The Road to Recovery — Parolee to Peer Specialist

Part three of Tim’s story is dedicated to his late wife, Jacqueline, who after many years of fighting lost her life to cancer. Jacqueline you are very loved by many.

~

It was my third trip to prison in five years and this time I was looking at the long and lonely path of a 30-year prison sentence.

Been there, done that. I knew what I was in for, I knew the drill. I went to the diagnostic unit to get my assignment and I was happy because they assigned me to a brand new unit. I had a big smile on my face, I thought I was in for a treat, but that wasn’t the case.

My first trip to prison, I was “Inmate 51- – – -.” Here I was, back in prison less than five years later and I was “Inmate 643814.” It’s crazy to think that many people came through the prison system in such a short period of time.

When I arrived on my unit, 80% of the other inmates had numbers beginning with 19—–, 20—–, 29—–. These men had been locked up for over 20 years! Instantly, the white boy’s words were racing through my mind.

“God is going to keep you where you are closest to Him.”

So, I started going to church. I went to bible studies, listened to the chaplain preach — I got into it. Until, I saw the same people who were preaching, conning others. The guys who were speaking in tongues were getting in fights and having homosexual relationships. I started questioning everything.

This whole time I was searching to fill the void inside of me but I was searching on the outside for something to fix the inside. I didn’t realize the problem was me. I was looking for relief. I was looking for the formula for change, but leaving out a key component. The search kept leading me to dead ends so I turned around and went back where I started.

~

Even though I was never arrested for a drug related charge, I knew if I wanted to be up for parole, I needed to take some classes. Initially, the motivation to take the classes was all game, but Gpd was playing game on me and I didn’t even know it.

Going into substance abuse classes, I had three questions I wanted answered. I never shared those questions with anyone but they were always circling in my mind. Little did I know, God planned on using those unanswered questions to show me that He was there– even in the struggle.

Listen, I am really trying to help you guys. I didn’t take this job to teach you out of this book, I am an 8 year clean heroin addict. I know what it’s like to be in your shoes.”

I was shocked. In my mind, I had an image of what a heroin addict looked like, and she wasn’t it. I had no idea. As she started talking about dopamine and the affects drugs have on your brain and body, one of the questions that had been circling around in my head had finally been answered. From that point forward I listened. I listened to every single word she uttered from her mouth.  Each class was more informative than the last. I was starting to understand addiction and was eager to learn more.

TDC moved me to another unit where I met Mr. Haygood. Mr. Haygood had been sober for 11 years, and had a lot of insight to offer. It was through Mr. Haygood’s teaching that I realized I prayed the wrong prayer. It wasn’t just crack that was the problem for me– all of it was a problem.

It came in small doses, but I could see God working.

“As long as we can stop using, we thought it was okay because we looked at the stopping and not ay why we were using.”

Of all the times, I’d been to jail. Begged for drugs. Stopped and started again I had asked myself over and over again, “Why am I doing this, why can’t I stop?” And for the first time, I was starting to understand the answer to those questions. Each puzzle piece was connecting to the last.

As I realized the puzzle pieces were connecting and I was running out of excuses, I also realized I had a decision to make. I was laying in my jail cell after a racial riot had caused the unit to be locked down, and I remember saying to myself, “Okay God, I hear you. This is something I want. I don’t know where you are taking me but I know this is what I want. Today. This day. I know I can’t do this with your help.”

That was April 28, 1995. Today, I am celebrating 20 years in long term recovery.

Today… physically… I’m not on dope. My face is not shrunken in. I’m well groomed. I’m dressed to impress and I don’t look like and addict. I smell good. I look good. Emotionally, I’m stable and because God placed me in a situation where I was able to enter into a recovery program, I get to live life again.

“I don’t know all of the answers, but what I do know is that when I die, I’m going to die drug free.”

                                                                                                ~

Today, Tim works as a Peer Specialist. His job gives him the opportunity to introduce recovery to people who have never seen recovery. He shows people who don’t believe recovery is possible how to live a drug free life. Tim is also a sponsor to others who are new to recovery and wanting that change in their lives. Tim gets the opportunity to enter treatment facilities and prisons– places God is able to continually use him as a vessel to show His good works. Because of the transformation God did in his life, leading him down a path of long-term recovery; Tim has been able to be a supportive son to his disabled father, a better brother to his siblings and was able to lovingly encourage his ailing wife as she fought but ultimately lost her battle to cancer.

Final words from Tim…

“I know beyond a shadow of a doubt God placed me in a situation where God could talk to my physical ears in a spiritual way. Today, my mom is my best friend. As a grown man, I now sees what the boy couldn’t. I know what my mom was trying get me to learn all those years ago. Today she gets her flowers on this side of the dirt. I was lost but now I’m found, I was blind but ow I see… that’s more than a parable in the Bible to me, it’s the story I get to tell others like me, every day!”

(This blog is Part Three of a three part story. To read parts one and two, follow the links below.)

The Road to Recovery — Part One

The Road to Recovery — Prisoner to Parolee (Part Two)

The Road to Recovery — Prisoner to Parolee

I couldn’t believe my mom was right. Here I was, 25 years old and I was headed to prison.

I got my sentence and my mind immediately began to wander. I started thinking about everything I had seen about prison on TV. I started thinking about how many fights I would get into, because I ain’t no punk, I knew I was gonna fight. I thought about the “Don’t drop the soap” jokes. I talked to other inmates to hear what they said prison was like. I tried not to show them the fear I was feeling as I asked my questions, but I needed to know what it was going to be like.

With shackles on my arms and legs, the TDC guards loaded us up on the “Blue Bird.” That chicken fence you see on TV, that’s the real deal. I tried to mask my nervousness and fear– you could see the fear in other people’s eyes. It was easy to tell the difference between those like me and those who had been before.

We got to the prison diagnostics unit, the unit where all the prisoners go to get labelled, numbered and assigned a unit. The diagnostic unit is kind of like herding cattle, but for prisoners. There are men everywhere.

At the diagnostic unit, you learn the rules. You learn about the hallways and which side of the yellow line to walk on.

“There won’t be no troubles, there won’t be no problems, it’s just y’all inability to do one simple thing. You gonna get up off that head runnin’ in my hallways.”

I busted out laughing. This man was black and he sounded country as hell. It was the first time I knew I was in trouble, he chewed my a**.

I was assigned my 6 digit number– 51- – – – . I wish I could remember the whole number but all I remember is that it started with 51. After I got my number, I became “Inmate 51 – – – -,” I was no longer Timothy Parker and they let me know it.

My first unit was the Mark Stiles Unit in Beaumont, TX. I was sent there because it was my first time. There were a lot of other first or second time non-violent offenders trying to do what they need to get home.

In prison, everybody is whatever they want to be. No one tells the truth about why they are really there. I wasn’t going to tell them I was a dope fene walking the streets and stealing inspection stickers to support my drug habit. Nobody there was what they said they were. To the other inmates, I was “Fast Black.”

~

Back then, one month served was equal to one year served. I learned quickly if I did everything I was supposed to do, I could be home in six months.

The Mark Stiles unit wasn’t what I thought prison would be like. The blacks and whites mixed, people weren’t fighting, and everyone there was just doing what they needed to get home.

This was my first exposure to prison and I was out free in less than a year. I was home so fast it was pitiful. I think I did more time in county jail than I did in prison. Needless to say, I didn’t really learn the lesson the Judge thought I would learn.

As I neared the end of my sentence, I prepared to be released. They tell you to have a plan. My plan was to go to day labor to make enough money for a bus ticket then go stay at the shelter.

I went back to the diagnostic unit to book out, got my $200, and walked through the “Golden Gates.”

I had gone over a year without any dope or alcohol and they handed me $200!

It was so hard to fight the urges that filed me instantly as I walked through the Golden Gates. I managed to resist the urges and got on the bus but the whole way back to Dallas all I could think about was getting high. The urges got stronger and stronger as I got closer. I went to report to my parole officer and made it to the halfway house still sober. The next day, I went and checked in with my parole officer then walked away to go get high.

The entire time I was in prison I never worked on what caused me to be there. I never thought about it, it was never a conversation I had.

“I had only been out of prison for 4 days before I was back in jail.”

This time, the sentence was 10 years. I was headed to prison for the second time but I still didn’t think the problem was me.

Those white folks were racist. That woman lied on me. The system is messed up. I was full of excuses but I had no idea it was the drugs.

This time around, I was one of the guys in the “Blue Bird” that didn’t have fear in his eyes. I knew what to expect. I had been here before. This ain’t sh**!

The second time around, they sent me to the Beto Unit. Beto was nothing like the dorm that I was in before. Beto was a walls unit. There were bars. You could hear the doors shutting– it was totally different.

I immediately started getting into it with the guards. I quickly learned the term “14 and 1.” It was in closed custody that I realized I was a damn fool. Not just a fool, a DAMN FOOL. I had heard people say “You’ve crossed the line from being a boy to a man,” and I always wondered where that line was. It was at the Beto unit where I finally understood what they meant.

At this point in my life I started thinking about God. I was still carrying a lot of anger and I was mad at God but I wanted to understand why everyone had a belief in something and I didn’t. I learned about Judism, Hidnuism, and the Nation of Islam. I decided to follow the Nation of Islam because they were saying the stuff I wanted to hear. The Nation of Islam had a lot of rules. I didn’t understand all the rules and why I had to follow them. I started questioning the rules and that led me to following Islam. I started reading the Quran and really got into it but I felt burdened again by my inability to do what was expected. Once again, I wandered off of the spiritual journey.

Two years. That’s how much time I did on my second trip to prison. This time, I was prepared to go through those Golden Gates. I knew I had to have a plan. I wanted to do right. I couldn’t afford to mess up again. The plan was for me and two other guys to get on the bus and go straight to Dallas. We were there to support each other and that was going to be difference this time. But TDC had other plans. They threw us a curve ball. I went to get my papers and my $200 and they said “You’re going to Fort Worth.”

Fort Worth? Why was this happening? I had a plan for Dallas. I knew how I could make the $200 last me for a month in Dallas and I was going to follow that. At least, that’s what I believed. I didn’t know anything about Fort Worth. I was scared, nervous, and had nothing to fall on.

It wasn’t long before I found myself in county jail… again. I hadn’t talked to my mom in years but for some reason, she was the one I wanted to talk to. We cried together on the phone and I told her I was tired– the drugs were doing me in and I was sick of it.

“Baby, you gotta pray and tell God how you feel, from the bottom of your gut. God will relieve that craving that you have. You gotta believe in the power of prayer.”

So I prayed, “God, I need you to help me remove this craving of crack cocaine. I do not want to live like this no more, I mean it.”

I started to see some signs that God was real. My dad… I don’t know how… found my parole officer and helped me get back to Dallas. I was staying with my Aunt, working construction and life was getting so much better. I thought, “Wow, God’s really doing His thing.”

“But the devil was working too and he got me again.”

I was driving down the highway with my cousin and the urge to use was so strong. I needed to get out of the car right then. I needed to get high.

That was November 12, 1992.

For the next 2 and ½ months, my life spiraled completely out of control.

After a few months of being homeless and living on the streets without a shower, people could smell me before they could see me. My hair was knotted, and my clothes were dirty and ripped. I was sweating dirt. If you looked at my feet you would have looked away. The sores were so bad I could barely walk.

I remember seeing my reflection in a window and thinking to myself, “Wow, you actually look the way you feel on the inside.”

One time, I ran into this guy on the street who knew me and when he said hi, I pretended I didn’t know him.

“I denied who I was because I didn’t want anyone to see me like this.” 

Do you know what it’s like to be so embarrassed by your life that you deny who you are?

Talk about rock bottom. I was there.

I was desperate.

So desperate.

This dope dealer kid would taunt me and tell me he had a present for me. He had crack crumbs in his hand and as he dropped them to the ground I raced to get the little bits of crack I could gather.

“At one point in my life, I was doing hundreds of dollars of crack, and now I was begging for the drug dealers crumbs.”

I was so angry with God.

“God, what happened? I said I didn’t want to do this anymore. You ain’t real!”

I remember walking through the streets, hitting the crack pipe and screaming at God, cursing him out.

“The devil’s gonna get you with what you do. He got me with crack.”

January 28, 1993 – I never thought I would be so grateful to be arrested.

Back in county jail, again, I was standing next to the trash can asking for the vegetables the inmates were throwing away when this white kid walked up to me. I could see the bible in his hand. Steve, this skinny little white guy, says to me, “I’ve got something to tell you, it’s important. The Lord told me to tell you that you don’t have to be mad at him anymore.”

His words messed me up.

Bad.

No one knew I was just cursing God out. No one knew! Why would he say that? I ran to my bunk that night and cried myself to sleep. This skinny little white kid might as well have been the biggest black guy in the jail cell because I was scared straight. The next day, I asked him why he said that and he said, “I don’t know, I just felt God nudging me to say that to you. God is going to keep you where you are closest to Him.”

I had no idea what he meant, I thought God was getting even with me for getting high in church. What did he mean, “God is going to keep you where you are closes to Him.”

“You have been found guilty and I sentence you to 30 years in the penitentiary.”

That’s when it hit me.

This is what the white boy meant!

(This blog is Part Two of a three part story. To read parts ne and three, follow the links below.)

The Road to Recovery — Part One

The Road to Recovery — Parolee to Peer Specialist (Part Three)