“I never ever thought I’d be living in a tent, sleeping out in the cold,” says Chris, now 21.
While many young men look forward to camping trips with their fathers, for Chris, sleeping in a tent took on a new meaning when he was just 15 years old.
Nowhere To Go
“My mom had just died from colon cancer,” shares Chris. “My dad was in prison. I had two older sisters, one of whom had moved away and started her own family. I moved in with my middle sister so I could go to school. She was using and selling crystal meth. It was really hard for me to live there. As a result, I ended up turning to drugs.”
After having people shoot at their house, Chris decided it was no longer safe to live there. It was time to go. He dropped out of high school and headed for Birmingham, Alabama.
“I was so scared after hearing those gun shots, I just jumped on my cousin’s bicycle and road it to Birmingham,” says Chris. “It took me 4 hours, but I never looked back.”
Chris had grown up in Birmingham. His grandmother lived there. He had family and friends who lived in Birmingham. Chris thought surely someone would take him in. But no one did. No one wanted a runaway kid who was addicted to drugs staying at their house.
One Man’s Trash
Chris spent the next 6 months living in a tent in the woods. He found a couch someone was throwing away on the side of the road and dragged that to his tent. It became his bed.
“You’d be surprised at the things people throw away,” shares Chris. “I found blankets, clothes and other things I could use to fix up my tent in dumpsters around town.”
During the day, Chris would make money by either doing construction work or selling drugs. As the stress of this lifestyle began to take its toll on him, Chris started using drugs more than selling them.
“I’d sleep in my tent, then walk to a store where I could wash my face and brush my teeth in their bathroom,” explains Chris. “Then I’d either go to work (if work was available) or I’d find someplace to hang out until it was time to go to bed.”
“Sleeping in a tent provides little protection, especially in the winter,” shares Chris. “There were nights when I would wake up and could barely move my legs. I kept telling myself it was going to get better. I didn’t want to live like this, but I didn’t know what else to do. I tried to make the best of it, but I felt pretty hopeless. Drugs and alcohol helped numb both the physical and emotional pain I was feeling.”
For the next four years, Chris continued to use and sell drugs. He spent time in and out of jail. When not in jail, Chris would find part-time jobs to make a little money. Sometimes he slept on a couch at a friend’s house. Other times, he would find unlocked cars he could crawl into for a while.
“One night, I was so tired, I ended up falling asleep on the street,” shares Chris. “I’m not sure who was more scared, me or the lady who walked up on me and thought I was dead. We were both freaked out.”
A New Direction
“My sister told me about the Nashville Rescue Mission,” says Chris. “She had a drug problem and was court ordered to the Mission’s life-recovery program. Today, she’s graduated and is doing great. She is in the process of trying to get her kids back.”
Today, Chris is enrolled in the Mission’s life-recovery program. He is participating in work therapy and spiritual instruction. He is taking classes in and preparing for his GED. Chris is also learning more in the areas of job preparedness, interviewing skills and financial accountability. He still has several months to go, but he is optimistic.
“My favorite class so far is Dr. Overton’s class,” shares Chris. “I am learning so much about the Bible. I never want to go back to that life. It was lonely and miserable. I’ve learned that I don’t need drugs or alcohol to cope with my problems. Today, I have hope.”
Chris looks forward to getting his GED, graduating from the program and being reconciled with his 3-year-old son Christian.
With God’s help and the support of faithful friends like you, men like Chris have the opportunity to turn their lives around.