The worth of an addict

“Just don’t show my face”.

He said it almost immediately, before I even knew this would be much of a story. But it’s a story that needed to be told, with or without his picture.

I’m an addict.

This is Jay’s story.

The addiction started when he was just fifteen. And so did the dreams.


Dreams that hit him hard in the middle of the night–even when he was completely drunk out of his mind or still sniffing the last of the powder on the rim of his nostrils. Even when he passed out, needle marks in his arms, the dreams hit. And it’d wake him up and remind him that on his 18th birthday he was going to die.

He didn’t take the dreams seriously, really, although in the back of his mind he always wondered why he kept having that same dream. A foggy staircase, yelling coming from behind him–and that fatal shot to the head.

But then his 18th birthday came and he couldn’t shake the dread.

“I didn’t know what it meant,” Jay said. “All along God was trying to tell me something and I just kept pushing it away. And so my 18th birthday came, and I decided to get high with friends.”


Sneaking out after dark, Jay snorted, drank, laughed, and smoked his way until dawn, filling his body with so much substance that, “I don’t even know how I lived through that” he says now.

Marijuana, cocaine, heroine, opium–Jay kept going long after his friends were passed out. By morning he was ready to go home and not wake up for another year.

“But that’s when another friend called,” Jay said. By this point in the story his eyes are lost, just a little bit past my shoulder. “That day my whole life changed.”

A friend convinced him to go with him and a group of guys to get some drugs for a good price. Jay didn’t want to go of course–he could hardly see straight. But he did.

“I don’t remember much,” Jay said. “But I do remember snippets, like from a movie. I remember holding a guy by his neck and yelling at his face. I remember three loud pops and a pain in my head like a rock hitting me from a slingshot. I remember looking up at a blurry staircase and seeing someone yelling in Spanish, pointing a gun down at me. But that’s when it goes black.”

Jay woke up in a hospital handcuffed to the bed.

The sentence was 7 and a half years for 1st Degree Robbery with Gun Enhancement.

“On top of that, I had been shot three times,” Jay said. “I died for two minutes. But they brought me back.”

And the story should have ended there. But it didn’t.

male portrait

Jay didn’t stay true to the rules that most prisoners go by. He didn’t follow a certain pack. He’d play pinnacle with the Russians and then get his hair braided by the blacks. He’d speak Spanish to the Latino group and strike up conversation with the Italians. The guards didn’t like it so Jay spent more time than usual in solitary confinement.

“You asked where I found God,” Jay says to me now. “That’s where.”

With nothing but time, Jay turned to books. “I read and studied about every religion you can think of,” he said. “But all I kept coming back to is there’s a God. And he hears me. He loves me. He forgives.”

Jay prayed–talking to God as if He sat in the corner with his ankles crossed, nodding along to Jay’s stories and offering a hand on his shoulder when the tears would come. The concrete walls weren’t enough to keep the words locked inside. God was right there in the room.

“I decided then and there that I’d never take drugs again. It’d be a hard road, but I couldn’t go back. I made a promise to God.”

And it wasn’t easy.

Children drinking

After serving his sentence, old friends were quick to invite him to parties again. Dealers he knew from the past had special deals on the baggies of white stuff they carried in their bulging pockets. The past–with its dark, luring fingers–begged him to come back.

He had to walk away from old friends–people he even cared about–and for years and years he had to move jobs every few months when background checks failed and employers shooed him out. Jay had to leave his old town and meet new people and spend Friday nights convincing himself that it’s better to sit alone then to sit with wrong company.

Even now–years later–after meeting his wife and having three children and finding more joy in teddy bear tea parties then in beer pong–it follows him. And that’s because it’s the path he once chose.

“I’m an addict,” Jay said. “I always will be. But that’s not all I am. That’s another man inside me that fights to come out every day. But he doesn’t win.”

addict with jesus

We live in a world where addiction is taboo. Especially within the church. We smother talk about pornography and we wrinkle our noses in disgust at cigarette smoke following a man into the chapel. We often categorize alcoholics, even subconsciously, as people who have no self-control and we label food-addicts as fat, lazy, or disgusting.

We tend to judge addicts more harshly simply because we’re taught to label addicts as sinners worth shunning rather than prisoners worth saving.

We often forget that the Savior himself sits in solitary confinement, listening to a prisoner, and forgiving him despite it all.

But Jay hasn’t forgotten it. Not for a second.

jesus prays

“It’s been years now, but it’ll always follow me,” Jay said. “When I get stopped for a simple traffic ticket now, the cops will always call for back up when they see my record. And I don’t get mad. I understand it. It can be hard to live in a world where your mistakes follow you, but I know that doesn’t define me.”

How do you do it? I ask. How do you live that way?

“We all have that ‘other’ person inside of us,” he responded. “We either choose to acknowledge it and overcome, choose to give into that person, or choose to ignore it completely. I’ve decided to acknowledge that addict.”

Jay is hoping to instill the same message into his three little ones now. His daughter has nightmares sometimes and wakes in the night crying and fearful. He said he’ll take her and walk around the house, praying and waving a smudge stick the family has as a physical symbol of God cleaning the house and keeping them all safe.

“It’s exactly what I did in my cell, in a sense,” Jay said. “I tell my daughters–‘Now we can use different things to make us feel a little better, like this stick. But first we must pray. We must always pray.”

It’s hate that pulls the trigger: My answer to mass murders

It happened again. Another mass shooting.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I know every single thing about government affairs when it comes to the gun control debate or that I know every single angle to every single devastating story. Because I don’t.

But I do know enough to know how society reacts each time something like this happens and the way in which society can often egg it on or create it.

Right after the news spread of the 13 people who died at the hands of a gunman at the Navy Shipyard shooting in Washington D.C, fingers began to point toward the gun he used, just like all the shootings that have come before. That horrible weapon that’s taken the lives of schoolchildren, military personnel, innocent couples walking down the street. It’s blamed for countless murders that aren’t even heard about in the news: Gang members killed in the street, teenagers taking their own lives with a pull of the trigger in a dark closet. And the more we hear about it, the more we tend to rise up with the government and cry out for gun control. We cry out for guns to be taken from the hands of those who might just crack with insanity. We cry out for guns to be taken from the locked drawers of parents. And we sometimes cry out for guns to be outlawed completely unless it’s to be owned by the military, hunters, or law enforcement.

But let’s think for a second. Let’s push aside the heated emotions of these horrible shootings and get to the heart of the problem. That’s what I’ve been trying to do while sifting through the heaps of information here at work, neck-deep in case after case of mass murders. Why are there so many shootings lately? Why do so many people have to take a bullet for simply showing up at school, attending a football game, watching a late-night movie, or going to work? The answer isn’t, “Because of a gun”.

No, the answer is simply, “Hate”.

Hate is what pulls the trigger.


Hate doesn’t come by nature–and in no way am I labeling someone by saying this, or excusing someone for horrible actions. It’s just an honest fact. Hate is a learned trait.

Hate is built when a teenager endures day after day of being shoved against metal lockers or being called fat or dumb on the school bus. Hate is built when video games flash simulated bullets and carjacked cars across our television screens, causing young brains to perceive it as a real event. Hate is built when songs with catchy beats indoctrinate hearts with lyrics about meaningless sex, drug deals, and “bloody murder” (A Kanye West song). Hate is built when movies filled with rape and villains that are made out to be unlikely under-dog heroes with blood-stained fists lose their shock factor and become a normal–and expected–part of the media, and then society. Hate is built by generations being quietly trained that the heroes in life are the ones who misuse women, intimidate the weak, destroy those who first hated and bullied them, and go out with a bang of vengeance–literally. Those are fake heroes. But the fake heroes quickly create the real villains.

Hate produces hate. It’s an endless cycle that won’t be stifled by a signed bill outlawing guns. And it won’t be stopped by news headlines flashing the perpetrators face on our televisions, striking fear in our hearts or anger. It won’t end by bulletproof walls or amped up security at airport checkpoints.

It can only be stopped if we decide it should stop right where it starts. Gun control, knife control, bomb control–you name it–it won’t completely solve the real problem. And I’ve felt this since the beginning.

Now, I’m not sitting here blaming anyone for the horrific mass murders that have taken place. It’s heartbreaking to me that these murders have even happened, and I pray for the victims every time a story like that pops up on my news feed. I can’t even imagine what the families of those victims must feel.

And I’m not discounting that there are precautions we need to take with gun control and safety measures. Sure there should be background checks before the purchase of a gun, and sure, we need to stay safe and make sure we’re protected during travel and in the places we send our kids. And also, I definitely know that there are times when many of these tragedies stem from suspects with mental illnesses or reckless behavior. Or maybe even accidents. I won’t discount that.

But let’s not forget the other circumstances. Circumstances that arose from someone who felt unheard. Unloved. Angry. Bullied. Vengeful. Suffering from past pain. Let’s not forget circumstances that arose from learned hate. Circumstances that could have been prevented if someone along the way had heard them, saw them, or helped them.

The same day that the 22 children and six staff members in Sandy Hook Elementary were killed last year, 22 children were also stabbed to death in China in their classroom. Two senseless, despicable crimes carried out with two very different weapons. But murder is murder. It’s not about a gun. Or a knife. Or a bomb in a building. It’s about the framework of hate that builds itself around hearts often bruised from the unkindness, abuse, racism, or neglect of another. It is formed from hearts hardened by a society that we build–sometimes unknowingly.

I write this because it hurts me. I write this because I’m mad. I’m angry that the increase in mass murders directly correlates with an increase in volume of the world’s powerful, haunting voice that chants to the rhythm of selfishness, greed, and unkindness. I write this because it’s time to fight hate with the only weapon that can destroy it. Love.

There are so many factors that go into what creates hate and what drives people to want to hurt others in mass sweeps, and ultimately hurt themselves. And I know that being kind and being attentive to those in need of our touch in their lives isn’t going to change the whole world overnight.

But it’s a pretty good place to start.

Because– who knows? What if something simple that you do alters someone’s life forever and prevents a horrific future

event–even indirectly?

What if your kindness–your love–somehow changes everything?