes of my spirit received a spark and turned into embers, which developed into the passion that has returned to my life. As I engaged in this process, I set my mind on embracing this program – believing I would be able to do anything I set my mind to.
Today, I work in healthcare with the position I prepared myself for at the beginning of this process. I have registered for school to get my bachelor degree in Healthcare Management, and most important of all, I am in a position to give back to this program and to the community.
I would like to read a brief poem [from Start Trek].
This is the sixth element,
Time crossing time
Until all stands still
And we may think.
Study, but touch.
Learn, and later know.
Tame the craggy agonies of toil’s time.
Memory and memoring comes late,
Comes shattery, scattery.
When all is done, it is not to die –
It is to die well.
So, I propose a challenge, a challenge to us all, to do our part in helping men like me rekindle that flame, become productive members of our community. To give back what we have so graciously received and yes not to die, but to die well.