"Addiction is when you can give up something any time as long as it's next Tuesday" -- Lemmy Kilmister
The voices of experience are speaking and the students from Darien High School and the two alternative Greenwich high schools are giving them their rapt attention. The visit to Liberation House, a substance abuse treatment facility in Stamford, provides an opportunity for high school students to see firsthand the ravages of addiction and the impact it has on the lives of both the men in Liberation House and the women who come from our Families in Recovery Program.
The most powerful component of the program are the testimonials by the men and women as to what their drug use has done to their lives and their families. At times it is hard for the residents to suppress their emotions as they recall their high school days. It's as though they're talking to their own children or a younger version of themselves; at times it seems they are remembering who they once were.
I thank the men and women for sharing from the heart and as with every visit by high school students, I call Henry up to share his wisdom, whose words and style are a mix of a politician, university professor, Baptist preacher and street hustler.
He tells the students, "I did it for you. So now you don't have to do drugs. They're a dead end. A no-win situation. They cheat and steal and will rob you of a life."
He talks about who he is today and where he has been; he speaks with passion and keeps it real -- not sugar coating anything -- laying it out so the students understand what drugs and addiction are all about and where they can lead you. He talks about choices and the importance of doing the right thing. It is obvious from the looks on the students faces that he is definitely getting his message across.
A Greenwich student said, "He had my total attention. I really got a lot out of his talk."
Henry has 20 years of recovery and has been working at Liberation Programs since 1998. He goes into the prisons out of choice, to show the inmates there is hope and the possibility of change. He wants them to know there is another way to live and that you can become what you weren't yesterday.
No matter what is going on in his life, Henry has that particular ability to continue to keep it real; as the voice of an addict in recovery who has never looked back, as an ex-con offering hope for the future, as an ex-politician who wants to give the people in his community a voice and most importantly as a loving father who is always there for his girls.
He closes with his version of the Whitney Houston song, "Greatest Love of All." As Henry sings, "I believe the children are our future, Teach them well and let them lead the way," the room turns into a gigantic smile-a-thon and I'm thinking that it doesn't get much better than this, a morning filled with so many moments of people giving of themselves.
As with all the trips I have run over the years, there are those special moments. Two residents read poems that have a definite impact on everyone in the room; another shares thoughts on her life and her children that leave the room silent.
A student and a resident participate in an older brother/younger brother role play that highlights the struggles of trying to get someone you love to change their behavior, yet also evokes knowing laughter; when they switch roles, the laughter only gets louder.
The response to the Liberation House visits has been overwhelmingly positive, both from the students and the school psychologists, guidance counselors and social workers who have accompanied them. The visits help put a human face on addiction and let the students see the residents as individuals with histories.
Brad Magnusson, Darien High School junior, said, "I was really happy that I came to Liberation House. Seeing addicts of all ages and races made me realize that addiction doesn't discriminate. It was a very real experience that opened my eyes and will motivate me to continue on the straight and narrow."
Morgan Malvisi, Darien High School senior, said, "This was my first trip to Liberation House and it's something I will never forget. The stories that the men and women shared were extremely eye-opening and unforgettable. This trip taught me that anyone can fall victim to drugs and it is our job to stay focused and pursue our dreams. I am so happy that I took this trip and recommend it to everyone, because the stories that you hear and people that you meet will stick with you for years to come."
During a television interview on 60 Minutes, Ed Sabol, founder of NFL films said, "Tell me a fact and I will learn, tell me a truth and I will believe, but tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever." The Darien and Greenwich high school students heard some facts and some truths, but most importantly they heard stories from the residents, some old enough to be their parents, some young enough to be their siblings.
Many of the stories told had a poignancy to them that was inescapable and I could tell from the looks on their faces that the all the students left with at least one story in their heart. I know I did.
Barry Halpin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.