Jeffrey Ray can’t remember all the people whose hearts he broke, though he knows his mother was one.
“She loved me, but she told me at one point, ‘I’m going to have to let you go,’” Ray said. “I’d made her promises and gone home, and after a few days of sleep, good meals and a few showers, I’d go running the streets again.
“I’d feel remorse and shame and think, ‘Well, I might as well tie one on ”
Now in his mid-50s, Ray began “drinking and drugging” when he was a 14-year-old in Detroit. On Oct. 1, he’ll have been clean and sober for eight years, although some of that wasn’t his doing alone.
For four years of it, he was in prison.
Fresh from living five months rent-free in a Parkland home, Ray is trying to help a friend establish an Oxford House in Tacoma, where men in recovery can live with their children. (Ray has an adult daughter living elsewhere.)
He is rebuilding a life and owes a debt to Access to Recovery, a program funded by federal and state monies. It helps recovering addicts in six Washington counties — Pierce, King, Clark, Snohomish, Yakima and Spokane.
Liz Yotty, a recovery support specialist with Pierce County, said the program began in 2005. In Washington, it has helped more than 5,000 people.
“A lot of it is giving them self esteem, to let them see they can do something. We treat them like a person, not a thing, and we help give them tools to get a job, be like everyone else,” she said. “They have to be sober 90 days to qualify. No one is entitled; everyone is accountable.”
In exchange for a clean room in a good home for five months, participants must attend meetings to maintain their sobriety.
“It’s not a handout. It’s a hand up,” Yotty said.
Ray was going to school at Tacoma Community College when he went to an ATR house managed by Carol Newell, herself a recovering alcoholic. Sober for 11 years, she runs a tight house.
“If there’s a suspicion you’re using, you take a urinalysis,” Newell said. “If you fail that, you’ve got 15 minutes to pack and leave. That’s it.”
What good did five months of housing do for Ray?
“I’d been going to school full time for 2 1/2 years, and I got my AA degree in June,” he said. “ATR gave me the chance to take a summer off, to find a good part time job, to attend functions I couldn’t go to when I was in school.
“I even got to go to the Puyallup Fair for the first time.”
While at the ATR house, Ray and everyone else had daily chores. His was often cleaning the bathrooms. No one objects to the work, Newell said.
“The point of coming here is to have a place to live you feel proud of,” she said. “They have a sponsor, they maintain recovery visits and we encourage them to look for a job, get their driver’s license, rejoin society. If they’ve got an interview but no dress pants, Liz will help them out with that. She can get them a bus pass to get there and back.”
Everyone helped by ATR is in recovery, and not all of them succeed. Yotty knows of two participants who died — one of an overdose, the other a suicide.
Ray is one of those who seems to have turned his life around.
“I spent time in prison for armed robbery, fraud, drug possession — and I probably went to county jail a hundred times,” he said. “I knew I didn’t want to drink and drug anymore, but I didn’t know how to do that. I didn’t know how not to get locked up.”
During his most recent prison stint, he sought and got help for his addictions. Since his release, he’s gone to school and is working toward a bachelor’s degree in social work. He wants to counsel other addicts.
“I’d like to run a house for 18-to-24 year-olds,” he said. “We lose a lot of people at that age.”Larry LaRue: (253) 597-8638