Raymond can light up a room with his words, smile and laugh. He is smart, charismatic and friendly. One would never guess that for 35 years he was lost in drug use, in and out of jail, and on the streets. I sat down with the now employed ACE graduate to hear a bit about his struggle and comeback. This is Raymond’s Story:
Raymond was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He was one of 13 children living under one roof. “Life was great,” he says, “we played stick-ball, punch-ball, there were no computers. Kids got a lot more recreation outside and not on the living room couch.” He recalls his childhood with a big smile on his face.
Those simpler times did not last as long as Raymond would have liked. As one of the older siblings, he felt that school was not his best option. “I went as far as the 10th grade in school,” he recalls, “but, of course, I had to drop out to help out at home.” He explains that his efforts at legitimate work did not last and he quickly succumbed to drug use. When I ask about his young adult life after school, he puts on a smile and shakes his head with a sense of disbelief at his former reality. “My young adult life was crazy, because I used drugs for all of it, until I came to ACE.”
Raymond, now 60 years old, is surprisingly open about some of the harder times, hustling and coming in and out of jail. He shares insight into drug abuse that comes after 40 years of using and, most recently, three years of sobriety. “In the beginning,” he says, “it’s fun. But no one ever tells you that in the end, the drug is going to take over. I had to learn that I love drugs, but drugs don’t love me.”
Recounting when times were near their worst, Raymond tells me, “I was homeless for three years. I ran with 3 other guys in those days. We found an old tractor-trailer in a lot and fixed it up. We lived there for three years. There was a sanitation department a block and a half from us and we knew one of the guys that worked there. He got high also, so he used to let us use the slop sink in there to bathe.”
By 2012 Raymond was done living on the wrong side of the law. Standing in front of a judge, he was faced with the most important decision of his life—jail or rehab. He eagerly accepted rehab, and on February 2nd, 2012, at 57 Years old, Raymond checked into a drug treatment center and began a new chapter of his life. Thinking of that day he says, “My birthday is three days later, so I can never forget that day. It was the greatest birthday present to myself.”
After several months in treatment, a counselor suggested that he start thinking about employment. “I never thought I was going to work again, in a legitimate job, paying taxes.” He remembers, “I hadn’t worked since 1979.” Despite his pretenses, he came to ACE and began to chip away at his fears of a real job.
Several months passed and as Raymond saw his skill-set grow, his confidence grew with it. “ACE taught me how to get back into the workforce. Things were totally different when I worked.” He says, “There were no computers, cover letters or resumes. None of that existed.” To be specific, while Raymond was at ACE, he took our classes in computers, job search, resume writing, interview prep and financial management. He even obtained his OSHA certification.
After six months, Raymond was going on interviews. Given his personable disposition, it did not take long before he landed a job. Speaking about those interviews, his pride is palpable. He excitedly recites for me the history of his employer, an extremely popular restaurant in NYC, and tells how he impressed the interviewer with his preparedness. When he was called back for a second interview with the GM he knew the job was his. He is grinning from ear to ear as he thinks back on that moment. “I was beaming inside. I said, I got the job, I got it.” Sure enough, the GM hired him on the spot.
Raymond’s new life still isn’t a pumpkin patch, but he knows it’s worth the hard work. “I’ve been clean for three years now, and I love it. My family loves it. And I love my job.” His favorite part of working is, “Getting the paycheck and knowing I earned it,” and to my surprise, he adds, “and paying taxes.” I guess, unlike most of us who lament losing a cut to Uncle Sam, Raymond is proud that for the first time in 35 years he is contributing his fair share.
When I ask what all this means to him, he pauses. Then, with a still confidence, Raymond says, “I love who I am today, that’s the whole thing right there. I love who I am today. I’m proud of who I am today.” The room is officially lit up.
We are extremely grateful for your support in helping Raymond and others like him to make their comeback. To watch a video of Raymond’s interview, visit www.acenewyork.org.