I met him in front of the Greyhound station, in Atlanta, last week. That’s where the hustlers hangout. Seasoned pros that will tell you anything that it takes to get another hit. So, when Jerome approached me with that desperate need in his eyes, I didn’t have much hope that our conversation would yield anything real. But I did notice something about him, almost immediately, that indicated that he was new to this life. I told him about the project and he agreed to tell me an honest story.

Jerome: I’m just coming out of a nine year marriage. I’d been wanting out for about five years but I wouldn’t leave until my daughter was out of the house so, she turned eighteen and she’s in her first year of Alabama State. 

It’s very depressing, when you’re with someone that you really love from the beginning and then things happen that pull you apart and the financial struggles come in. And, you know, you just can’t find common ground. 

BW: What do you think caused the break up?

Jerome: Well… there was a number of things. First… our sexual relations. I’m hot blooded and she’s cold. She had some things that transpired when she was a child that I think probably had an effect on her. 

For the first four or five years we were really focused on business. We ran two different businesses. We had a property management company and a residential remodeling company. We focused on that and maintaining our own rental properties. It [lack of intimacy] bothered me but it wasn’t as bad because we were busy.

The more time we had to spend together, when things kind of slowed down, it just wasn’t there. I made a lot of sacrifices and I felt like I wasn’t appreciated. 

BW: It sounds like you were really well off financially for a while there.

Jerome: Oh, very. Very well off. Add that on to it! The crash of the housing market. You go from making in the 300s for about four or five years… we had the company doing 1.8 million at it’s peak and then it all goes down the tubes. 

BW: So, we talked a little earlier about addiction…

Jerome: Yeah, I wouldn’t wish this on nobody. I really wouldn’t. It’s formed a wedge between myself and everybody else. You don’t let nobody get close to you.  Me personally, I’m shame based and I have a lot of guilt associated with it. It’s a perpetual cycle. Just knowing that you’re really out of character and that you can’t be free. 

BW: When did that start for you? During the marriage?

Jerome: Well, it actually started before we got married. I told her about it one day. We were riding down the street, right before we got married, and we were looking at some guys who were homeless and she made some comment about him and I said, “there but for the grace of God go I.” I told her about my past. She didn’t want [to know]. She said that she didn’t see any of that in my character or how I presented myself. 

So, it was about eight or nine years in, after we started going through struggles that I started using again. My dishonesty from cheating and… you know, you’re cheating on a woman who you really love and then you got to come home and look at her and you know… the guilt…  phew, it’s a hell of a thing and you don’t get it out and, it took me back. It got to the point where I felt so bad to where hitting a piece of crack was a relief for the weight on my shoulders. In reality it just opened a door for a hell of a lot worse to come in. 

Jerome and I talked for a while longer. I asked him what would help and he said that just talking about it was helpful. I felt a strong connection to him and his story. I gave him a few bucks for his time and he immediately shot behind the building to get his fix. As I left, I couldn’t help but think, “there but for the grace of God go I.”