Location: Intown Collaborative Ministries
Male, Age: 55
“Outgoing good person”
Daniel: (Interviewer) Good afternoon, Gary, today is November 4, 2021, and we’re here at the offices of Intown Collaborative Ministries on Ponce in Atlanta. My name is Daniel Enger and I have the pleasure of being here today with you Gary, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk and I’m looking forward to hearing your story and learning from you. My first question for you Gary is a really big one namely, please tell the story of your life from the time you were a little boy up to the present day.
Gary: Well, I was two years old my father was killed in front of me got shot and then my mom [we moved away to Atlanta] and my mom married the man that killed my father, so that was kind a strange. And then my mom committed suicide when I was 22. And me being an athlete jock in high school I was introduced to drugs and alcohol in younger years I probably started drinking when I was 12 or 13, and then the alcohol and drugs and all the other stuff I was messin with through the years, it just all . . . and then my mom committed suicide my life just turned to chaos because I didn’t care anymore. I was a mama’s boy by the way and my whole life just kind a went from one to another. Then I got married at 29 and I tried to do the right thing but the drugs and alcohol the alcohol especially was my main poison for me cause it just kind a like went from one thing to another and I ended up losing my marriage and I got a beautiful son from the marriage. But my whole life was just in and out of prison in jail because of the bad choices that I made, and instead of trying to get my life in order soon as I get out doing my two years 16 months or a year in and out of jail and prison I go straight back to drinkin. And that would lead to doing drugs and it was just like a repetitive cycle for me I couldn’t get my life in order I just kept falling back and back and back. Now for the first time I’m sober on my own through God that’s my sponsor and I turned my life over to the Lord and my whole life has gotten a lot better slowly but surely things are coming around. It hasn’t been easy stayin focused in recovery I’m goin on 10 months it’s been difficult and my life is; I finally found my family in Texas through Facebook and I’m going to see them at Christmas for the first time in like 24 years. It’s amazing you know the good things that are going on now cause of me being clean and sober and that’s what I do that’s my job stayin sober (laughter) that’s about it.
Daniel: Gary of all the things you’ve accomplished and overcome in your life so far what are you most proud of?
Gary: I think the thing I was most proud of is when I got married and had that boy that was the most proudest time in my life, I was actually doin the right thing. And right now, me being sober is the most important my life is very serious now I take my freedom, my life, and my health, very serious now because of the things that I’ve been through.
Daniel: Gary, you’ve gained a lot of hard-fought wisdom from experiences in your life so far, if you were invited to share your wisdom with school kids in your community giving them guidance to live healthy, safe, stable, and happy lives what would you tell them?
Gary: I would tellem just to try to get somethin that you’re good at whether playin the guitar, playin soccer, or football, and take that cause sports is good for a lot of; well for me I was an athlete. And take the studying and schoolwork very serious cause that was my problem passin my test and try to focus on tryna to do what’s right, and especially keep your grades up and get somethin that you’re good at and stay with it.
Daniel: Gary, in what ways would you say your life is going well these days? Please talk a little bit about how life is good for you at the present time.
Gary: It is great for me right now because of the sobriety, it’s the most greatest thing that’s ever happened in my life you know. I was forced into programs because I violate my probation or parole, fail a drug test or piss test, whatever they call it, and I’d get sent back to jail or prison. I did this with the Lord for me, everybody’s got their own beliefs or whatever, but I turned my life over to the Lord and asked him to take those cravings and desires away. And also, the downside to me being sober is it seems like the devil comes at me more now, which I deal with a lot of adversities. And like I been in this program for a year now and I’ve seen a lot of people that are still on drugs, not doing the right thing, and their getting their apartments left and right and I’m like what’s wrong with me, and I’m doin the right thing. But you can’t worry about what another person’s getting, so I realize that when my time comes it’ll come. And it seems like a lot of people be sayin stuff out, I’m stayin in a rooming house and a lot of them get high and you got a bully that stays upstairs, and he terrorizes people. So, I just stay focused in my recovery, and in the Lord, and I just stay in my room, and I don’t allow anybody to get me out my box because my destination is gettin that apartment. But my life is totally different for me now and I hang around positive people, I don’t hang around people that talk negative, or if their on drugs, I can’t, I don’t say nothin bad about em, but I don’t hang around people that are doing negative stuff. So, if you’re not on a positive level I really don’t have much talk for you.
Daniel: Gary, you’ve already answered this next question in part, but I’d like to know if you have more to say about it. You talked just now about ways in which your life is going well tell me please what led to those things going well for you? How did that happen?
Gary: Well, it was like a blessing in disguise, they came up under the bridge where I had tents and it was also a place where I would go drink and get high every day, and these people came up in different vans from different agencies and said they’d put us up in a hotel for like 90 days. And I heard about it and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, they gave me a little tag on my arm, they came and picked us up the next day. And on Super Bowl Sunday which was January the 7th I broke my leg. And I was on the way to get some more beer I’d been drinkin and I’m recovering alcoholic and we was on the way to get some beer and I slipped on some leaves, and I broke my fibula bone and fractured my ankle. And it was the most painful thing I don’t know if you’ve broke your leg, the crutches. I had all these things appointments I was involved in trying to get my social security, birth certificate, and it put me to a standstill. And I came to an understanding I can’t move around no more, I can’t hustle, I can’t just be goin so I got on my hands and asked God to take those desires and cravings away, and when I broke that leg it was like a blessing in disguise it woke me up in a way, and I been sober ever since that day.
Daniel: Gary, looking ahead when it comes to living a healthy, safe, stable, and happy life, what are your hopes and dreams looking ahead?
Gary: My goals right now is staying focused in my recovery, I’m working on my relationship with the board, I still got a lot of character flaws, I got some stuff that I do some time that is just not right, I’m working on a lot of things. I haven’t seen my son since he was four years old, he’s a professional golfer now, he’s 25 and in order to me for me to be a part of his life I had to get this recovery thing goin, and I’m fixin to get my apartment. I built a foundation where he can actually come over and see me, maybe we can go out and eat a steak or somethin. That’s the biggest thing I don’t know if he’s gonna have a lot of animosity toward me because I wasn’t there as a father, and me being in prison most of his life in and out, that’s a big thing to me just to work a relationship and build a foundation for me and him to where I can be a part of his life and help him in any way that I can, that’s my goal.
Daniel: Gary, what are some of the personal strengths that you have that you can draw on as you pursue the hopes and dreams you just talked about?
Gary: Well, I’m a lot stronger now I’m able to handle things adversities a little bit better, cause I had a angry, bitter spirit for a long-time cause of the situations I’ve been in. So, I get really; but I think since I been sober, I get really agitated easy now cause I’m used to drinkin my life away, which took all my problem. So when I’m dealing with these people at the apartments their telling me these stories, paperwork got missin I’m supposed to be in this apartment seven weeks ago, I found out that the guy . . . he got my apartment. I’m seein all these things I’m tryin to evaluate and figure out “why me” why am I waiting while these people . . . I’m still in this program almost a year and I still ain’t got my apartment but I’m thankful because I do have a place to stay. And I’ve had to go through extra loopholes, but the struggle is real but I’m staying focused because my life is better for me now. I realize life’s not a bowl of cherries life’s all about trials and tribulations, some people die by em, some people overcome em, I’m just tryin to overcome all the adversities that come my way. And I’m able to handle them better now than when I was drinking because that’s all I did. I drank my life away to take away my pain and suffering, actually it was just totally destroying me, I’m lucky I didn’t lose my liver. So, like I said God is good to me.
Daniel: Gary, what challenges and obstacles do you see standing between you and the realization of the hopes and dreams that you mentioned, what holds you back?
Gary: Nothings really holding me back the main thing for me is this apartment, I’m writin a book about my life and the pads splits, and you’ve got people knocking on my door at 2 o’clock in the morning askin me; I do smoke cigarettes It’s always a lot of adversities, you got a bully upstairs threatening folks. It’s hard for me to concentrate and write a book and most of the people in there are getting high, and they drink, which I’m cool with that I can block my room out but there’s a lot of noise going on, a lot of adversities there. But I’m able to handle living there but as far as really concentrating on writin this book that I’m lookin forward to doin it’s hard for me to do, that’s why I’m looking forward to gettin this apartment so I can build a foundation and be a part of my son’s life as well.
Daniel: What needs to be done so that the challenges and obstacles you just mentioned can be overcome? And you can realize your personal hopes and dreams.
Gary: Well, I need to stay focused in the Lord’s word cause I felt when I was over at my girlfriends, I stopped reading my Bible, I wasn’t praying as much, and a lot of the adversities and elements coming at me in the streets, and at the bus stop, people saying stuff out the side of they mouth whatever, whatever. Normally me being I also got the chain-gang mentality I just say “what you say” I’m ready to fight, but now I’m able to think things through before I react and handle things a lot better. And I know I’ve got a long way to go it’s a struggle but I’m dealing with it the best I can.
Daniel: Gary, I’d like to ask now for your perspectives on the homeless community with a series of questions. How would you describe the homeless community in Atlanta? Who are the people who make up the homeless community in Atlanta?
Gary: The homeless community I’ll tell you straight up about it, it’s what it is, most of the guys that are homeless out here is because they choose to be. Either they’re on drugs, or on crack, or something that’s altering their minds. and a lot of these people have been through so much in their life from their past, they live in their past they carry it around with them everywhere they go, instead of trying to better themselves and put their past behind them, cause I was one of those people. So, what they do is they infest themselves with the drugs, and the women, and the trickin off with the women, and doin the things they do. That was one of my big problems too I liked to trick off and have sex with a woman when I was getting high it’s like a euphoria. These drugs, what it does to the mind it alters you and you stuck in that drug and you don’t want to do nothin but get high, so every little time you try to get your life in order. Because there’s a lot of programs out here that help us but you don’t really care about those things because all you care about is getting high, and take away the pain and suffering that you been through from your past. And instead of tryna make things better in your life, you steady focused on why me, why this happen, why was I in prison, why my mom committed suicide. That’s another thing my mom committed suicide so, and I’m a momma’s boy and that jus kind a crushed my whole life and to this day I don’t understand it. And so now being in my recovering I cry all the time, which I didn’t cry at my mom’s funeral, because I feel good about me and they say men don’t cry that’s a bunch of crap I cry all the time and I’m a grown ass man, but I cry. Anyway, life is good but the main thing about these homeless people and me bein one you’ve got to make changes in your life or you’re jus going to continue being that homeless person. There’s a lot of opportunities out there in Atlanta, there’s a lot of good people. There’s a lot of people that will help you, but you’ve got to help yourself that’s the biggest thing.
Daniel: Gary, when it comes to living a healthy, safe, stable, and happy life how would you describe the hopes and dreams of people who are homeless in Atlanta?
Gary: I know a lot of em really want to do better they really do and my hope is that the one’s; somethins gotta happen either crucial in your life like breaking your leg like it did for me, or you just gotta get your head knocked off and end up going to Grady, or gettin hit by a car. I hate sayin stuff like that but somethin; or you just make that decision you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired of being in the streets cause it’s just a dead-end street. You’re either gonna get killed or you’re gonna kill yourself, or you’re gonna just end up dying out in the streets, or you can make changes in your life. That’s the hardest part for homeless people they don’t want to make changes, they don’t want to make that extra mile, they want to get high to take away the pain, that’s like their medicine to help them cope with where they’re at. And instead of tryna better themselves, there’s drugs and alcohol alters their brain and alters their mind cause that’s all you care about is getting high. And that’s your drug to live in that environment that your livin in your livin now with the dope boys, your down with these people that will steal from you, you got killers out there with you, but you don’t care cause you’re in the same environment. You’re stuck in that environment because you’re not tryna better yourself you don’t really care about bettering yourself all you care about is getting high or getting drunk. And I know for a fact that 95 percent of the people that are homeless their either mental health, their on drugs, or alcohol, or all the above. So, those three things I know, I take mental health medication now I used to self-medicate myself in the streets with drugs and alcohol now I take medication to help me deal with things better. I self-medicated myself for a long time, and some people if you got mental health you need to seek help from a doctor, and they can help you. But if you sittin out there thinking these drugs whether it’s crack, meth, or whatever kind it is you do your just going to slowly kill yourself. You’re going to end up in prison, or you’re going to end up dead.
Daniel: Gary, in the homeless community in Atlanta what are some of the strengths that people can draw on as they strive to realize their hopes and dreams and live healthy, safe, stable, and happy lives?
Gary: Yeah, I get it. This another thing that’ll blow your mind. I met a lot of really good strong people that are homeless, and this one guy was like my best friend his name was Cedric and I see him all the time, and he’s always talkin about the Lord. And I’m saying man I ain’t tryin to hear that I’m tryna get high I ain’t tryna hear none of that, but he’s always talkin about how God loves me. You got some people out there that are like Angels for the Lord tryna help people who are there, and they don’t do drugs or anything they’re just out there. And you’re looking at them why are you out here you don’t get high, you don’t drink, but there are people out there that are actually trying to help others and help themselves at the same time. It’s rare, but like I told you the percentage I’d say 95 percent of the people that are out in the streets is because they choose to be, like I say they’re on drugs or alcohol. I mean I know cause I was out there in those streets and that was the biggest issue the drugs. They’re so content with getting high every little bit of money they do get, or they accumulate they blow it on drugs, you know that’s what it is.
Daniel: Gary, what challenges and obstacles make it harder for people in the homeless community in Atlanta to realize their hopes and dreams and live healthy, safe, stable, and happy lives? What holds people back?
Gary: I think what holds them back is that they’re scared, they’re scared to make a change, they don’t want to make a change because their so content with the way their living. The drugs has got their minds so altered that they’re not really focused on trying to do any better, they’re not trying to make any waves, they’re not tryna make any changes cause they’re so content with gettin high, they’re so content with their drinking or whatever their choice of drug that they do. They use those tools right there just to communicate to live the life their livin, because they don’t have no communication with other people cause it’s a different lifestyle. They’re so stuck in that life right there and a lot of these people don’t have family so the people in the streets becomes their family whether it’s a drug relationship, or a girl relationship with drugs, it’s all about the drugs and alcohol. So, they come together and some of them deal with each other in different ways but it’s like a family thing too, but your main job is getting high and drinkin and that’s what they do and that’s how they live cause I was one of those people.
Daniel: What needs to be done so that the challenges and obstacles you just mentioned can be overcome?
Gary: It’s hard to say because Atlanta is infested with drugs as we know, that’s a given. You can get alcohol on every corner and it’s legal. That’s the part I can’t explain it’s hard for me to say anything about that cause I know what it’s like being an alcoholic, and I know what it’s like to be strung out on drugs, I know what it’s like not to have anything, I know what it’s like to be homeless, and that’s a hard question for me to answer cause it’s really just so difficult because there’s so many people out there. And the thing is there’s some good people out there that’s just stuck on their minds so altered they don’t even care about life anymore, all they care about is getting high or drinkin cause I was one of those guys. It’s by the grace of God I made changes and it’s a battle for me every day, cause when I don’t get things don’t happen my way, or I get bad news, all these adversities, I just feel like gone and havin a damn drink and sayin “F” this program “F” everything, but then there’s something on the other side that says no you’ve came too far. So, it’s a battle, it’s a battle for them because their so content with living not taking a shower, not having nice shoes, and wearin the same clothes, doin that drug has just got them stuck. And the biggest drug out there is that cocaine that crack. And if you were an alcoholic like me, see alcohol is a drug too, people don’t realize alcohol is one of the worse drugs out here because you can buy it on every corner and it’s cheap compared to drugs. But that crack makes people do things they would never do in a million years they steal, they rob, they kill, they take, they do sexual favors, they do whatever they got to do to get that drug and that just destroys their whole persona. They don’t care about what it takes to get it, they don’t care about who they hurt, they don’t care how it affect others, they don’t care if they have any family. I’ll tell you a lot of these people out here don’t have any family they don’t, they been damaged. A lot of people have family support I do, I just found mine after 24 years. I didn’t want to be around my family when I was in the streets cause I didn’t want them to know where I was cause I was embarrassed, I didn’t want yall to know I was in eight months recovery. I tell everybody I’m in my recovery as a matter of fact “Gary why you always” cause that’s what I do I talk about my recovery if you don’t like it don’t listen to it. I’m talkin about me, and imma keep talkin about it and if you don’t want to hear it, see you later cause I’m gonna talk about it, cause I don’t ever want to go back to that life I lived I got too much going on, you know what I mean.
Daniel: Gary you’ve talked about the obstacle of drug use, and you’ve spoken especially about the crack problem in Atlanta; (Gary: yes, yes it’s bad it’s just infested Imma be honest with you it’s probably about 99 percent of the people that are homeless they’re on that crack, cause it’s so available it’s on every corner. And see if you’re an alcoholic, once I drink that alcohol that’s what leads me off to do the crack and other stuff. Alcohol that’s my main problem but when I drink it just makes me want to do everything else that comes my way. And I really got stuck on that crack for years and it destroyed everything around me. The crack, and alcohol, what I’ve seen with my eyes the main drug out there that’s destroying people and just taking peoples lives left and right is that crack.)
Daniel: How to solve that problem?
Gary: How do you solve it? I don’t know how you could solve it, but I know how; until you make a decision and until you get tired of getting locked up, for me I kept goin back to prison cause after a while they get tired of throwin you in jail they throw you down the road. That’s what happens you keep doing the same thing over and over you do a little jail time, you might get out quick and this and that then it becomes a problem you got the same charges. I used to shoplift so every time I came in front of that judge “Damn Mr… you got like six shoplifting charges, I told you last time, well your gone down the road this time.” you keep doin that repetitive stuff over, and over, and over, and over, you’re gonna end up dead, or you’re going to end of in the chain gang. And that’s what happens when some people go down the road, they change, some people don’t. And when your down the road “Oh I found the Lord, I’m doing great” yeah but as soon as they get out, they put that Bible in the backseat, they put God in the backseat. He gave you all your prayers you asked him for, you got your family back, you got a good job, and then you start driving and doin things your way and then that’s when you fall back in that same old routine that you did the time before that, and the time before that it becomes a repetitive cycle. Until you defeat that cycle and make changes in your life, and it’s not easy even when you make those changes. Being sober is the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in my life cause anybody can be a fuck up, anybody can do wrong, doin the right thing is not easy especially when you come from the environment that I lived in for a long time. Cause I didn’t care I didn’t have no responsibility but get high, my responsibility was getting drunk today and tryin to have sex with some chick that I don’t even know, you know. Don’t know what she got don’t care cause the alcohol just overrides all that. I ain’t worried about AIDS, I ain’t worried about gonorrhea, syphilis, and all that, I’m drinkin that. It’s hard to say and It’s sad to see people, I was one of them, but the drugs and alcohol is 95 percent of the people that are homeless is because of drugs and alcohol. Their not trying to move forward they’re jus not trying to do anything, they don’t care cause they know in Atlanta they’re gone feed you. You don’t have to worry about that they got church people ridin around as we speak, people ridin around in trunks givin out clothes, food, every day and there’s places that they feed you. One thing about Atlanta I do like they feed you very well and the people use that as a tool to get money so they can buy drugs. That is a tool that 95 percent of the homeless people use because they say look some people if you really hungry will take you to the store right now and buy you all the food you want, but they won’t give you a dime in your pocket, “you hungry let’s go to the store now right here, I’m not giving you no money but you can buy anything you want get whatever”, but I need money “I know that’s right.” It’s a game you know, and I know that. Me, myself, if somebody’s hungry I’ll take you in the store cause me being a alcoholic and an addict, cause me being white they’ll see my tattoos and they’ll think this guy he’s a freak imma ask him for some money “I’m homeless” look here bro first of all I’m cool with that but I’m not gonna give you any money if you want something to eat I got a EB Card let’s go get something to eat right now, “but I need” Bro I used to do drugs, I used to drink I’m homeless too I just ain’t got my place yet I’m not your guy but I will feed somebody there is a difference.
Daniel: Gary imagine that you are a powerful leader imagine you’re a decision maker who could really make things happen how would you change the system to help people in the homeless community in Atlanta to realize their hopes and dreams and live healthy, safe, stable, and happy lives. Imagine you’re a powerful leader how would you change the system?
Gary: I would have it to where we had more places like Missions not like Salvation Army. There would be like a code to get in and there’d be rules and regulations, and like drug test, like if you want to come in this place here we’ll feed you, we’ll help you get a job, your birth certificate, you got a place to stay, but when you come in breathalyze em because if you’re on drugs your not you’re just using our place to lay your head down and get what you can out of it. if you want to come to this place right here it’s a program it’s a Christian foundation type thing whatever, but you have to follow these rules if you want to make some changes, you got people caseworkers hey well this guy here Gary, he’s changing he done made it the 90 days now we can put him in an apartment maybe. Start helping people like that there needs to be more places that people can come to and then there’s got to be rules and regulations because they can pull the bluff on your eye, well this guy is still smoking crack, he’s still drinking but he comes to this place and we’re about to give him an apartment. It’s kind a the program I’m in cause it seems like the people that are getting high are getting their places quicker you know, so they need to have regulations and places for people like me, myself, that are trying so hard to do right but it’s not fair. But you give this guy an apartment he’s smokin crack, he’s stealin at the stores, he’s doin all these things but he’s not doin anything right but he’s gettin an apartment, so I think there should be rules and regulations. That’s the thing too a lot of people that are homeless they don’t do rules and regulations they don’t give a shit about that, they really don’t. They don’t give a damn about what you think, they ain’t washed their ass in a year they’re gonna tell you whatever they want to tell you just to get what they want. That’s the hard part that’s what I would do. But if I could help people, say look here man if you wanna come to this place right here I promise it will help you, but if you gone play with us, stay out where your at because we’re gonna try and help you, but you got to help yourself. I mean there’s gotta be structure, gotta be structure, and a lot of people don’t want to do structure they don’t want to do responsibility. A lot of homeless people all they care about getting high and drinkin so they’re really not tryin to do any structure their structure is to get high so that’s the key to that. See people don’t want to change I didn’t want to change (laughter). I been a fuck up for thirty somethin years, so I mean you know when my mom committed suicide, my whole life I was a momma’s boy an only child that crushed me. My way with dealin with that was just getting high and drinkin I said you know what I don’t have to deal with anything now I’m good and it just totally destroyed my life, my whole life drugs and alcohol that’s what it was based on. That was my life that’s how I rolled, and I guarantee you over 95 percent of those people that are homeless they’re on drugs, or they got mental health issues, or all the above. A lot of stuff goin on and you can’t help em some of these people cannot be helped that’s facts. Like you came to me on the street and you said look here Mr. we’re going to put you up in this place right here within six months you’ll get a house or an apartment, we’ll help you get a car, we’ll help you get this and get your life in order, they don’t want that they want to stay high, to me I don’t understand that.
Daniel: I have one last question for you Gary. Imagine you had a million dollars, and you could spend it to help people in the homeless community in Atlanta to realize their hopes and dreams and live healthy, safe, stable, and happy lives, how exactly would you spend that million dollars to help homeless people in Atlanta?
Gary: What I would do, I would have a place set up like this I’d buy a big warehouse and I’d have it to where you could come in and have somebody like me and other people that have actually been homeless and reach out to these people and show em that it can be done and help em get their lives in order and preach the word you know. If you put God first in your life things will happen, good things, I know a lot of people don’t believe in God some people don’t believe in Jesus, there’s so many different religions but I know God is real and until you realize God is first. Have a foundation place where a person can come and have people like me with five years recovery, like Mike Nolan 25-26 years recovery, give that man a hug, here’s you something to eat, yall want to spend the night, take a shower, a place where they can come and lay down for a moment off the street and learn something, and then showem if you want to come back we can put you in this program here and showem what’s available in their face, where they will; you gotta do this first, and once you do this you can go to this level, and showem what they can do and have. People like me and other people with 5-10 years sobriety say hey man I’ve been to prison I’ve been where you been I’ve been in there straight for 20 years brother and reach out to these people. And have a big warehouse full of food, and they can take a shower, they can lay down spend the night get off the street for a day or two. And then showem these different programs that can help em get to where they can get an apartment or go through a drug type recovery thing. Cause people need help, and they don’t know what to do and if you got somebody like that’s actually been in the streets like me, I think we’re more capable. You got these people that got all this knowledge they took all these psychology classes but how the hell do you know shit about it you’ve never smoked crack, you never drank, but you’re tryna tell me what I need to know about drugs. How do you know what I need to do cause you have no idea cause you never been strung out, but you got all these degrees and plaques on the wall, you need somebody like us that’s been in recovery to help yeah, that’s what I believe strongly.
Daniel: Gary, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk the last word is yours is there anything else you would like to share?
Gary: I’m just thankful and until you realize God is real and put him first your life is meaningless, that’s just how I roll, that’s it.