Sam will be the first to admit it: he was a “knucklehead” for too many of his 64 years.
“We lived a good life” in Lincoln Park in Portsmouth, Va. His parents both worked two jobs, sometimes three, and refused to take welfare. He and his siblings got bicycles for Christmas, and he had a car by the time he was 15. “I always had a little money in my pocket,” Sam says.
“Coming up in the projects, you had to know how to fight,” Sam says, but he focused his energy on boxing in the ring; he had 16 wins and one draw. Though his neighborhood was tough, “I can’t really blame the area I lived in.” Many of his friends “turned out okay. They made different choices.”
Sam grew up attending the local Baptist church every Sunday, but stopped going in his late teens. He also dropped out of high school, but worked delivery and labor jobs. Sam and his new friends started smoking a lot of marijuana, then “I did cocaine and was messing around with a little heroin once in a while…and girls.” Soon Sam found himself hooked on cocaine and “wasn’t able to hold a job very well after a while.”
“I probably coulda had a nice job and all, but I chose to do what I wanted. I chose the wild life. I chose the wrong one.”
For years he lived through things that could have killed him. “I survived a whole lot,” Sam says. Once he was shot while running down the street. The doctor told him the bullet was only a half inch from his heart. “That was the first time I shoulda got the message.” He also miraculously survived a motorcycle accident that nearly crushed him under a moving train. “I ain’t gonna say it made me close to God, but that’s how I know for a fact that my Lord has been there for me.”
Sam’s longtime girlfriend also had drug problems, but they did their best to hide them from her four children. “I was there for my lady and kids, but I still was on drugs. Most of the people I was keeping with was on drugs, you know?” Sam first faced homelessness, living in abandoned buildings and vacant houses. He was jailed a few times for breaking and entering, which made it hard for him to pass criminal background checks for jobs and housing, but he worked seasonal jobs when he could.
When his girlfriend’s job offered them a free rehab program, she went to treatment in New Jersey, but Sam turned it down. “I should have gone through the program with her. I should have cleaned up too,” he says. “That was my choice. I missed it.”
Within a year, she was drug-free and married to a preacher. Sam had only cocaine. “That one was a problem for me.” Sam decided he had to quit. “I stayed straight for about a year on my own,” but he realized that if he didn’t get away from the temptation, he might slip back. At a local blood bank, a childhood friend told him about The Union Mission.
Sam arrived in March 2020 “When I came here, that choice was a LOT easier: to be in a place that is drug-free, no alcohol, with time to think. That’s all I needed.” From the start “I was treated with respect. All the shame, all that other stuff just left, see?”
After six months in emergency shelter, Sam joined the men’s RECLAIM program to help continue his transition away from homelessness and toward wiser decisions, independence, and a real relationship with God. “I’m serious about me now,” Sam says. “I never gave myself this kind of opportunity earlier, but when I asked about RECLAIM, they said, ‘Sam, you’re exactly what we’re looking for.’”
“If homeless shelters are all like this, I don’t understand why people stay out there on the street.” It CAN’T be no better than what they’re getting here!” “The doors are open, man! “If you want to help yourself or be helped, this is the place to be, I’m telling you.” There’s a fresh start. It’s a blessing, for real.
“It just feels good here: the freedom, the food!” Sam says. “They feed you good!” He also appreciates the faith emphasis. “Like I said, I always had church in my life. Here I’m going to the chapel three or four times a week. It’s so good to be going to church again!”
“I know what can happen when you’re left alone,” but “every one and all of the staff, from the time you come in, they’re there for you any time of the day or the night. And if you get close enough to some of them, they’re gonna put hands on you and you’re gonna get prayer. They’re good people, I’m telling you!”
“I wish I had been able to come two years ago,” Sam says. “If I’da had some kind of circle around there that accepted me for what I was trying to do instead of drilling you about what you can’t do and what you couldn’t be about, just somebody who’s been there for you, to tell you about positive things and all, I feel if I had went that way sometime, my life woulda been different.”
Sam works part-time jobs through a placement agency to help pay his rent. “Now I’m saving some money and everything.” He appreciates the practical help and spiritual strength that he’s finding through RECLAIM.
“When you’ve gotta come here, you’re in a bad place. And then when you get to a place like this and you stay a certain amount of time, you kinda don’t want to go back out there to the real world.” But I know I’m gonna have to. I ain’t got no problem with that, but I can’t be naïve about what’s going on out there. Still, I know for real now the drugs are not going to be an issue for me. I’m not gonna mess it up. I’m not gonna let anyone else mess it up either.”
“This place gave me a whole new outlook on what I want to do with the rest of my life. I ain’t that knucklehead person I used to be. I’m looking at my blessings now!”
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