Tuesday, October 21, 2008


This jar was my most favorite possession. I know longer have it. It was stolen. Someone walked into my room and stole it. When I took this picture, the jar was approximately 25 percent full. This past Sunday, it was 70 percent full. It was a source of deep pride to me. I started saving the coins when I was in the Transition House. I would collect cans and with that money, I would purchase tobacco. There would always be change, and I would put the change in a little bottle. The change would be used to wash clothes. I watched the little bottle fill up. I did not have any quarters when I first arrived on Skid Row. I had nothing. I had to wash my clothes by hand in the sink for the first two months I was in that facility, until I saved enough money to wash them in the machine. Another couple of months past by month before I felt I could spend the extra quarters to both wash and dry them by machine. Those quarters traveled with me from the Transition House to the Marshall house. They were never spent.
I made sure I had money to wash clothes. I purchased two roles of quarters, when I first moved into the Marshall House. It was my self- insurance plan to prepare for the day when I may not have any money and still needed to wash clothes. Those roles went into the bottle. The bottled filled up to capacity. I never touched those rose of quarters. There was a bottle of quarters from which I could always grab a couple just to clean clothes. I never touched those quarters for any other reason. Furthermore, I would never spend any change from the dollar bills I spent during the day. All change went into that bottle. It was my security blanket. On Skid Row, one develops them whenever and wherever one can.
One bottle led to another one. I outgrew that one as well. In the meantime two wonderful friends, Kevin and Debbie, gave me a big jar of cookies for Christmas. They knew I had a thing for Chocolate chip cookies. Once finished, I decided to use that jar as my next holder of quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies. The jar had a lid that I could flip open so I would not have to unscrew it each time I need put coins in it. It made things more convenient and more efficient. Efficiencies, economies and increase productivity are the themes that I strive to exercise and improve upon in every area of my life each day.
Each day I saw that jar, it was a living shrine as to what can be done- what can be built from scratch. When I moved to the Courtland, where I am now, it was the very first thing that I moved. It was my little baby that I would not let out of my sight. It kept growing and growing. I kept looking at it and it reinforced in me every day that anything can be done. I felt the spirit. I felt my friends that gave me that jar.
It was special for another reason. I used to see jars of coins at the homes of my friends all of my life. Everyone has a catch all jar. Some of them hold a potpourri of items-paperclips, rubber bands etc. along with loose change. Many jars or bottles were filled with coins at the homes of my friends. They never needed the money which left me pretty much perplexed. How could they have money in the bank AND jars filled with coins and never need to use the change? The answer eluded my grasp like water slipping through the fingers of a hand. And yet the answer was so simple. They did not spend every dollar they had on addicted substances, let alone expensive ones. Of course, all are expensive in one way or another.
Each time, I put a coin into that bottle I appreciated more and more how things can be built and developed. Each time I put a coin in the jar, I thought of my friends and the trust and faith they had in me when they invited me to their home for Christmas. They gave me the strength to carry on. I am in the process of paying for my mother’s car and I thought about using the coins for that. Easily there was a couple hundred dollars in that jar, probably much more. The jar was famous with a couple of people who knew about it, people that one would not mind knowing about it because they would not try and still it. In fact, they encouraged me to keep saving. Sounds funny that I would even mention that but I am living on Skid Row and those considerations must always be remembered.
I forgot those considerations, momentarily.. I was so happy to move into the Courtland. I thought it was so different from most buildings on Skid Row and indeed it is. But it is a Skid Row building and recently I was reminded of it when I talked to someone who knows the building well. I asked about the tenants and was told that, yes, many of the people in it still consume drugs (I have also begun to smell the fragrance of marijuana coming through the doors when I walked my units in the hallway). Yes, there is a high turnover. In six months, the building has experienced a great deal of turnover in the residents. “Walter, some of the residents of have told me that they don’t care if they get kicked out. They just want a roof over their heads for a while. The fact is many of them still live like they are living on the streets. They don’t care and they just go out and relapse and they do not want anything. “That was the response when I asked about someone who lived on my floor. His message to me was urgent
That message was a wake up call. I did not heed it. I left my door open. I must have. It would have been easy to blame the building management for allowing someone to have access to the key. After all this is Skid Row. Thieves are everywhere. Sure, the manager of the building had resigned on the previous day. The jar was taken the day after he resigned. “Was it an inside job?” The potential was there. The security camera, facing my door, was the only camera that was out of order. “Was it an inside job? Was it a conspiracy?” The evidence was mounting and it was easy to conclude that it was a conspiracy. It was easier to do that than to look at what had a greater probability of occurrence. And that was that someone who lived in the building, either walked into my room, or let someone in the building that walked into my room and took the jar with the coins. It was easy to begin to conclude their was a conspiracy, in house, than it was to take responsibility for my own actions, or lack thereof. That meant that I must hold myself responsible for not locking my door.
Yes, I was too comfortable in here. Yes, my instincts told me to slow down a minute and lock the door. But no, I did not do that. I looked at the building like a college dorm, where you can keep the doors unlocked much of the time. I let myself be lulled into a false since of comfort because of the quiet and RELATIVE serenity that is the essence of the atmosphere here. I forgot that inner city university dorms are targets for those who want to prey on the naive and trusting. I did not pay attention to the man that informed me of the tremendous turnover of tenants in the building due to relapse. I discounted what was beneath the surface, like a calm sea that hides the strong undercurrents beneath, which can carry you deep into sea. I forgot that I lived on Skid Row.

Immediately I went downstairs and found a manager. We looked at the films. "The camera did not work", he explained. I was fuming. I was a victim. I focused in on it. After all, I had no choice. I was violated.
Ah, but that is the point. Was I a victim or a volunteer? Did I have no choice or did I have to recognize that I had a very important choice to make? Would I accept responsibility or would I allow myself to get distracted by directing my attention to something that would keep me stuck and stalled, the same type of stagnation that I experienced so long while I was using cocaine.
With each level of progress that one experiences in this recovery trail, there comes with it a set of challenges. The challenges are not as visible as the highly visible chains of controlled substance consumption where the consumer chooses not to see the signs that are so plainly in sight. No, these binds are not the big and very visible chain like links similar to the ones that keeps ships tethered in the water when they drop anchor. No, these chains are small and transparent, and yet, just as strong, like the fish lines that snag big game marlin in the deep sea. They never see the line but once they are snagged, the struggle and fight for a long time, not knowing what it is that has them tethered. So in effect the do the same damage as the visible big heavy chain links. They keep one stuck.
Making the wrong choice could have kept me stuck. It would have been easy. I would have been worried and obsessed about the money instead of taking care of certain things. I had an appointment at 10:00 AM that morning with a young man to take photos of me for Chrysalis. Evidently the photos and accompanying story about me were slated to be in a publication for one of their events. My appointment with the man was scheduled to take place one hour after the discovery of the theft.
“I will tell the man I have only five minutes to give him,” I said to myself. Instinctively, however, something told me I was taking the wrong approach in handling the latest challenge that came my way. I grabbed the computer and immediately Google searched for the best way to handle the feelings of anger and fear anger that are born from a burglary experience. (Those anger management classes, deserved or not, were yielding fruit, weren’t they? Made me take a step back). I found several academic articles but I found a New York Times article about a dentist that fell into drug addiction after a divorce. She had been abused by her father and her husband prior to the divorce. She lost her practice an began living on the streets and burglarized apartments in Lower Manhattan, New York City, to finance and maintain her heroin habit. She faced losing her license to practice dentistry after she was arrested for burglary charges. Eventually she cleaned up her life and dedicated herself to surviving HIV/AIDS patients. It reminded me of not only how far I have come but the responsibility I have to continue to grow and lead by example as the dentist in New York. Upon researching her phone number, I called her and left her a message of encouragement as she was facing sentencing that day for her former crimes. I know how uncertain life looked to her the morning she was going court. I have been there.
I felt better. I felt I helped someone. It got my mind off the money. I did something to help someone just like a fellow student at Penn did something for me right after she was sexually assaulted near the Penn campus. I remembered that and my experience seemed so minor relative to what she had endured.
I thought I was going to give the man five minutes to film me but we talked for five hours. In those five hours, I learned many things that could help me in my endeavors. Subsequently I talked to other people and learned more things and was able to apply the things I learned in advancing the understanding of the creative process.
None of it ever would have occurred if I had obsessed on the burglary. I would have been just as stuck had I chose to do cocaine after the burglary.
I made that breakthrough and, in doing so, I was able to tie the strings tight on some loose ends that I let go for a while. I have been learning so much and doing so much that I was not taking care of the details of certain matters. One unresolved matter led to another and I felt overwhelmed. I was worrying about not taking care of certain things as I was busy trying to forge ahead. Forging head is good but in doing so, new time demands are required. If I don’t take care of them as well as the matters left unattended, then the laces of the shoes unravel and everything falls apart.
It is easy to drift back into the anxious feeling because I lived with it so long in the past, worrying about things instead of taking care of them. I became overwhelmed and the feelings of helplessness would overtake me and so I would anesthetize myself with cocaine. The difference now, from hard work and self monitoring every day, I recognize that feeling of anxiousness that I used to live with like calluses on one’s feet. They are there but you still walk but life is uncomfortable and limited. The difference is now I have felt and have breathed that fresh air of freedom so much that my system will not allow myself to go back in any kind of way
I could have been trapped but I hose to be free and in doing so, I made breakthroughs. Got more things done. I developed more strength. I developed more focus. I fought with myself and won so I could advance further in life. You will see shortly the results of that growth.That is what I can give to those who are climbing the latter of rebuilding their lives. Don’t be distracted. Focus on what is important. Be honest with yourself. Don’t look at what is on the surface. Always look at what lies beneath the surface. The snakes that bite you are not the ones you see. Pay attention to details. That is where the challenges are at the higher loves of development. Pay attention to them and all will be well. It is funny that paying attention to more and more details, in the pursuit of development, reduces the risk for so much.
I had a major victory. I turned a negative into a positive. Kevin and Debbie, I felt the spirit. You told me to be focused. I have been. The jar is gone but the lessons learned from it are, in value, much greater than the amount of money in that jar.
Whoever you are, thank you for stealing my money. It gave me the opportunity to see where I am in many ways. I must go. I feel the spirit of success. It feels good. I am at a higher level. I know that now.
It took me a long time to do this blog. A lot has transpired in my life since the last post. I fought many battles. I prevailed. I am a different person. Funny how things happen.
The journey continues and it is becoming more fun as I feel myself grow into what I envision to be. This was a very challenging class at the University of Skid Row
Good night world, I love you.


shannon said...

thank you for that story walter.

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog a few days ago. You're a great writer. I'm so sorry you had your jar of money stolen. Keep up the wonderful job.

drug detox said...

This is a nice article you wrote. The dentist who survived addiction can serve as a model to those who have lost hope. People with drug and alcohol addiction can still find ways to recover and live a productive life.