Jamaal grew up in a large Christian family: his mother and stepfather, five sisters and one brother. They all went to church, he and his siblings to private school. “My mom did everything to train us up in God,” Jamaal said with a laugh.
They were also warned to stay away from drugs. Jamaal’s mother and father were addicts, and when he was very young, Jamaal was taken away from his mother. “I’m what got my mom clean,” he said. “She went to a sober living (facility) to get her kids back. And then my stepfather got my mom into church. She always used to tell me, ‘You can’t use drugs. Me and your dad were addicts. It’s in your blood.”
Jamaal, now 29, didn’t take her advice seriously enough. After high school, he started smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol, and then moved on to prescription drugs. Eventually he started stealing to support his habit.
After several petty theft offenses, and subsequent short stays in jail, the judge warned Jamaal. The next time he got caught, he would end up serving 17 months.
“I just thought, ‘OK, God this is it,” Jamaal said. “All throughout jail, I was reading the bible, having a personal relationship with God, calling my mom—we had a plan for when I got out. But there’s this saying, ‘You leave jail, you leave the bible there.’ That’s exactly what I did. I left, and I used (drugs) my first day.”
During that time, Jamaal would come to the Mission for meals. After another arrest, Jamaal committed to his recovery. “I called my mom and said, ‘I’m done. I’ve had it. I need to change my life.’ I had seen all these (graffiti) tags all over the place that said “RIP.” To me, that was God saying, ‘If you keep using, you’re going to die.’ I called my mom and I told her, ‘I’m going to die in my sin. I have to stop.’
Jamaal entered the Mission’s program, and after eight months, just a month until graduation, he left. “I used for a week, got clean at my family’s house, and came back. Jamaal repeated the nine-month program and graduated. He is now an intern and hopes to be hired at the Mission. After three years at the Mission, he appreciates all that donors have made possible for him.
“Thank you for doing what you do,” Jamaal said. “With everything being offered, you would never know that it’s a free program, that it’s all done solely with donations. People do care to see others succeed.”