Ken loses everything and finds himself living on the streets, desperate to get off of drugs.

Ken’s buddy, the only one he trusted, had been in Vietnam, and came back to the States. He heard about Ken’s problems, and said, “Hey, let’s drive across the country.”

They took off in a station wagon and ended up in Texas. Ken met a girl there; in his view, the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. But Ken and his friend left there and headed to California. They drove up and down the coast, and Ken was always hunting for money to buy drugs. He almost went into a program in San Francisco, called Synanon, but he chickened out. 

His buddy finally said he had had enough of Ken, and gave him a plane ticket to anywhere he wanted to go. Ken chose Texas. He found the girl he had met earlier, and two weeks later they were married. She got pregnant, and he took her back to Florida, where his parents had now retired to, and she had the baby.

“My parents finally kicked me out and disowned me,” he said.

It was 1972, and Ken was about 24 years old. Ken and his wife, Maria, drove back to Texas and lived in Dallas, but they had to leave as Ken got into trouble with some drug dealers. They wound up in Houston, where she had a brother. Ken got a job, was clean for two months, and then started using again. He suffered a pulmonary embolism, went into the hospital, and Maria took the baby and left him, saying she could not keep living like this. She went back to live with her mother. They had been married about a year.

Ken got out of hospital and had no place to go. He almost died, and was living in the streets with one change of clothes and a little suitcase. He was literally living in the gutters, panhandling, doing whatever he could to stay on a methadone program he had enrolled in.

He had to go every day to the pharmacy to stay on the program. After three or four months, he met Sister Emelia, the administrator of the program.

In her Irish brogue, she said, “Your name is Ken, right?”

“Yes.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Well, I am here to get the medicine to stay on this program.”

“Do you want to get off drugs?” she asked.

He said, “More than anything in my life.”

“If I get you into this hospital, will you promise to get off drugs and stay off?”

He said, “Sister, I cannot promise that. I have been trying for years and living under a bridge. I need someplace to live.” 

“Well then, let’s go.” She got him into a room with bars on the window in the psychiatric ward.

It was a forgettable time. While he was there, two guys from Cenikor*, a substance abuse program, came and interviewed him. They were both former addicts. One was Hispanic, the other a white guy. They were planning to open a program in Houston. They asked him again if he really wanted to get off drugs, and he assured them he did. They said he had to be in the program for two or three years. Ken replied they were out of their minds. They said he had to go to Denver where the Cenikor headquarters was. He got out of hospital, and Sister Emelia got him a job painting a guy’s house, and that gave him enough money for a one-way ticket to Denver. The Cenikor facility in Denver was housed in an old bakery.

He went there; they took away all his stuff, shaved his hair, and took him to the kitchen to wash dishes. He wound up living in Cenikor for almost nine years.

*Cenikor is committed to helping people deal with behavioral health issues and addictions by providing a full continuum of care. Cenikor has a variety of programs including short-term and long-term inpatient programs, detoxification, outpatient, and intensive outpatient services.