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Beyond Seattle

Steve’s just back from Canada. Read the unpredictable turns his visit to a Vancouver area transition center took. It just goes to show that you can never know what will happen next.

I arrived at the US/Canadian border and showed the agent my passport. He looked me up in his system and, instead of sending me through, directed me to the Border/Customs Office. I wasn’t surprised. I had a record that would raise all sorts of red flags. I parked my van in front of the building and went in. After 15 minutes of impatiently waiting in line – and I was the only in line – the chick behind the counter took my passport. She typed my number into her computer and told me to sit down. “I’ll call you,” she said. I was ready to turn around and go home if they wouldn’t let me in. I had done my best by trying. She returned to her window a little later with two guys and some papers. The papers were my rap sheet and it was long. As they questioned me on the details and my purpose for the trip, I relived the years I had left behind. “I’m coming into Canada to speak to the people at a treatment center about my 15 years of homelessness and alcoholism.” “Fifteen years? This list dates back to 1971!” came the informed reply. The eight DUIs and everything I’d ever done were all there. We talked for an hour, with them looking me over the whole time. They searched my van. I wasn’t nervous. I knew I was clean. Finally, satisfied enough, and after a call to the director at my destination, the officials gave me a 24-hour pass. I left feeling really good.

The Center was more like an old farmhouse just outside of Vancouver. (There are 200 treatment centers and shelters in the greater Vancouver area.) The staff met me with open arms. We right away connected. I felt loved. However, as I shared my story with the 16 or so residents and as many staff members, I had difficulty staying focused. Every 15 seconds one of the young men, new to the center, burst out with a string of vulgarities (he had Tourette syndrome). Others were laughing at him and at me in my frustration. I was trying to keep it together while my motivation was starting to go downhill.

I finished my story fast and then opened the remaining time for questions. The staff figured it out real quick and asked the right ones. That’s where I shined. I nailed them with hard answers. Things got quiet. It was like a pin dropped. The man with Tourette’s had left. I went right to the core of my message: God. HE saved me from a life of addiction and homelessness. I pray every night, asking God to keep me sober; in the morning, I pray again, and then let go of it. The men didn’t understand. It was odd. They couldn’t connect. Haven’t they ever talked to someone who has the time? I’ll be lucky if one guy relates to what I shared.

Later in the day, I spent some time with a few of the men. I kept driving the message: “You have to have something to sober up to.” It seemed to me that they weren’t paying attention, much less taking anything I said, seriously. I was pissed and let it go on a few guys. Why were they even there? Why were they in the program? As it turned out, those fellas that I visited were all meth addicts, and they weren’t looking for help. One guy had two black eyes. I can’t relate to that. Arrested or just out of jail, the court had appointed them to a transition center; they were there because they had to be. They were just playing the game.

But I’m glad I went. The staff were good, God-loving people. I valued sharing my story with the men in their program. I hope that one person heard me and was helped. I’m also glad to be home. I took a chance in leaving the US, and then hoped I could get back in. Having cleaned up my record, I felt confident that it would work out. It did.



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