Nestled in the northern part of our state is a large community that its residents freely admit that hasn’t changed much over the years. And while many may think that the fact things have remained the same for so long can be a good thing, this community has been in a downhill slide for decades. But things may finally be changing and changing for the better.
Marion gives the impression of being bigger than it really is. The town has large, massive architecture and a sprawling network of railways. The town seems like it boasts on the edge of 70 or maybe 80,000 people. In reality, it only has 36,000 residents; it’s a shell of what it once was.
But what made this trip different was learning about what the community is trying to do to come back from the brink. And through that discovery I met Jack.
Jack was a young guy, and while I didn’t learn his age, it would be hard pressed to think he was more than 30, though he has had a lifetime of experiences. In the short time I had talked with Jack, as we shared a meal at the Italian Warehouse, he was proud to report he was celebrating 17 months of sobriety from heroin.
From all reports, he is a success story. While he had issues with the criminal justice system, it wasn’t until he took the plunge and took his sobriety seriously and that didn’t happen until he was in front of the local judge.
He admitted that it was at that point, face to face with the local judge when he realized he wasn’t living life just for himself, but for his kids and his girlfriend. He was able to get into a sober living house and with the help of treatment providers and a mentor he was able to turn his life around.
And perhaps there was no greater testament to that change was the last part of his story; he was recently promoted to a team leader at his job at a distribution center for a large auto parts retailer.
He admitted that he went to that interview with no expectation of getting the job; there were those with more experience and more education that were line for the promotion. He simply went to get interview experience. Well, he found out from the interviewers that he was chosen because he had the highest capacity to be a leader.
Being on this side of sobriety, Jack brings a unique perspective to the heroin epidemic. His wisdom told me that jail is no place to get clean; in fact, it just a place to get into a darker place in your mind.
Jack sees drug treatment, like Suboxone, as a possible way to get help, but also has its own issues. He didn’t want the opioid blocker because he didn’t want to trade one addiction to another. “You are supposed to wean yourself off of Suboxone, but there are some doctors that won’t do that, so you end up addicted to that,” Jack said.
Jack also recognizes that he lives in a world of challenges in a small community. “I have been in Marion my whole life,” said Jack. “It’s hard sometimes because I run into people I used to hang around with and if I am not careful, I can end up in my old life.”
Throughout the hour long conversation I had with him, I was wondering why he was so open about his story. He gave a two-part answer that I found wise. First, he talks about his past life to help process what had happened; to him talking about helps him put in perspective. Talking about the past keeps his past in the rear view mirror.
Second, he talks about how telling his story keeps him accountable; “Like I said, Marion is a small town. If I trip up, everyone is going to know about it and I am going to let a lot of people down,” he said.
Stories like Jack’s keep me hopeful for our world. We can see our own community torn by drugs, but if we can highlight the good things happening, it gives us hope for our future.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at [email protected]