Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Skid Row Drifters

Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors. -National Institute on Drug Abuse

Picture Legend

1. Passages Malibu
2. Pax and Chris
3. The cure
4. Inside Passages   
5. Above Passages
6. The cured
7. DSM V
8. "Salvation" artist Amanda Milke
9. Bill Wilson
10. Dr. Bob Smith
11. Cecil Hotel
12. Gladys Park
13. Ed
14. Ceres
15. The podium
16. From left to right, Ed, Paul, and somebody else
17. Open doors to Gladys Park
18. Park rules
19. Former meeting secretary
20. Drinking “The Best Coffee in L.A., waiting for the meeting to begin
21. Somebody brought us some clothes
22. A Drifters’ tradition, instead of a cake, you get a cup on your birthday
23. Looking forward

   One would think that such a major discovery would have merited a substantial amount of media attention. After all, finding a cure for a major disease that has plagued mankind for all of recorded history is no small thing. For instance if cancer were eliminated tomorrow I’m almost positive we’d all hear about it.
   But Pax Prentiss, CEO of Passages Malibu Addiction Treatment Center (Passages Malibu, founded in 2001), says that after being addicted to heroin, cocaine, and alcohol for 10 whole years, he is no longer an addict, and has celebrated 14 years of sobriety to prove it.
   "On every anniversary, I'm grateful to my father for having the love, tenacity, and wisdom to find a new way to bring me to sobriety. I did try the 12 Step way and it just didn't work for me. We knew there had to be another path and we found one," co-founder Pax says. 
    Chris Prentiss, Pax’s dad, is a former real estate developer with no formal training in rehabilitation or medicine, but results are what count, and Pax says he’s cured of addiction... on television, so it must be true!
   Here’s the commercial. See for yourself.
   How did this not make the nightly news!? How is this breakthrough not on the Internet Machine?! I haven’t seen an actual newspaper in like years, but I’m almost positive this news is not a headline on the front page. Why!?
   "At Passages Malibu, we treat and heal the underlying causes of addiction so you can live a healthy and addiction-free life," Pax says.
   Look at all of the cool stuff patients do to be cured from addiction. First of all they get to live in a 15 million dollar mansion on 10 acres of land overlooking the mighty Pacific Ocean. And if that’s not enough to cure you, you get gourmet food, acupuncture, yoga, equestrian therapy (horse therapy), a meditative koi pond, massages, hypnotherapy, an electroencephalogram, or brain wave analysis, arts and crafts... play doh, finger painting, spelunking... on and on, but none of the bothersome 12 Step crap... it’s just not needed.
   They’ll even let you visit the world of shit that brought you there in the first place by letting you use cell phones and providing Internet access. No need to get all fanatical about rehab.
   “We treat our patients with the utmost respect, and as soon as they walk through our mahogany double doors into our beautiful marble atrium, they feel the healing energy and beauty of Passages,” Pax adds.
    Of course the cure is a twidge on the expensive side at $88,500 a month. But look what it’s done for Britney Spears, Ben Affleck, Charlie Sheen, and Lindsay Lohan who have checked into either Passages, or other facilities that share it’s “Cure Philosophy” in Malibu. They’re cured now, right?
   Of course they are.
   And Passages enjoys an 91% success rate according to Passages, including patients who finished their treatment 30 entire days ago.
   After all: Passages Addiction Treatment Philosophy:
We do not believe that drug and alcohol dependency is a disease. Instead, we believe it is the result of one or more of the following four causes:

Chemical imbalance
Unresolved events from the past
Beliefs you hold that are inconsistent with what is true
Inability to cope with current conditions

   Passages goes on to say: “Anyone who is abusing drugs and alcohol is doing so because of one or more of these four causes. Through extensive research and direct experience, we have learned that addiction is not the primary problem but rather the symptom of a deeper underlying issue.
   We began sharing our revolutionary, non 12-step holistic treatment philosophy with the world in 2001 and have been regarded as leaders in the addiction field ever since. Before Passages, addiction was viewed as an incurable disease accompanied by hopelessness, stigma, and shame. We’ve found a better way. Instead, we approach addiction as a completely treatable condition.”

   Well there you go! I can accept that, and that gourmet food, acupuncture, yoga, equestrian therapy, a meditative koi pond, massages, hypnotherapy, on and on, is going to deal specifically with those four issues... somehow.
   Oh yeah, here it is, they rely heavily on one and one counseling, that must be the crux of the cure.
   Who knew that the above would finally cure alcoholism and drug addiction, problems that cost society, in the U.S. alone $524 billion a year (illicit drug use alone accounts for $181 billion in health care, productivity loss, crime, incarceration, scolding, and drug enforcement -National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)).
   Now that we have a cure one would think it would be a national priority to get all of those NIDA estimated 23.9 million  aged 12 or older (9.2% of the population) who have used an illicit drug or abused a psychotherapeutic medication (such as a pain reliever, stimulant, or tranquilizer) in the past month into Passages to get cured. Let’s see, that adds up to a total of $88,500 times 23.9 million people comes to $2,115,150,000,000.00
   There, problem solved, oh wait!
   Republicans in Congress may have a problem with spending over two trillion dollars on cleaning up just 9.2% of the population who probably don’t vote anyway.
   Better to let them stay high and drunk.
   Or lock them up, criminalizing what is essentially a medical problem (except for those incarcerated for solely selling drugs). According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 95,474 inmates, or 48.7% of all the people behind bars are in prison for drug related offenses, three times more than the next highest offense (Weapons, Explosives, Arson, at 31,560 inmates, or 16.1%).
   And that’s just federal prisons. Perhaps the single greatest force behind the growth of the prison population has been the national "War on Drugs." The number of incarcerated drug offenders has increased twelvefold since 1980. In 2000, 22 percent of those in federal and state prisons were convicted on drug charges. These statistics do not include juvenile facilities, military prisons, territorial prisons and local jails.
   Is addiction a disease?
   A lot of people dispute the opinion of, let’s say the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is quoted above, and is the United States federal-government research institute whose mission is to "lead the Nation in bringing the power of science to bear on drug abuse and addiction."
   The Institute doubles down and goes on to say “Many people do not understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. It is often mistakenly assumed that drug abusers lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop using drugs simply by choosing to change their behavior. In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting takes more than good intentions or a strong will. In fact, because drugs change the brain in ways that foster compulsive drug abuse, quitting is difficult, even for those who are ready to do so. Through scientific advances, we know more about how drugs work in the brain than ever, and we also know that drug addiction can be successfully treated to help people stop abusing drugs and lead productive lives.”
   The American Medical Association (AMA) had declared that alcoholism was an illness in 1956. In 1991, The AMA further endorsed the dual classification of alcoholism by the International Classification of Diseases under both psychiatric and medical sections.
   A lot of people disagree with the NIDA and AMA. Lance Dodes M.D., wrote for Psychology Today, on Dec 17th, 2011:
   “Widespread enthusiasm for the disease model, however, has led to willingness to overlook the facts.  Addiction has very little in common with diseases.  It is a group of behaviors, not an illness on its own.  It cannot be explained by any disease process.  Perhaps worst of all, calling addiction a "disease" interferes with exploring or accepting new understandings of the nature of addiction.
   This becomes clear if you compare addiction with true diseases.  In addiction there is no infectious agent (as in tuberculosis), no pathological biological process (as in diabetes), and no biologically degenerative condition (as in Alzheimer's disease).  The only "disease-like" aspect of addiction is that if people do not deal with it, their lives tend to get worse.  That's true of lots of things in life that are not diseases; it doesn't tell us anything about the nature of the problem.”
   He kind of sounds like he’s working for Pax.
   Another arm of the federal government plays down the NIDA’s evaluation. The Social Security Administration (SSA) states: “Although drug addiction often substantially impairs a person’s ability to work, an applicant will not be approved for disability on the basis of the drug addiction alone. Even though the effects of substance abuse may prevent an individual from maintaining regular employment, Social Security does not consider substance abuse to be disabling until it causes other irreversible medical conditions.”
   My step father, Ralph “Gabby” Gabbard didn’t believe addiction was a disease, as do many other like minded individuals with a conservative bent, and believed drug use was a choice that can be stopped or curtailed if one only chose to do so. If one applied enough will power.
   Gabby was fortunate enough to succumb to a “real” disease, one that he could believe in, and passed away from bone cancer on January 18th, 1989, at 64 years old.
   There are many people... of a conservative bent mostly, that believe that homosexuality is also a choice, and that one can change their sexual orientation if they apply will power, or go through some form of conversion therapy, and become “normal.” 
   Psychologists deal with a whole range of “disorders” that are never labeled diseases per se, such as depression, major depression, bipolar disorders, phobias, Asperger syndrome, schizophrenia, and all of the others listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). A  definition of “Mental Disorder,” is a mental or behavioral pattern or anomaly that causes either suffering or an impaired ability to function in ordinary life (disability), and which is not a developmental or social norm. Mental disorders are generally defined by a combination of how a person feels, acts, thinks or perceives.
   I suppose addiction could fall into this definition, and it is interesting to note that the SSA does recognize addiction plus another illness or disorder, such as depression, as a true disability worthy of receiving benefits.
   Yet the disorders listed in the DSM are also termed “illnesses,” as in “mental illness,” and “illness,” is defined as: “a condition of being unhealthy in your body or mind; a specific condition that prevents your body or mind from working normally; a sickness or disease.” Another definition states “a disease or period of sickness affecting the body or mind.”
   So we’ve come full circle back to addiction being a disease. With all things considered, except for bureaucratic and political necessities, “disease,” “disorder,” and “illness,” are only labels, and unimportant to the afflicted.
   What addiction definitely is is a big problem, on a individual, national, and worldwide scale.
   And it’s been a problem for a long time.

   I’ve been an addict for almost half a century (about 47 years, that’s almost half a century). I’ve probably been genetically predisposed to addiction my entire life (59 years+). I’m addicted to alcohol, which is a drug, and therefore addictable. I’m also addicted to nicotine in the form of cigarettes.
   Many people who smoke cigarettes don’t think of themselves as drug addicts, but of course they are.
   I’m habituated to marijuana, which means I like it a lot at times, like movies of various natures, but I am not compelled to use it, and it really has no adverse effects on my person other than it’s modest cost, and it’s inherent ability to destroy ambition.
   And it now has the added benefit of being, for all intents and purposes, legal in California where I live.
   So all of the drugs that I abused or used  the most are legal and accepted by society. We tried at one time to make alcohol illegal, but that didn’t work out very well.
   Some people are addicted to and utilize drugs that local, state, and the federal agencies deem illegal, such as heroin and other opiates, LSD, amphetamines, barbiturates, PCP, ecstasy, methamphetamine, cocaine, crack cocaine, prescription drugs that are abused, inhalants, and other synthetic designer drugs like spice. There are others.
   At one time or another I’ve tried eight of the twelve drugs listed above, but I always went back to cigarettes and booze. They’re legal and easy to get. They did what I needed them to do, and you can buy them practically everywhere.
   I expect to be an addict until the day I die (Thursday, November 28th, 2030, according to the Death Clock) as I believe addiction is a progressive and chronic disease or illness. That means it will always get worse if not treated, and it never goes away, or rather, there is no known cure for addiction quite yet. As Chapter 3 in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous points out, “Science may one day accomplish this, but it hasn’t done so yet.”
     Pax Prentiss (who name’s their kid Pax?) and his dad have a vested interest in maintaining that addiction is not a disease. In a word, they make a lot of money from people who have a lot of money and who are looking for unconventional methods of treating their illness, where they can be pampered at the same time, have whatever special needs they may have looked after, and are searching for an easier, softer way to deal with a difficult problem.
   Recently a drug and alcohol counselor for  JWCH (John Wesley County Hospital) told me, “These high end treatment centers... they’re simply an expensive place to dry out.” In other words, a detox facility.
   I can guarantee that you won’t gain lasting sobriety by contemplating koi fish. The only thing that remotely has a chance of helping toward that goal that Passages claims to utilize is their use of individual counseling, which like all treatment strategies and techniques that are used to treat addiction, has it’s limits. 
   Throughout my life I’ve been in a lot of treatment programs beginning with Alcoholics Anonymous in 1982, just out of the navy. I’ve been in in-patient programs. I’ve been in out-patient programs. I’ve been in hospital programs, and I’ve been in detox centers, albeit without the acupuncture and hypnotherapy.
   Most of the out-patient programs that are not 12 Step based (AA, and it’s satellite, or sister organizations such as Nicotine Anonymous (NA), Smokers Anonymous (SA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA), Narcotics Anonymous (another NA), Over Eaters Anonymous (OA), Gamblers Anonymous (GA) Sex Addict Anonymous (another SA) Over Fishing Anonymous (OFA), on and on, and Al-Anon/Alateen meetings for the relatives and friends of addicts, can be considered out-patient groups) employ lectures, group and individual counseling, and media, such as films related to addiction. In-patient programs, such as those that are hospital based use those as well, lectures, group and individual counseling, media, and might also use physical assessment and treatment of symptoms and aliments related to addiction, physical exercise programs, field trips, and a lot of food (at least the ones I’ve been in).
   Some people attempt to deal with their addiction problems purely through psychiatry, or psychotherapy.
   Some institutions attempt to treat addiction with chemicals, such as the opiate antagonist Naltrexone, which is implanted in the body and works by attaching to the opiate receptors in the brain and blocking them from the pleasurable effects of opiate use.
   Alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, etc., are not opiates. However the theory is that part of the pleasurable effects from alcohol occur through these opiate receptors. When these receptors are blocked, patients get fewer cravings for alcohol and less pleasure if they do drink any alcohol. It becomes much easier for them to stay abstinent and continue with their recovery program.
   The same goes for Disulfiram, or Antabuse, which works by inhibiting the enzyme acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, which means many of the effects of a "hangover" are felt immediately after alcohol is consumed. In other words once you’ve ingested antabuse and drink alcohol you get sick, sometimes violently so.
   And sometimes it doesn’t work at all. Everyone is different.
   Methadone and Buprenorphine are used as an opiate replacement which mitigates the deleterious effects of opiate withdrawal. 
   Those of you who have read, or are reading my first book “Salvation Diary,” are aware that I’ve been associated with the Salvation Army, specifically their Adult Rehabilitation Centers (ARC), for many years. From 1991 until 1994 I was employed at the Pasadena ARC as the assistant resident manager for their 108 bed residence, and then the resident manager.
   The ARC program utilized individual and group counseling. Work therapy (beneficiaries were able to work a nice 40 hour work week helping to keep the many Salvation Army thrift stores stocked, plus a few extra hours in the residence on Saturdays), spiritual therapy (mandatory church services twice a week, the Salvation Army being a Christian denominational church and an international supposedly charitable organization structured in a quasi-military fashion). Drug testing feedback, and lots of food.   
   It also utilizes groups dedicated to studying the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, in the form of big book study groups. It also invites various panels, members of 12 Step groups from the surrounding area, to come and share their “experience, strength, and hope,” with the beneficiaries, and takes those who wish to attend to local 12 Step meetings in the community.
   The Salvation Army isn’t the only treatment regimen that uses the 12 Step program as a default mechanism within there own program. All of the different treatment options listed above do as well.
   Alcoholics Anonymous is an international mutual aid fellowship founded in 1935 (two years after the end of Prohibition in December of 1933) by Bill Wilson (a  stock speculator) and Dr. Bob Smith (a colorectal surgeon) in Akron, Ohio,  with over two million members presently belonging to 100,823 groups. AA states that its primary purpose is to help alcoholics “to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.”
   AA has been in Los Angeles for 75 years now, the first meeting taking place in a small conference room in the downtown Cecil Hotel.
   The last time I counted there were some 4,689 meetings in Los Angeles County, with 1,388 of them Spanish-speaking, as well as others spoken in Armenian, Farsi, Finnish, French, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Gaelic, Yupik, and Swahili.
   I attend an AA meeting almost every night, a very interesting meeting... the Skid Row Drifters.
   Below will feature a series of excerpts from a recent failed diary attempt concerning attending a Drifters meeting:

    At 6:40PM I left the Las Americas, the residential hotel that I live in, and walked west on 6th to Gladys Ave, Gladys Park specifically, directly across from the Hippie Kitchen on 6th Street.
    “A gated green area in the heart of Skid Row,” one website states, the park boasts a cemented basketball court that is made use of daily. Here the homeless congregate during the day, playing basketball, playing chess, day trading on the NYSE, sleep, all in relative safety. Operated by the SRO Housing Corp, (Skid Row Housing Trust’s hated rival (SRHT manages the Las Americas and 23 other hotels in and around Skid Row), and owned by city's Department of Recreation and Parks. This park, and St Julian Park to the northwest on 5th Street, have faced closure, or usurpation many times throughout the years, but various factions within the city and county have managed to keep them open.
   I didn’t know that until I wrote this. I’m almost positive that the homeless who casually use the parks everyday don’t know it either.
   At night Gladys Park hosts the infamous Drifters AA meeting. I got there just before 7:00PM when they open the park, and coffee is served. I was low on coffee at home and had accordingly brought a plastic container that I would partially fill throughout the meeting to bring home with me.
   Tonight was weird as there was a small group of people at the table where the coffee was usually doled out, setting stuff up. This is always a good thing.
   The Drifter’s meeting is unusual and good for many reasons. For the homeless who attend nightly it’s good to get free coffee at night. The meeting is one of the few that I know of that is held outdoors in Los Angeles (which also means it rains out periodically, and during the odd sandstorm, or frog plague... carnivorous beavers and such). It’s a panel meeting, which means those locals who attend don’t have to do anything but sit, stay quiet, and listen. It’s only an hour long, instead of the usual hour and a half. It’s in Skid Row, which means the visiting panels that come to visit on a monthly basis (usually a group has one night of the month reserved to them, like the 2nd Saturday, which is today) bring stuff with them to give to the homeless, clothes and food usually. Cigarettes sometimes.       
   For the people in the panels who come to visit, what they get is an easy opportunity to make a Twelve Step call, the Twelfth Step of Alcoholics Anonymous being: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
   So the Drifters are actually doing the visitors a favor by allowing them to participate in their own recovery by coming here to help us, which is pretty damn decent of us if you ask me.
   Being an opportunist, I was one of the first in the park when they opened, and able to ascertain what was up at the table.
   Several ladies had set up a chile dog dispersion station. They had literally brought thousands of hot dogs, buns, and pots of homemade chile. This made me happy as I am very fond of chile dogs in all of their varieties.
   At first they handed only one chile dog to a customer, but they had so many they soon began handing out two. I ate two and took one home for consumption at a later time or date. Plus I snagged two little bags of Doritos. And the coffee, from Willie, the meeting’s  official coffee dispenser, an affable, middle aged black gentleman who walks with a slight limp, and always wears dark sun glasses. Willie’s been coming to the Drifters for 5 years, and has been in charge of the coffee for 4. He will celebrate 10 years of sobriety on June 24th, if everything goes okay.
   But what all of us really have is just today. “One day at a time,” is a saying in AA that has a lot of practical applicability.  
   I took a seat on one of the many folding chairs set up for the meeting, which would start promptly at 7:30.
   One of the meeting’s three “leaders,” if one can call them that, Ed showed up. A lanky 73 year old Hispanic gentleman, who usually dons some form of hat, and at times resembles a modern day cowboy. Ed got clean from multiple drug use at my current age, 59, and has been coming to Drifters for the 12 years he’s been sober. He and I are both alumni of the Salvation Army’s Harbor Light facility on 5th and Central, that served the homeless of downtown Los Angeles for many years before it was closed during the financial crisis of 2007/2008. I asked him recently what his most memorable experience was while coming to Drifters. “My most memorable was when I developed a relationship  with GOD and felt his presence  Its really a Gift  from GOD... I have a lot of blessings. God is Sufficient to ME.. I  rely on him totally.”
   He saw me and we shook hands. He asked me if I would read tonight, and I told him of course. I always accept. He likes me to read because one, I can read, two, I can read, and three, I do it quickly and well. As I’ve previously written, many have tears in their eyes after hearing me.
   Lots of other panel members showed up, about thirty in all, which is also unusual. There was a matching number of local attendees.
   A nice lady named Karen began the meeting at the appointed time after a little prompting from Ed.
   “What time does the seven thirty meeting start?”
   She had all of us recite the Serenity Prayer, recited a few simple meeting rules, like there would be no drinking or drugging allowed at the meeting (or in the park actually. It amuses me to a certain degree when this is said each night while a large fraction of those in attendance are smoking and chugging down coffee (nicotine and caffeine ingestion)), read the AA preamble, then said this, “I have stated that I am an alcoholic. Are there anymore alcoholics here?”
   Most of us raised our hands. Ed yelled out “Over here!”
   Karen continued. “Okay,” she looked down at the list Ed had prepared for her. “I guess Rick will read from Chapter Three.” I got up and walked the short distance to the microphoned podium.
   “My name is Rick, and I’m an alcoholic,” I said.
   The assembled crowd replied, “Hi Rick!”
   “I see we don’t have enough panel members heres tonight...”
   That was intended to be a joke considering the large number of panel members there, but I got nothing. Crickets.
   I continued, “Thanks for coming.”
   Then I launched into it, and it goes like this:
      “Most of us have been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics.  No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.
   We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.
   We alcoholics are men and women who have lost the ability to control our drinking. We know that no real alcoholic ever recovers control. All of us felt at times that we were regaining control, but such intervals --usually brief-- were inevitably followed by still less control, which led in time to pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization. We are convinced to a man that alcoholics of our type are in the grip of a progressive illness. Over any considerable period we get worse, never better.
   We are like men who have lost their legs; they never grow new ones. Neither does there appear to be any kind of treatment which will make alcoholics of our kind like other men. We have tried every imaginable remedy. In some instances there has been brief recovery, followed always by a still worse relapse. Physicians who are familiar with alcoholism agree there is no such thing as making a normal drinker out of an alcoholic. Science may one day accomplish this, but it hasn't done so yet.
   Despite all we can say, many who are real alcoholics are not going to believe they are in that class. By every form of self deception and experimentation, they will try to prove themselves exceptions to the rule, therefore non-alcoholic. If anyone who is showing inability to control his drinking can do the right- about-face and drink like a gentleman, our hats are off to him.   Heaven knows, we have tried hard enough and long enough to drink like other people!
   Here are some of the methods we have tried: Drinking beer only, limiting the number of drinks, never drinking alone, never drinking in the morning, drinking only at home, never having it in the house, never drinking during business hours, drinking only at parties, switching from scotch to brandy, drinking only natural wines, agreeing to resign if ever drunk on the job, taking a trip, not taking a trip, swearing off forever (with and without a solemn oath), taking more physical exercise, reading inspirational books, going to health farms and sanitariums, accepting voluntary commitment to asylums -- we could increase the list ad infinitum.”
   Many were weeping as I left the podium to get more coffee.
   Then readings from Chapter Five, and the 12 Traditions are made, and then the panel part of the meeting usually begins, but not tonight. Karen was dead set on giving out chips (as in poker), and cakes (as in cake) as awards for various lengths of sobriety. Willie’s helper, a young Hispanic girl, took a chip for nine months. Another guy took a cake for 3 years, and another for 28 years. They had brought a chocolate birthday cake which was cut up and dispensed (I was really full after that). We all sang the Happy Birthday Song, the one that goes “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you...” on and on. Karen shared, a few other people shared their stories, then the meeting ended at 8:30 after we joined in a circle and recited the Serenity Prayer again.
   I usually help put away the chairs, which is requested at the beginning of the meeting, but I had too much stuff to be able to do that without jeopardizing my stuff’s integrity (I had once put down a metal coffee cup on one of the risers to help out, and someone stole it in the thirty seconds it took me to complete my task), so I just left and returned to my place.

   The Drifters began in the summer of 1973 in a “small hole in wall” on the corner of Sixth and San Pedro across the street from where the Wiengart Center now resides‭ (‬the Wiengart was not there at the time, and was established ten years later in 1983‭).
‭   “‬The room was dark and dingy and it was long and narrow.‭  ‬It had a bare bulb hanging from the center of the room and broken down theater chairs for seats.‭ ‬The bathroom,‭ ‬located in the back was,‭ ‬well,‭ ‬really very dirty to put it mildly.‭  ‬One person told me as a new-comer they would send her in to clean it up.‭  ‬She said she hated it but she did as she was told.‭  ‬She didn’t get sober right away but kept coming back and is sober many years today and still active with the Drifters.‭  ‬As crazy as the meeting got at times,‭ ‬the meetings would continue.‭  ‬One time a guy threw the coffee pot at the podium.‭  ‬They stopped,‭ ‬cleaned it up‭ ‬,‭ ‬and then continued with the meeting.”
‭   The Drifters started out with one meeting a week, then progressed to nightly meetings. Presently Drifters meetings are held each night from 7:30 to 8:30PM, and Sunday morning from 9:00 to 10:00AM.
‭   Back in the day ‬coffee and a pot of beans were offered to attract people into the meetings. ‭ ‬On Holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, whole meals would be served to those in attendance.
   These days the best coffee in L.A. is served nightly by Willie, and the visiting panels often bring food and snacks as is indicated above. The other night the panel people from Venice, CA, gave out brown paper bags filled with a PB&J sandwiches, nice cookies, and a little piece of paper that told us God loves us.
   That’s good to know!
   Other nights the panels bring burittos, tamales, hamburgers from MacDonalds, cookies, candy, and all manner of delicious food items directed toward the local, mostly homeless population that resides in the area and that come to the meetings.
   Used clothes are given away on occasion as well.
   Here is another example of the generosity of those who come to visit:

    At Drifters I had my tracking sheet signed by Roland. He and his buddy Brad sit at a table especially designed to sign tracking sheets and court cards before each meeting.
   Some people who come to AA, or any other 12 Step Meetings are sent there by the courts to help mitigate their sentences for some infraction they may have committed. In order to prove to the court that they have attended these meetings they are given a court card. They take this card to a meeting and have it signed by the meeting secretary, who usually gives it back to the individual at the end of the meeting.
   They don’t do that here at Drifters. You can take your court card to Roland or Brad and they’ll sign it right then and there before the meeting even starts, because when the meeting starts, they take off. Anyway, you can leave right after they sign it if you so choose to do so.
   Hell, it’s a pretty stupid system to begin with anyway. You could sign it yourself for that matter and the courts wouldn’t be able to tell.
   The program that subsidizes my rent, Shelter-plus-Care, requires that I attend a certain amount of functions each month, thus I have a tracking sheet to record these.
   Willie was training new helpers tonight.
   The visiting panel leader, a tall, young, well dressed man, named Rich, took it upon himself to go around and ask people to read for him, and thus Ed was taken out of the readers selection loop altogether. I’m glad. I can use the rest.
   Rich picked one man with a severe speech impediment, another with a thick Italian accent, and Brad, who did just fine.
   I was sitting in the second row before the meeting began when a man came up to Paul, the second man who runs this meeting (the third is Jerry, a very nice middle aged gentleman who works out two hours a day, has 26 years of sobriety, and has been coming to Drifters for about 12 years), and told him that he had burittos. Not many heard this. Paul called Ed over and they went out of the park to retrieve said burittos. I used my inside information to mosey over to where I knew said burittos would eventually be dispersed.
  Sure enough, I was first in line to get me a nice, big, fat, meat buritto, which was good as they were limited in number, and not everyone was able to get one.     
   I didn’t eat my  nice, big, fat, meat buritto. Oh no. I took it home and placed it in my refrigerator where I will save it, maybe until Christmas. Or at least Cinco de Mayo.
   I open my refrigerator door occasionally and look at it sitting there, waiting. for me.
   If I had done this on Wall Street I might have gone to jail for using inside information not privy to the general public in order to profit personally, like Martha Stewart.
   Wait, what am I talking about? This is the Obama Administration. No one on Wall St. goes to Jail.

   I’m not saying that there is a smorgasbord every night at the Drifters. More often than not the panels bring us a great big helping of diddly squat, with nada on the side.

   Back in the early days people began to experience lengthy periods of sobriety. “They kept coming back and supported the meetings.‭  ‬The original members of the Drifters were out of East L.A.‭ ‬and included Don Piella‭ (‬died sober‭)‬,‭ ‬Richard L.‭ (‬sober long time,‭ ‬location unknown‭)‬,‭ ‬Mac‭ (‬died sober‭)‬,‭ ‬Louie L.‭ (‬still sober‭)‬,‭ ‬Ruth S.‭ (‬still sober‭)‬,‭ ‬Sylvia S.‭ (‬still sober‭) ‬Johnny O.‭ (‬sober long time,‭ ‬location unknown‭) ‬and George S.‭ (‬sober long time,‭ ‬location unknown‭)‬.‭  ‬Exactly when Panels began coming down isn’t exactly known but it began soon after the Group started.‭  ‬Once the panels started the Group mushroomed.‭  ‬Panels were mostly from large meetings or different Clubs around the County like W.‭ ‬Covina,‭ ‬San Pedro,‭ ‬202‭ ‬Club,‭ ‬Thursdays,‭ ‬etc..‭  ‬Now panels come from as far away as Ventura and Orange Counties. [These days panels come from all over the L.A. area. They come from Agoura Hills, Bellflower, Malibu, El Segundo, La Puente, Pasadena, Redondo Beach, Lawndale, Downey, West Hollywood, Alhambra, Diamond Bar, Manhattan Beach, Pomona, Torrance, Burbank, Whittier, Beverly Hills, La Mirada, Glendale, Pico Rivera, La CaƱada Flintridge, South Gate, Arcadia, Inglewood, Covina, Maywood, Lynwood, Sierra Madre, Artesia, Duarte, Irwindale, Bell Gardens, Hidden Hills, Montebello, Hawthorne, Signal Hill, Silent Hill, Hawaiian Gardens, Northridge, Chatsworth, Canoga Park, Reseda, Van Nuys, Studio City, Encino, North Hollywood, Palmdale, Compton, Rolling Hills, Azusa, Huntington Park, Bradbury, Rancho Palos Verdes, Baldwin Park, Long Beach, Westlake Village, San Marino, San Fernando, West Covina, Cudahy, Claremont, La Verne, San Dimas, Santa Fe Springs, Gardena, Industry, Monterey Park, Hermosa Beach, Lancaster, Calabasas, South Pasadena, Carson, Temple City, Monrovia, San Gabriel, Lakewood, Walnut, Santa Monica, El Monte, Culver City, Vernon, Avalon, Glendora, Norwalk, Cerritos, Lomita, Santa Clarita, Bell, La Habra Heights, Rosemead, Commerce, Paramount, and Poughkeepsie, seemingly more communities than there are dedicated nights for them to come visit. I know. It’s weird].
   The meeting moved around Skid Row a number of times.‭ ‬The dates are and times at each location are still sketchy.‭  ‬After being on‭ ‬6th and San Pedro,‭ ‬the Group moved across the street into the then completed Wiengart center.‭  ‬Then to‭ ‬6th and Ceres into HOP‭ (‬Homeless Outreach Program‭)‬.‭  ‬Then to the Ellis Hotel as a result of an invitation by SRO,‭ ‬and finally,‭ ‬after the earthquake to‭  ‬our current location in the park at‭ ‬6th and Gladys.‭  ‬We are looking to move again at this time to get back indoors.”

‭   As far as I know there is no current concerted effort to move the Drifters to another location. And as far as I’m concerned having the meeting outdoors is one of it’s many charms, as I pointed out below:

  At one point in the meeting about 50 men on bikes passed by on 6th St headed east toward the bridge.
   You don’t see that kind of thing at your average AA meeting.

    Originally from Gary, Indiana, Drifter meeting leader Paul, has been coming to the meeting since 1985, which by my calculations is almost 30 years ago, and got sober in 1986, which is almost exactly 29 years, told me that the Drifters could have been an indoor meeting years ago, but the leadership opted to stay in the glorious outdoors of Gladys Park.
   Back in 1985 the Drifter’s was still meeting in what is now the Weingart Center’s cafeteria, where I’ve eaten 947 times, as can be seen in the continuing saga, "Skid Row Diary." Then, Paul told me the meeting moved to the Ceres Building in 1987, as  Clay B related above, on the corner of Ceres and 6th Street. Then in 1991 to the Ellis Hotel which sits alongside Gladys Park. Due to structural damage to the hotel after the Northridge Earthquake in 1994, the hotel management asked the meeting’s leaders if they would move the meeting into the park, which they did. After the damage was repaired, the hotel’s management told the meeting’s leaders they could move back inside, but the leaders declined, stating, if it’s all the same to you, we’d like to stay in the park. It was certainly alright with the hotel management, as there had been an issue with some of the meeting’s homeless attendees damaging, or otherwise misusing the hotel’s restroom facilities. 
   And the meeting’s been in Gladys Park ever since.
   I first came to the Drifter’s when I moved downtown in December of 2001. I was forced to attend actually, as part of the program of the Salvation Army’s Harbor Light facility, where I was living.
   Unfortunately that facility, which probably and literally saved my life, did not escape the ravages of the financial crisis of 2007/2008, and is now closed, along with it’s sister program, Safe Harbor, which helped women.
   Paul knew Mac personally. Clay B continues:

   “Mac was elected the first secretary.‭  ‬Mac came down every single day and twice on Sundays for over‭ ‬17‭ ‬years.‭  ‬He rode the bus from Hollywood to open when I first started coming in‭ ’‬89.‭  ‬One story was told of Mac getting mugged coming to open up the meeting.‭  ‬Two big guys attacked him.‭  ‬He was struggling to get away.‭  ‬He threw up his arms and yelled‭ “‬Help me Jesus‭” ‬and they ran away.‭  ‬Mac knew most of the people who attended the meetings.‭  ‬He knew their stories‭; ‬who they were,‭ ‬how they got there.‭  ‬I’ve met many people over the years,‭ ‬when I’ve made Drifters announcements at meetings,‭ ‬who come up to me and say I remember Mac.‭  ‬He helped me get sober.‭  ‬He was always really nice to me and I didn’t understand that.‭  ‬But they do today as they are sober.‭  ‬Mac was described by more than one as an Angel.‭  ‬Mac died sober in about‭ ‬1989.
   Mac was instrumental in keeping the Drifters going.‭  ‬He would have each panel bring what they could to keep the meetings going.‭  ‬Traditional each panel would bring cookies,‭ ‬coffee cigarettes,‭ ‬and what ever they could.‭  ‬We need to continue this tradition.‭  ‬Every year in mid-December Mac would have every one come down for a big meeting to celebrate his birthday.‭  ‬This was used to get members to support the Group and keep us going until next year.‭  ‬I gather he would have different members who supported us in lean times to carry us through the end of the year.‭  ‬I’m not sure exactly how that worked as Mac died soon after I became a Drifter.‭  ‬Often he would fund the Drifter out of his own pocket.‭  ‬After Mac died,‭ ‬the money to keep us going kept running out.‭  ‬At first we would have a fund-raiser/‭ ‬Birthday memorial for Mac in December.‭  ‬But the money was running out sooner and sooner every year.‭  ‬So the fund-raiser kept being held earlier in the year.‭  ‬Now we have the fundraising meeting at the beginning of summer and still celebrate Mac’birthday in Dec.”

   Tonight’s panel is from Long Beach and North Orange County, with eight people including cute Candice, who resembles the actress Alison Pill, from “The Newsroom.” They could be twins actually. A pretty little blonde girl who looks much younger than she actually is, a situation I find myself in as well.
   Candice seemed isolated, perhaps due to her beauty. Maybe I should have comforted her... Naah.
   They prayed before starting the meeting. Robin led. She’s cute too!
   I read from Chapter Five.
   Candice said she loves this Drifters meeting when she was called upon to share.   
   She began using when she was 12, began AA when 17. She is a heroin addict, but now identifies as being “recovered,” which is interesting. Most alcoholic and addicts state they are “recovering,” implying recovery is an ongoing process (unless of course you come from Passages Malibu, which guarantees complete recovery and addiction removal, in between mud baths and acupuncture sessions).
   She said her mom used to drug test her. That she had been under surveillance in her home... literally (with strategically placed cameras). Her dad confronted her at one point giving her 30 minutes to decide if she wanted to enter detox, or get booted onto the street.
   “I had to take all of those thirty minutes to decide,” she said, because, “As long as I had my dope everything was okay.”
   She eventually got into the 12 Steps, graduated High School, and enjoys a 3.9 Grade point average, which I’m told is very good.
   I’m so proud of her!
   She has been accepted into the University of Hawaii, and actively sponsors others.
   “AA is a great program, and it works,” she said.
   She apparently came to a Drifters meeting when she had just two days sober, so we now know why this is a special place for her.
   “I had an overwhelming feeling I was home [when she came here]. I hold this meeting dear to my heart.”  When she first walked into the park she felt a power greater than herself.
   She came up and talked to me and briefly as many young women do. She told me she was starting college in Hawaii in August.
   “Well, you have a few months to come back to us then. Please do.”
   “I definitely will,” she told me.
   Good. I will look forward to seeing her.
   Willie told her she was a miracle.
   We’re all miracles.
   I looked up as the clouds began to roll in.

   Candice’s reflection, that the Park and the meeting are a special place for those who come to visit is not uncommon. Many people express the same or similar sentiments.
   And it is not uncommon for panel members to reflect through their own personal histories the times when they lived and used drugs on the very streets surrounding Gladys Park.

   A man known simply as AJ enjoys a senior leadership role in the management of Drifters. He’s responsible for setting the meeting up each night, bringing out the tall standing heating unit when it’s cold for the panel members, and other logistical matters. He helps Willie dissemble the coffee making apparatus when the second pot of the beverage has been served. He also determines, usually, when the meeting’s attendees are allowed into the Park, most often at 7:00PM.
   The meeting has it’s regulars, most notably a man named Tony, a short, rotund gentleman with dirty blonde hair, who reminds me a little of a modern day Friar Tuck. He also frequents the Hippie Kitchen on the days when it’s open, and seems to be in direct contact with his higher power on a continual basis, as he’s most often found near the small bleachers on the side of the basketball court at the back of the meeting, with one arm lifted to the sky, smoking a cigarette, and mumbling mystical phrases to his personal God perhaps.
   There are others, like Mrs. Margaret.

   I passed two men playing chess in the dark at a bus stop. Chess is big down here on Skid Row.
   It was a little windy out. There is a rumor it will rain tomorrow, and depending on what time it rains, it could be bad for me.
   Steve, 68 years old, from West Hollywood, was the panels leader tonight. He came up to me and asked if I would read.. I told him I’d be happy to. He asked me my name a second time, and then described a test he had been given to evaluate his memory. That he had been told two or three words, asked to keep them in mind, then talked about something else for a while, after which he was asked what those words were.  He failed the test, he said.
   I told him that test was the very same test administered to Julianne Moore’s character, Alice, in “Still Alice.” She failed it too.
   Then he happened to mention casually that he had liver cancer. Terminal liver cancer. A friend of his came up and we all three fell into conversation.
   What a coincidence that he would tell me this on the day after I read the letter from Oliver Sacks (author who wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times after learning he had liver cancer).
   He had been on the transplant list until a growth in his esophagus was discovered. I guess whoever it was who administers the transplant list downgraded Steve’s chances for survival and thus took him off the list, thereby lowering his chancesl markedly.
   My God!
   Yet there's always hope.
   But this was all “matter of fact,” to Steve. It didn’t appear to bother him. He was in good spirits. His wife was there, indeed she was helping to hand out various snacks, chips, and cookies, and such. His best friend was there and on the panel. A music guy, who at one time had totaled 7 cars in one day over drugs and alcohol, and gotten a DUI on hsi way to drunk driving school. He was more upset about Steve’s situation than Steve appeared to be.
   When it comes my time I hope I can handle it half as well as this man.
   After the meeting I went up to him and shook his hand, saying, “It was a pleasure meeting you.”
   “Thanks,” he said. “Hope to see you again.”
   So do I.

   Mrs Margaret roams the streets of Skid Row on a continual basis, winding up at both the Hippie Kitchen and the Drifters on a regular basis. Short cropped semi-white hair, a bit heavy, wearing dirty clothes, witch aren’t any cleaner then her person, she usually is toting a large bag filled with who knows what, and a blanket that she wraps around herself when it gets cold. She likes to smoke... a lot.
   She quite often has animated conversations with herself that make sense only to her. Really the only times I’ve seen her lucid is when she runs out of cigarettes and is forced to plaintively ask “Does anybody have a cigarette?” Or, “Does anybody have a free cigarette?”
   One of the panel members recently handed me a cigarette, which was very kind of him, and which I accepted although I do not currently smoke. I knew I could give it to either Tony or Margaret and it would be put to good use.
   Margaret was the first I saw so I gave it to her.
   “Thank you,” she said.
   When Steve returned with his wife and friends this month, just as he was about to read “A Vision for You,” and close the meeting, Mrs Margaret, who was sitting in the front row went off on one of her tirades, waving her left arm in the air and having a fine argument with someone who wasn’t there. Steve let her continue until she wore herself out, and everyone clapped, giving her a hand for sharing her experience, strength, and hope.
   “Mesmerizing,” Steve said.
   Obviously Mrs. Margaret and Tony could benefit from mental health services, and I don’t know if they’ve been offered to them, or if they would accept such services if offered. Unless they are a danger to themselves or others then good intentioned help cannot be forced upon them.

   Recently there have appeared some articles in such media outlets as Salon and The Atlantic that question the efficacy of the various 12 Step programs, and criticizing the low success rate of  those who stay sober for significant amounts of time. That success rate stands at around 10%, which is about the same for any other type of program we’ve discussed, except of course Passages Malibu, whose 91% percent claim is rather dubious and self serving, reminding me of the wise adage “If it looks too good to be true it usually is.”
   But when we consider that most of the treatment programs we’ve discussed utilize the 12 Step program as a default and essential component of their own programs, then one has to believe that 10% is as good as it’s going to get barring further and unforseen advances in science and medicine, the point being, as Candice reminds us, AA works... if you are ready for it to work, and are willing to do anything in order to change your life forever, and if you are ready to do anything in order to change your life forever.

   It is said that AA is a spiritual program, but not a religious program, and this spiritual aspect is absent from all of the other programs and forms of treatment that we’ve looked at.
  I know for certain that the spiritual aspect of AA has helped those seeking relief from their addictions. To some, it’s the main component of the program.

   At the Drifters meeting two guys showed up but they were not really a panel. Ed led the meeting. I read from Chapter Five. Then Ed shared, talking about being 73 years old, and in relatively good health.
   “If I don’t talk about God I don’t feel good,” he said. He told us a lot of AA’s Big Book was based on the Bible.
   He spoke of coming in through Harbor Light, which I had as well. Harbor light was a special unit of the Salvation Army that concentrated on recovery, not utilizing “work therapy,” as the ARCs had. It had been located on 5th St, just west of Central, but was now closed as it did not pay for itself, and the Salvation Army doesn’t like to spend money on things that don’t pay for themselves.
   Ed had used heroin, cocaine, and vodka.
   “I’m a psychopath,” he said. “This is a new way of life for me, and I love it!”
   “I thought I was going to live forever, and never thought I’d get old... see, I’m delusional! My thinking is out of whack! I wish you would stick around  and discover the beauty of it all.”
   He added informatively, “The only thing I miss is maybe a little pussy once in a while.”
   His longtime girlfriend had recently passed away.
   Ed asked me to share. I rambled on about living a life my mom would be proud of, since that was fresh in my mind. That I started drinking at 13 years old, beer machines in the navy. Now that was actually pretty cool.
   I also said I was grateful for the Drifters and to hear everyone’s story. That I was a lightweight compared to them, etc. Jerry and Willie also shared.
   It was a good night. A good meeting.

   Recently one of the panel members, the last of the evening, said this, “I love coming down to this meeting. I feel the presence of God here. I look out at the streets beyond the fences and I know that chaos exists out there, and that’s fine, because I know that within these fences God resides, peace resides. This is where I found God and began to get my life back thanks to God, AA, and this meeting. I hope you can find this to.”

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