Six guys and some coffee hang out at Guiding Light and chat.
Last month, five Back to Work residents and one Recovery client gathered around a table and shared, from their own perspective, what Guiding Light is like. They were open and honest about the challenges behind them and ahead of them. They shared their hopes, stories, plans and a lot more in a candid, and sometimes funny, conversation.
Q. Interviewer: Please introduce yourselves. What is your story that led you to Guiding Light’s Back to Work program?
A. Jaime: I had a fall out with my girlfriend of 15 years. It was all downhill from there.
Would you mind sharing what happened?
Jaime: We had a condo together. We got into a fight, and she started attacking me. I pushed her off me, and she tripped and fell and broke her arm. Then I was
thrown in jail for domestic violence. I went to jail for the next five months, then they decided to put me in a mental hospital, and I was there for almost a year. I
turned 40 years old while I was there.
My dad didn’t want me to end up homeless in Detroit, so he brought me out here to Grand Rapids because of the good programs. This is my first week at Guiding
Light, so I’m still looking for work.
How is it going?
Jaime: I’ve been grinding on the computer every day, filling out applications, calling temp services, and going around town on the bus. I’m trying to get work as hard as I can.
It sounds like it will happen for you.
Jaime: Hopefully. I don’t want to end up back in any other mission, sleeping out in the cold or sleeping next to someone who smells like puke or a garbage dump. I don’t want to do that again.
That’s understandable. Melvin, how did you get here?
Melvin: Well, I’m 56 years old. I’m a recovering addict.
I was released from prison in July of last year. When I was released, they sent me to a recovery house out in Wyoming. I’ve walked by the Guiding Light a million times, and I never stopped or tried to get in here. Before, when I was down here, they didn’t have this Back to Work thing. After they released me from the recovery house, I was inches from going back into that madness when I rode by here on the bus. A little voice in my head said, “Wait a minute, try the Guiding Light!” So I stopped in.
Brad, how about you? What lead you to the front door?
Brad: I’m 46 years old. I was in Tennessee for three years with a girl when she decided to kick me out, so I came back to Grand Rapids where I was raised. I was living with a friend, and his landlord said the place was too small to put me on the lease. So after five months of living there, I had to move out. And I was like, “Where do I go?” I started looking up places on the internet, and I found this place.
I walked in, asked about their programs, and they asked if I could pass a drug test and I said, “Yeah, not a problem.” But they were full and didn’t have a bed for me, so I spent the night in another mission, which I will never do again. It was awful. It was enough to make me want to work even more. The next day, I came back to Guiding Light and passed the drug test, so they let me in, gave me a bed, and set me up with an application for The Job Post. I’ve been working and saving money since.
Rick, how about you?
Rick: I was living with my brother in Zeeland, but that wasn’t working out. I was working for a construction company and got laid off in the winter. I didn’t take the time to figure out my unemployment, but I saw Guiding Light’s Back to Work sign, and I walked in to check it out. They did a drug test. I passed it. I filled out some forms, and they gave me a bed. Half an hour later The Job Post gave me a job.
What do you mean ‘half an hour later’? Like an actual half hour?
Rick: I mean like a half hour after they gave me a bed they gave me a job.
Seriously? How is that possible?
Rick: Well, as I was going through intake and getting processed for a bed, I stopped over at The Job Post, and they said there was an immediate job opening at a local factory. I filled out the application, and they made it happen. I came here on a Thursday, and that next day I was working. I’ve been here about three weeks now.
That’s amazing. Dennis, how about you?
Dennis: I’m 52 yrs old. I’m an alumnus of the Guiding Light, actually. I went through this program in 2001. I came in here broke, busted, disgusted and couldn’t be trusted. By the grace of God, the Guiding Light was a safe place to be. When I left in 2001, I had completed my CDL certification for trucking and got a job driving the very next day. I got my own apartment and bought my own car. But I didn’t maintain my support group or the structure to stay on the straight and narrow to keep my sobriety going. I lost contact with those in recovery, and that’s when the enemy started coming back in and clouding my judgment. Just last year, in August of 2016, the day of my Mother’s funeral, I was incarcerated for
having crack cocaine on me. I completed the sober living unit at the Kent County Correctional Facility. Shortly before my release, I talked to Jeff Courtley (Guiding Light Intake Manager) and asked him about coming here upon my release.
Have you found a job since being here?
Dennis: I had an interview yesterday for a driving job, but I was shot downbecause of my felony. With me being on probation, I need to get permission
to leave Michigan. So I’m searching diligently for a job that will let me stay in the state, at least until I’m off probation. But I can’t let anyone deter me. I’ll get on that computer, keep shooting out my resume, keep calling people, and by the grace of God, I know there’s a driving job in this city that I’m going to find. And when I do, I’m going to be the best blessing that company has ever had.
So you still have your CDL?
Dennis: I still have everything except my DOT (Department of Transportation) physical. I need to update my medical certification. Then I’ll be good.
So how long have you been here then?
Dennis: I’ve been here just over a week. I’m still crawling, but I’m trusting that God will open a door with the right company so I can continue to move forward.
Okay, so for the next topic I want to combine a couple of questions into one. How new is this experience of seeking help from an organization like this? And also, what was that first day like? How did it feel? Were you a ‘fish out of water’?
Jaime: It wasn’t a good feeling, more so when I went to a different mission, but when I got here it was definitely a better feeling. It’s cleaner and better here than the other places I visited.
Melvin: I would say it was like a breath of fresh air. I would compare it to being on the front lines of a war and then returning home to society again. Because being out there on the battlefield of life, with drug addiction and criminal behavior, is definitely a war, a personal war.
Brad: It was different for me. I’ve never had to get help from anybody before, and I was able to meet all the requirements to get in within an hour. I had a job history and no criminal record, so I was able to start a job that following Monday. I was still recovering from some injuries, so the first job I had was a little demanding. But then I was able to get another job, and I’ve been doing that ever since. It has been working out great.
When you come in here, you don’t know what to expect. When you’ve moved around as much as I have, you realize a lot of towns don’t have stuff like this. They might have a flop house, and that’s it. But here, you start seeing other people in the program working and getting their own apartments, and you’re like “wait a minute, we’re actually accomplishing something here!” But yeah, I was wary at first, but I’m really impressed by what Guiding Light does.
Rick: I was kind of apprehensive at first, but when I got here they gave me a bed, locker, and I was able to get a job very quickly. You can’t just go anywhere here in Grand Rapids and get that. So I was relieved, I guess, to not have to worry about what I was going to do next.
Dennis: Like Melvin said it was a blessing. Coming here after seven weeks of incarceration and being able to walk outside and smell the fresh air—it was a blessing. Each day when I rise, I spend time in the Word, spend some time alone with the Father, and thank Him for the day. I see Mr. Ray (Executive Director Stuart Ray) every morning, and he’ll greet me, and I’ll greet him back. Each morning, we keep looking for jobs, we fellowship with each other and motivate each other. Networking is the key here. And yeah, we have The Job Post, but word of mouth travels a lot faster than a computer.
All of you guys are in the same program but you’ve had different experiences, and different things have brought you here. From what you’ve seen, how long before someone can regain a sense of pride?
Rick: Well, I had my own apartment and lost it. I lost everything I had when I went to prison. Coming to a place like this was not in the plan at all! But I couldn’t find work anywhere at the time. Nobody would hire me. I don’t have a drivers license; I haven’t had one for 15 years. Sometimes, it’s hard to get around the city, you know, you gotta take the bus everywhere. Nobody on the bus lines was hiring. It was like those jobs were all taken up. Plus, I’m a seven-time felon so that makes it difficult. Look, I had a job; I had a good paying job. I had my own place, and all of a sudden, bam, it’s gone.
Melvin: Me, I’m grateful because I’ve been to hell and back and wrestled with the devil. So when I came to this place, it was like I stepped into heaven. If I see a gentleman come into this program and he’s saying he doesn’t like it here or if he’s always complaining, I just can’t help but think that he needs to take a closer look at himself. To come into this facility and see what it has to offer and not appreciate it or be grateful—I just can’t see anything negative about Guiding Light.
Rick: No, I don’t want to complain about being here, but I just want to work
hard and someday be in some place better.
I can tell that even years later, you’re still lamenting the loss of your
home, your own space. It was important to you.
Rick: It was mine.
Melvin: See, I had the same thing, but my thing is, I’m surely not where I want to be but also not where I used to be.
Rick: Well, I’m not either. I haven’t done drugs in over eight years.
Melvin: Right, so you know. We may fall, but as long as we have God in our lives, we’re gonna stand again.
Rick: I’m an atheist.
Melvin: Okay, you may be an atheist, and that’s another thing, but you’re gonna stand up again with the determination and the drive to get back what you lost! And I’d say, this time, it might be even better!
That brings up a great point. What do you do when someone seems
frustrated to be here? How do you help others get acclimated and
encouraged to move forward?
Melvin: Now that I’m back on top, I have no problem helping the next man up. I don’t care if you’re black, white, green, or orange, if you come in here, I’ll do what I can to assist you, to help you stay positive, and do things to better your life. The way I see it, I only receive a blessing by being a blessing.
So let’s talk again about the job situation. Those of you who have jobs, do you think you’ll have this job a year from now? Are any of you hoping to have something different, or more suitable, down the road?
Rick: I actually love the job I have. I work noon to 8:30 pm as a line clerk. I’ve never found a factory job that was so easy in my life. I’m 54 yrs old; I’ve worked in a lot of factories, and this job is gravy. I just need some biscuits and sausage, and I’m set! (The room erupts in laughter)
Rick: But yeah, I hope to be there long term.
Brad: I work at the same place as Rick. But I work from 4 pm to 12:30 am or so. But last night I worked until 2:30 am.
So you might be a little tired this morning, right?
Brad: Yeah, I’m still trying to wake up. But I don’t mind my job. It’s a good job. And for me to just leave this job, you’re gonna have to be offering up some pretty serious upgrades. Otherwise I’m sticking with what I’ve got. Even if I was injured again, I could still do this job, so this is gonna work for awhile. And I like everyone I work with. (Brad looks over at Rick, his co-worker). Well maybe, I’ll rephrase that. (The room laughs again)
Melvin: The job I’m working is a little tough. I’m 56 years old, and it’s physically demanding for me. It’s also a mess. I try to clean and sweep the floors whenever I can, and I know the CEO of the company appreciates it, but I’m always sweeping up cigarettes, loose tobacco, scraps of wood and building materials all over the place. That combined with the loud music the younger guys are playing, it’s a bit of a hazard. If I ever got hurt at my station, no one would be able to hear me yell, so it’s a little dangerous. But I know I gotta be thankful for any job I have. If I want something better than this, I have to first be grateful for what I do have. I could do this job for five years, and there’d still be no chance for advancement. I need to find a job where there’s opportunity to move up as well as get higher pay.
So what’s your next step?
Melvin: Some of the guys here are telling me about the other places that are hiring, so I know there are other opportunities. But wherever I’m at, I need to work as though I’m working for the Lord.
Jaime, what about you? I know you’re new here, but are you encouraged about the job front?
Jaime: Well, I’ve got some issues with scoliosis and arthritis so that makes it harder to find the right work. I’m a little nervous about it.
What kind of work are you hoping to find? What kind of work could you do?
Jaime: I could do some light industrial work. Standing for 40 hours a week would be okay, as long as they’ll understand my issues and let me sit down or stretch when I need to. Then I’d be okay.
Brad: The place we work would be perfect for you, man. It’s not hard work. I mean, they keep you moving, but it’s not super fast like some other places.
Rick: Yeah, and they’re very nice people to work with. I feel like they’d work with you. You should check them out.
Back to Work is typically a 90-day program. So, ideally, each man has approximately ten to twelve weeks to live here and save money. Besides slipping up and breaking the rules, what are some of the reasons that cause men to leave the program early?
Brad: I’ve heard people say “I got a job now and this woman wants me to move in.” They’ll say things like, “I don’t want to ruin my chances with her.” I’m like, “Good luck with that,” because every time I’ve changed my life for a woman, it has never worked out well for me. Those guys are putting their hope in something that has no proven track record. For me, I just want to get through this program first. Let me get myself back on track. Let me keep working, save my money, get my own place; then I can entertain letting someone in my life. Until then, I need to focus on myself.
Melvin: Your purpose and goal when you come in here is to make your money and get your own autonomy. It isn’t to go live with the first girl that takes an interest in you. That’s not reliable. You’re in Guiding Light for a reason. If you deviate from the plan here, things start happening that you don’t want to happen.
(At this point, Melvin leaves for work, and newcomer Andrew joins us. He was initially part of the Back to Work program but is now in Guiding Light’s Recovery program.)
Let’s talk about the Back to Work program’s emphasis on saving money for a stable place to live. How is your progress going?
Andrew: Guiding Light stipulates that you save 75% of your paycheck every week. And they’ll help you pick a place that is affordable. If you can’t afford your own place to live or you have bad credit, a lot of debt or child support like I have, then Guiding Light might help set you up with a couple of roommates in an apartment to rent.
I assume child support makes it harder to get back on your feet?
Andrew: Yeah, I’m supposed to pay $1400 a month for my three kids. It’s about $360 per week.
That’s quite an obstacle. How will you deal with it?
Andrew: Well, I did find out that when I am accepted into a place like this, that I am now considered homeless so it freezes my child support temporarily.
What happens when you start working again and you only take home $350 per week?
Andrew: Hopefully, by being in this program, it will be adjusted. The way the law is, once I get up to $10,000 behind in child support, it becomes a felony. So one small light at the end of the tunnel is that my 17-year old will graduate high school soon. He wants to join the military, so his Mom and I will both sign off on it once he graduates high school. Then in three years my 15-year-old will graduate and then it will go down again.
So your finances for the next few years will be tough.
Let’s talk about living with roommates. I’m sure some of you want to live alone, but living with roommates is more affordable. Are there any thoughts on your personal options?
Rick: I have trust issues. I’ve been treated badly by some people, so I’m hoping to live alone.
Brad: Living at Guiding Light, I’ve had to adjust my way of dealing with people. I can’t just tell people to “leave me alone,” so I’ve been forced to be social. So far, the people here have been cool. But when I leave here, I’m hoping to live with a friend of mine, who I’ve known for 28 years. His lease is almost up on his place, and we’re talking about renting a place together.
Jaime: I’m open to living with people, too.
Andrew: For me, I’m trying to remain sober, I’m hoping to find a roommate that is also completely sober. That way he could help keep me on the straight and narrow. I won’t have to come home and know there is a bottle in the cupboard.
Andrew, you’ve experienced both the Back to Work program and now the Recovery Program. How do the two groups interact with each other?
Andrew: Well, both programs at Guiding Light have high accountability. On St Patrick’s Day, they tested everybody for drugs and alcohol. That next day, seven people were gone from the Back to Work program. You know you’re in a safe environment when you don’t have to worry about someone being drunk or high when you’re trying to stay sober.
Dennis: We see the Recovery Program members at meals, but other than that, we don’t get to interact too much. Usually, the Back to Work guys are working and sleeping. We each have our own schedules we need to stick to. But I can relate to them, because I need to stay sober too. I have a fiancé I need to prove myself to, so I’m doing everything I can to stay clean, just like those guys.
Brad: Well, I’m usually a social drinker. But since I’m in the program that’s the rule: no drinking for anybody! I’ve never had a problem with alcohol, so I’m fine with that until I leave the program. But whatever program the guys are in, everybody gets along pretty well here.
What are some habits or practices you’ve learned here that you’d like to keep implementing going forward?
Dennis: During the morning meeting, Matthew (Back to Work Program Director) said, “When you get up always make your beds.” It’s mandatory for us to make our beds. I don’t even leave the room until that gets taken care of. There are a lot of simple disciplines that one can learn here—good habits that you can put into regular practice.
Rick: Yeah, the guys are here to better themselves so they should keep picking up after themselves and practice structure. They should be neat, keep their hygiene up and try to help themselves before letting others help. And they should recognize and appreciate all of their opportunities.
Any other comments about the Back to Work program?
Dennis: I knew this was the place for me. Here, we have access to what we need to get back on our feet. The staff here is helpful. They bend over backward to assist us, to aid us, and to keep moving us forward in the right direction. We are given the opportunity to grow, you know, to work, save our money, and make that transition. We don’t have to stay stuck in the madness of our past. We can let that go, and be blessed along the way. Me myself and I; I am truly blessed.