Edwin

Edwin

Edwin was referred to ACE through his rehabilitation facility. He says, “I can’t speak for everyone else, but I was afraid of the unknown. I had been at other programs and failed. Being at ACE was different. I found a home with ACE and a family… I want to thank ACE for believing in me when no-one else did, not even myself.”

Determined to improve his reading and writing skills, Edwin benefited greatly from ACE’s education program, through which he received one-on-one literacy tutoring, and attended math classes and job readiness workshops. His favorite class soon became the one-on-one reading sessions, because of the personalized attention his tutor gave him. “I was getting so much help, I was elevated to a skill level that I never thought I would. I was shown that with time and hard work there’s nothing I can’t do.

Today, Edwin is employed full-time as a maintenance worker at a school in Brooklyn. Grateful to be back in the workforce and to have purpose and direction in life again, Edwin is excited about the future. “I have achieved what I wanted, but I still have more goals to accomplish.” He was recently selected to participate in ACE’s housing program, Project Home, and is now working toward obtaining his GED.

Ralph

Ralph

Born in the rough parts of Brooklyn and raised in run-down shacks and projects all over the city, it is safe to say that Ralph has seen the worst that each borough has to offer. His mother battled alcoholism throughout his childhood

As a kid, Ralph struggled in school and began using drugs and alcohol in his early teens. What started off as experimentation quickly evolved into full-blown addiction. His chemical-dependency habits, along with a rapidly developing rap sheet, would dominate much of his adult life. “I was drinking a lot, spending my time in prison or on the streets, eating out of the garbage,” he recalls. “I was lost for a long, long time.”

Ralph became clean and sober in the early 90’s, but still struggled to get his life on track in the wake of several arrests and prolonged bouts of unemployment. He found ACE in 2011 through Samaritan Village, a treatment center that refers recovering men and women to Project Comeback. When he joined the ACE street-sweeping crew, he says, “I felt at home. I loved working, cleaning, feeling good about doing things again.”

Ralph soon became a visible and vocal presence at ACE, earning high marks on progress reports and spreading his infectious positive attitude to staff and program participants alike. “I cam here to improve myself,” Ralph explains.

In addition to completing employment training on the crew and our series of job-readiness workshops, Ralph opted into ACE’s continuing education curriculum. Having battled dyslexia since childhood, he worked steadily with the ACE staff to improve his reading and writing skills. “That stuff has always been tough for me, “ he says. “Now, I want to continue to go to school and I’m fighting to get my GED.” The hard work shows – at ACE’s fall 2011 Graduation, Ralph proudly read an inspiring letter about his journey, which he penned during his tenure at Project Comeback.

These days, Project Comeback graduate Ralph is working full-time on the maintenance staff at the H.O.M.E.E. Clinic in the Bronx and has transitioned to ACE’s aftercare program, Project Stay. He hopes to pursue his goal of becoming a motivational speaker, so he can share his story with others and inspire people who have been through similar struggles. “It all depends on your point of view,” he explains. “It’s about control, challenge, and the willingness to understand your right to change and accept responsibility. It’s about learning and identifying our wrong mistakes. I will continue to take personal inventory in my life when I was wrong. And don’t forget the fight’s not over. Hold your head up.”

Jacqueline

JacquelineWalking along Prince Street near the corner of Mott last summer, you may have noticed a vibrant and engaging woman speaking to passersby about Use Your Head, ACE’s new resale boutique. That woman, Jacqueline, is one of our most recent Project Comeback graduates and we could not be prouder of her success.

Jacqueline was born in Harlem to a good family. She and her twin sister were the babies of the family, but after their father passed away, it was Jacqueline’s sister who helped to support their family. In Jacqueline’s words, “My twin sister was the good one. I was the bad one.” When her sister passed away in 1989, Jacqueline was shattered.

After losing her sister, Jacqueline turned to drugs. She spent the next seventeen years in and out of various detox programs. Although Jacqueline says, “I put my mother through a lot,” her mother never lost hope. She continued to bring Jacqueline to drug rehabilitation programs despite the fact that Jacqueline would inevitably leave after a day or two, only to return to her destructive lifestyle. In Jacqueline’s words, “I was never ‘homeless’ because I always had a home with my mother. I just didn’t want to go back to my mother’s house and have her see me the way that I was.”

Eventually, Jacqueline was arrested and ordered to complete a drug rehabilitation program with Day Top. On March 15, 2006, she entered the program and, in her words, Day Top “rescued” her. “It saved my life,” she says and certainly she thrived while in the program. She was appointed to be a record keeper, a position of responsibility that earned her significant trust from her supervisors. Jacqueline completed the ten month rehabilitation program and has remained drug-free ever since.

Jacqueline then went on to an eight month training program, where she obtained a certificate in custodial maintenance, but still she struggled to find a job. In January 2009, Jacqueline came to Project Comeback on a recommendation from her vocational counselor. According to Jacqueline, “I grew so much” in Project Comeback.

Jacqueline took great pride in her sweeping work and quickly distinguished herself on the crew. She was honored with a Senior Crew Award both for her impressive work ethic and her inspiring attitude. “You could eat off of my streets!” she would say, but Jacqueline was also known for her exuberance and the positive effect she had on everyone around her.

Before her graduation, we offered Jacqueline temporary employment at Use Your Head and she became a truly valuable member of the team, assisting with our marketing campaign by distributing flyers on the streets of Nolita and spreading the word about the store. Jacqueline says she worked so hard for Use Your Head because, by getting people through the door, she knew she was doing her part to help ACE and the people we serve.

According to Jacqueline, her time in Project Comeback helped her not only to become more responsible, but also to be more giving, particularly when she sees a homeless person on the street or in the subway.

Jacqueline officially graduated from our program on September 18th, 2009, and is now thriving at her job at Nathan’s Restaurant in Penn Station. She is still in outpatient treatment and is a member of a wonderful women’s group. She is happy to have so many positive people in her life, including her mother, who is thankfully alive and well to witness all that her daughter has accomplished. In the future, Jacqueline hopes to work as a supervisor, possibly in a homeless shelter helping people to find housing and get back on their feet.

Kelvin

Kelvin

Like many of our Project Comeback graduates, Kelvin’s journey to us was a long one. He came to our program with a history of drug and alcohol abuse and a pattern of institutionalization for possession, selling and petty theft. Given the circumstances of his childhood, Kelvin got caught up early in a destructive cycle he could not see his way out of and, while he says it was “one hell of a ride,” he also admits, “I just could not see the depth of hell I was lowering myself to.”

On February 23rd, 2007, Kelvin was arrested for selling crack to an undercover officer. With four priors, he was considered a persistent offender and faced “a pretty stiff sentence.” But during his subsequent incarceration, Kelvin made a decision. “God stepped in and put breaks on all my grandiose schemes. He put me in a place where I worshipped him most,” he says, “—in prison.” Although Kelvin had been unsuccessful in previous treatment programs, he finally realized, “this is it for me. I need help,” and he decided to get clean.

He was admitted to Daytop Services in Far Rockaway on January 4, 2008, finally ready to make a commitment to sobriety. His new counselor told him, “Let down your resistance,” and, slowly but surely, Kelvin did just that. He began to share himself, to come out of his shell, and pretty soon “doors started to open.” He began to see himself in a different light. “I wasn’t just a tough guy, wasn’t just the father who had abandoned his child and his family.” “My problem,” he says, “once I admitted I had a problem, was the crack cocaine.” Kelvin has been clean ever since.

When a friend told him about ACE and Project Comeback, Kelvin was reluctant. The idea of cleaning the streets didn’t match his image, but then he stopped and weighed his options: “image vs. getting my life back… And, lo and behold, I put my image on the shelf.” It only took an hour to convince Kelvin he had chosen the right road. He remembers his intake interview with ACE case manager John Ellert as the first day of the rest of his life. With John’s help, Kelvin was able to truly open up and commit to reclaiming his life. In Project Comeback, Kelvin worked and worked hard, taking the program day by day. He began to realize, “If I don’t count the time and make the time count, things are getting better.” Now, Kelvin says, “I make the clock work for me.”

Kelvin graduated from ACE on October 8, 2009 and has been gainfully employed at a homeless shelter in Fort Washington Homeless ever since. He works the night shift from midnight to 8 AM as a program assistant, monitoring the clients and facility. He plans to apply for the Buhl Scholarship to Metropolitan College as soon as he reaches the six-month employment benchmark. “I’m SoHo for life!” he says, and we believe in him.

Kelvin plans to pursue a career in substance abuse counseling. “I really want to be in the field where I’m giving back,” he says. Kelvin’s son is now twenty-three and has two kids of his own, so Kelvin wants to be “the best grandfather ever,” to do everything in his power to make sure the cycle stops with him. He realizes his responsibility to himself, saying, “Now I don’t make promises. I just show up and do. I have to take care of myself before I can take care of anybody else.”

I have to take care of myself before I can take care of anybody else.

When you ask Kelvin about his life at present, he answers, “I’m having a ball.” He speaks of his commitment to his sobriety and his gratitude to ACE for the second chance. “It all goes back to my higher power, who I choose to call God—that’s where my gratefulness comes from. Some people say, ‘God works in mysterious ways.’ I just say, ‘God works.’”

Ha’Saan

Ha'saanOriginally I’m from Newburgh. It was a wild little town. It still is.

I grew up in an alcoholic home. Most children, when you raise them, you try to raise them with happiness. My growing up was always filled with darkness, because I was witnessing negativity every day—the alcohol. I used to be traumatized seeing my mother get beat up by my father. I grew up thinking that negativity and darkness and pain and suffering were all going to be a part of my life. It was instilled in me at that age; the feelings you’re feeling now, you’ll feel for the rest of your life. And so I started living that feeling. I identified with pain more than I identified with pleasure. It made me to want to isolate myself from the world.

So eventually, I ended up exploring the drugs that led me to prison. At the age of 15, I went to prison and I did 26-27 years in different prison bids, going back and forth, in and out of prison, until the age of 47. Prison became a cycle that I didn’t know how to stop. After adapting to a childhood life of pain and misery, I adapted to an adult life of pain and misery. That was my comfort zone.

I was one of those people who was comfortable in prison; I was able to handle it. I didn’t fear prison, I didn’t care about going to prison. I was trying to use drugs to replace pain and suffering. And I never replaced it; it always just sent me to a different level of pain and suffering. And, again, you adapt to things after a while. I did not enjoy what I was feeling, but I became accustomed to it. I became accustomed to not believing in myself, to those cell doors slamming behind me, to police chasing me, to looking in a mirror and not seeing that light behind my eyes.

I ran into a point in my life—they call it a bottom—I ran into a spiritual bottom about eleven months ago. I was spiritually bankrupt; my self-esteem was shot. I didn’t want to feel how I was feeling spiritually. I didn’t like the person in the mirror any more. I didn’t like the person of the past or the present. When I prayed, tears came out. I didn’t want to die an addict. I didn’t want to die with no one to say, “Hey, he was a good guy.”

That’s what brought me into everything I’m doing now. At my transitional housing program, they told me about Project Comeback. I was told they’d train me and place me, and because of my criminal history, I figured this would be an easy way to find a job.

When I first came here, I came here just for one thing: give me employment. I didn’t come here for any of that other stuff, I didn’t come here to interact with people. But I came here willing to change, and so something happened on the way—I began to find myself. This program helped me to find myself—or at least point me in the direction to look for myself.

My first month or so, picking up garbage cans, lifting a garbage can, I couldn’t stand it. I still don’t like it. But that’s how this program helps. I learned humility. Because even though I don’t like doing this, I get a check. And I’m doing something besides sitting up there in the Esperanza house.

You come here and learn more than you think you’re going to learn. You don’t have to like something, but you deal with it until things get better. I learned to communicate with people. I learned humbleness, responsibility, to respect others. I learned to believe in myself a little bit again.

Drawing is the love of my life, that’s where I’m at peace, when I take a piece of paper and create something. I also write poems. I really want to pursue that so I can find true happiness. When I used to go back and forth to jail, drawing was my piece of mind, it was my escape; it was my way of thinking that I wasn’t in prison.

I like greeting cards because they bring together both drawing and poetry. I have a greeting card company called Passionate Greetings. My name is copyrighted and my work is patented. I sent thirty-two greeting cards to Albany and Washington DC, and they authenticated everything, and gave me my license, sent me my title. And now I’m trying to raise $200 to get the copies.

This is the love of my life, if I can somehow get back into it.

Rodney

Rodney HeadshotRodney’s success story, in his own words.

I was born in Harlem, here in New York. I grew up in a dysfunctional family with three other siblings. I was made to feel less than them because I was the dark one; my siblings are half Hispanic. I got beat up. I grew up thinking I was the ugly duckling because I was dark. Christmas and holiday times came around and I wasn’t allowed to go over to their father’s house. They said it was ’cause I was too bad, but it was ’cause I was too dark. My mom said, “He’s part of the family, if he don’t go, no one goes.” When my mom wasn’t looking, they beat me up because they couldn’t get their gifts.

That was part of why I used and medicated. I started using late in life, when I was 27. I started using cocaine. With my drug of choice, crack, you didn’t see the devastation of it until years later, so I didn’t know what was coming. I never did heroine, no alcohol, just crack cocaine and orange soda.

I had fun in the beginning. I thought I was having big fun. I wish someone had been around to tell me, take heed; you’re in for something that’s going to devastate you from head to toe. I wish there was somebody who existed in my life back then.

I got two children. They’re adults. My son is 32 and my daughter’s 29. They’re in North Carolina with their mom. I raised them up until I was about 29. I went through a nightmare: a lot of guilt, a lot of crime. I’ve been through so much legal stuff because of the addiction.

I stole a lot of trucks, did a lot of burglaries. A lot of burglaries. Not home. Anyone reading this: if your home was broken into, it wasn’t me. I did commercial burglaries—until my name was put out there, then a lot of people knew who I was, so every time somewhere was broken into, I was questioned for it. I don’t wanna put in all the tough guy stuff. You can figure that out. You survive that long on drugs, you know there’s a lot of tough guy stuff involved.

The legal stuff I did was scrap metal business, and the wooden palettes: you can get those, recycle them, they give you $5 a palette; I’d get a shopping cart, stack them 15 high and go back and forth like that. But whenever you’re on drugs, you do something illegal to get money.

I started getting arrested, and I went to prison.

When I got out of prison, I got arrested again for the second time and was offered a drug program. I accepted it. And I thought the concept of the recovery was like brainwashing… Until it hit me one day, that what they’re saying just might work ‘cause I’d been beat up by the drug addiction; I’d been beat up bad. So I completed the program. While I was there, I gave the staff such a hard time, but I was one of the best when I graduated. I stayed clean for ten years.

But then I relapsed. I had no support system.

During this relapse, I got beat up, and the progression was much faster this time—really fast, devastating. Crack cocaine is a corrosive agent; it’ll eat up your body. I saw the deterioration little by little, so I told myself if I just slow down, not do it so much, just on the weekend… but you cant do it. I’m usually a 260 pound man I went down to 180 pounds. On a man with my frame. I looked bad. My face looked like a skull. A skull with a beard on it. I hadn’t seen a mirror in many, many, many, many, many, many months. One day I looked in a mirror, I looked in a mirror and almost cried, I almost cried when I saw myself. I couldn’t look too long.

There was a time I didn’t bathe, didn’t bathe for many weeks. I went to a store, I saw the ladies holding napkins to their mouths and noses, and I ran out of the store crying. Left everything there, and ran out crying. So I’m sitting there feeling sorry for myself, and I said to myself, this madness has gotta stop. Pretty soon a buddy comes up, and says do you want a hit, and I took it, and I was medicated again; and all the guilt and shame went away. But when you weren’t medicated, all those feelings came flooding back. When you’re medicated, you don’t feel so bad.

I got tired and gave up, and said I’m going to use for the rest of my life until I die, or until I got a long term in prison, and then the nightmare of using and being homeless will finally end.

I walked into an establishment and passed a note, hoping to get caught. The clerk gave me the money; I went outside, went to one of the little stands, got a frank and a soda, gave the guy a $20 tip, hailed a cab, got in, and was never arrested for it. That evening, I went into a New York City playground at about 3:30 in the morning, went to the center of the playground and asked God for help because I couldn’t do it myself.

Two days later, I was arrested.

I’m not a bad person. I got a good heart. But the craziness, the insanity of the addiction, made me do a lot of crazy things that I wouldn’t do. I wouldn’t walk into any place and hold it up now; I’d be scared to death.

I wrote the judge from Rikers Island and said: I’m too old for this, I’d like to try a long-term drug program again. So far, I’ve been doing good.

I completed the program and was transferred to transitional help. I needed $220 to lift the restrictions off my license. And I found Project Comeback. I thought it was just a job, but it had so much more to offer. With the workshops—things I didn’t know that I thought I knew. There was so much I learned about an interview, how to dress, how to act. When I came to ACE, I was frustrated with so many particular rules and regulations. All we were doing was sweeping streets, but then I learned that the rules were in place to teach us how to handle a real-life job.

I thought I would feel ashamed cleaning streets in a rich neighborhood like this, but I don’t. Most of the residents, they talk to me, they know me. It feels good to get up on that train, to get up early. I’ve been doing it for three months and I still feel proud.

I went to a graduation ceremony; it was great, really tearful, a lot of people came from the depths of homelessness and drug addiction. And I know I’m not the only one who went through this. I can imagine people wish that addiction was a person, or some kind of organic organism that you can destroy or kill or just get your hands on and just wipe it out. I don’t even have no friends; people who I thought I would call friends, they’re active addicts. I got no social circle. I gotta develop that and start over.

In the circle of recovery, they say that addiction is insidious, baffling and very cunning, to keep the grips on you. It’s as if it is an entity, and it knows what it’s doing. It’s not an easy thing, coming off something like that, but I’m not going back. I’m too old now to slip and fall and go back to that.

I like me today; I love myself a lot more today. I wanna live, you know. I wanna live. There was a time I didn’t care if I lived or died. There was a time when I just didn’t care.

I can’t wait to start paying bills. I know that sounds crazy but when you’ve been through addiction and homelessness, it makes you feel proud of yourself. You see that TV on your wall and you earned it; you didn’t do anything illegal to get it.

If anybody gets to read this, and they’re thinking about experimenting with drugs, I’ll tell them right now, they don’t know what they’re heading for. You think you’re feeling good, gonna have fun, but you’re heading for the pits of hell. If I could reach one person and deter them, I would say do not do it. Hang on to life. ‘Cause I threw mine in the garbage. I thank God because he gave me another chance. Before I started using, I was able to buy two cars, very expensive electronics, and I slipped up; it was like I spit in God’s face. I’d rather rot in hell than do that to Him again. I’m just so grateful.

Here in SoHo, I met some MTA employees that do basically the same thing I do, sweep and clean up; they have some community programs with young kids who are beginning to get in trouble and get community service. One of the people I know, she brings some of the kids to lunch, and I try to do my own “scare straight” program. I tell them the horror of prison and I tell them, “This is how it starts.” Tell them they’re heading for state time. I tell them what goes on behind the bars of the prison, and I tell them they don’t wanna do it. Prison is nowhere you wanna be. You young guys should be aspiring to go to school, stay in school. You see a lot of older black guys—a lot of men period—and they’re struggling; they can’t even afford a car, can’t afford their own place. The homeless shelters are filled. If you keep going the way they’re going, you’re going to end up like me.

I’m not greedy. My immediate short-term goal is to find housing. Well, employment first. If I enjoy something, I’m really good at it. I love driving. I read maps excellently. I wanna get back into that field, get back into the Teamsters, into the union. I have my license now, my resume is almost done, and I’m ready to submit it and fill out some applications. I’m sure Ill find work, because I’ve got some big-time experience trucking. I’ll make a decent living, get me a nice apartment, save some money and just live until I can retire.

I always wanted, if it was possible, to have a string of Laundromats in a residential neighborhood, and hire people who lived around there, provide jobs for some people who live in the neighborhood.

I wanna buy some property and get a home. I know the American dream is to have your own home. I know some people who have their own homes. I don’t envy them, but I admire them. Envy is a rough word. It implies you want just want what they have. I don’t. But I do want my own home.

I’m looking forward to meeting a nice companion one day. I know what it’s like to be in love, it’s a real good feeling. I’ve never been married, though. I would love to get married one day, to meet someone and really genuinely fall in love. I don’t know what that feels like. I would like to meet someone now, and stay together ’til one of us kicks the bucket.

If God will bless me that way, I’ll live the rest of my life righteous and good. I’m ready. I’m ready to live life on its terms