It got so cold, so quick. I would sleep in bus stations for warmth.
Though originally a native of Prattville, Alabama, Jason found himself in New York when a welding position with a successful trailer business became available.
Within six months of relocating, however, life off the clock quickly took a turn for the worse when an opiate addiction began to claim more of his time and income.
The background story is an all-too-common one. Jason was an accomplished college baseball pitcher who underwent reconstructive shoulder surgery and soon found himself clinging heavily to pain medication through, and after, the recovery process.
Unfortunately, when the prescription medication ran out, the craving for the chemical numbing agents didn’t, and he began seeking alternative remedies in the form of illegal opiates. The addiction continued to haunt him for years after his playing days were over and ultimately cost him everything.
“I was finding dealers on the street or wherever I could,” Jason confessed. “I’ve struggled with [my addiction] off and on for about 13 years. It led to my divorce, my relationships with my three sons have been severed, and even my parents got to the point where they’ve shut me out.”
According to the New York Times, New England is one of the regions of the country hardest hit by opioid addiction and it was there that Jason’s dependence on the substance escalated. He was in a new city a 1,000 miles away from everyone and everything he knew, but he continued to find comfort in the one constant in his life.
“I began to take and take and take,” he emphasized. “I began squandering my money, my resources, everything. It really got out of control. I lost my job and my boss no longer let me live [at his place] because he had foster children. I literally had nothing but the clothes on my back and not a dollar to my name.”
For nearly a month, Jason lived on the streets, resting “anywhere the general public was cycling” in a desperate effort to find warmth.
“I slept on the ground, sidewalks, and at bus stops,” he recalled while gesturing with his hands as if drawing a particular location from memory. “It got so cold, so quick. I would sleep in bus stations for warmth. I even got put out of a few for laying down inside.”
Hunger quickly overruled his opioid pursuit and finding food proved an exhausting challenge.
“I became so hungry, that for the first time in my life I began to panhandle,” Jason said. “It was really tough. People in New York were cold like the weather. It’s not like the south. No one makes eye contact, no one opens the door for you. It was just a culture shock.”
I was so hungry I could eat the spare tire off the bus.
“I honestly don’t know how I even got to that point,” he said while staring across the room in deep reflection. “I’ve always made good money, but it seems like the more I made, the more I spent. I finally got to the point where I went to a hospital. I told them, ‘look, I’m having some seriously bad thoughts about myself.’”
Jason sat in the emergency room lobby for two days before he was finally admitted for treatment and observation. Over the ensuing week, he put on eight pounds and found a social worker who agreed to help him locate help closer to home.
“She found the Jimmie Hale Mission and the hospital actually paid for my bus ticket back,” he said.
For nearly 40 hours, spread over three days, Jason had no food and no access to the small luxuries he’d found in New York such as “bird bath” cleaning in public restrooms.
“I was so hungry I could eat the spare tire off the bus,” he recalled. “They eventually dropped me off about a mile and a half from here. I walked all the way down here and, thankfully, [the Mission] took me in, gave me a bed, food to eat, and put clothes on my back.”
Within just a few short weeks, Jason put on 15 more pounds of healthy weight and is finally back to where he was before life on the streets began.
His plan now is to focus on strengthening his relationship with Jesus Christ. Though he didn’t grow up in the church, soon after his divorce he befriended an interim pastor who became his roommate.
“That was really the first time in my life I saw someone walking their faith and not just talking it,” he said. “Over the seven or eight months he lived with me he became my best friend. A week before he was supposed to move back to Florida he told me he wanted to really spend some with me. Two days later I found him dead. He’d had a massive heart attack while exercising.”
“I had never really experienced failure.” he said. “I was always successful at just about anything I did. Going from that to the complete opposite, and knowing nothing but failure has been hard. But the more I read scripture and the more my prayer life grows I realize my way up was down. The enemy had me figured out and my soul was destined for hell had I not gone to such a low level. So, I’m at a point now where I’m thankful to God that I did hit beyond bottom. I have a relationship with God now and I’m saved and that’s the most important part of it all.”
When it comes to reuniting with family, Jason admits that it’s going to take “a lot of prayer to reconcile” the mistakes of his past.
“My words mean nothing at this point, it’s going to take action,” he said. “I’ve burned those bridges hard, but I believe [God] can restore them.”
Jason is also focused on getting back to work by utilizing outside programs thanks to numerous partnerships through the Mission’s Stewart Learning Center. While perusing a Phase I graduation, he hopes to update his welding certification at Lawson State.
“I’ve seen God move here,” he said. “Just the guys coming in off the street, seeing a smile on their face and how excited they are to have a warm place to sleep and food to eat. That has really helped see things because I’ve taken so much for granted. I believe God is doing some really wonderful things here.”