Today is National Suicide Prevention Day so I wanted to share this story of hope with you. Thank you Marshall for doing what you do.
Marshall: I used to be an addict. When I got to treatment, I was taking my first shower in about six weeks. When I came out of the shower, this guy who had been in treatment for a while had this boom-box. He had a Michael Jackson song playing. I had heard this song 1,000 times when I was getting high but never listened to the words. The song was Man in the Mirror. I just started crying. I made a promise to God that day that if he helped me get my life back that I would dedicate my life to helping people out of bad situations. I’ve lived my life to keep that promise ever since I made it.
BW: How long ago was that?
Marshall: 1998. The place that helped me get off the streets was Central Presbyterian. All the other churches around English Avenue told me they didn’t have any programs to help me. 23 different churches.
These people stopped to talk to me one day. They knew just from looking at me that I was an addict. They told me about this lady named Carol. Said she could help me. They told me I had to get there early to be seen, so I made it my business to walk from The Bluff to downtown and be the first person in line at 5 AM.
BW: Well, what got you there? What made you want to stop?
Marshall: I got sick and tired of being sick and tired. At one point I thought I was gonna die. I was ready to commit suicide.
I don’t share this with many people, but my mother committed suicide in active alcoholism. I had to identify her body. She jumped from that white apartment building across from the Art Center train station. You know, they have the glassed in patios? They glassed them in after she jumped from the 17th floor. She just got tired, like I was.
When I went to Central Presbyterian that morning to see Ms. Miller, I had a 38 strapped to my ankle. I told her, if she couldn’t help me that day that I was gonna walk out back of that church and shoot myself in the head cause I just couldn’t do it no more.
I’d been sleeping on the streets at that time for three weeks in abandoned houses. One of the houses was right next to the drug dealer. There was feces and piss all over the floor but I ended up staying in that house through outpatient treatment. They tried to put me in some shelters but they were getting high at the shelters. So, I stayed in that house. The drug dealer was actually happy for me. He said, “I’m really happy you getting clean cause you helped me buy my new Cadillac.” He even fed me.
I knew I had to stay clean. I looked like a skeleton. I weighed 127 pounds when I went to treatment. I hadn’t looked in a mirror in six months and when I did I didn’t recognize myself.
BW: I know you do a lot of work with people on the streets. Can you tell me about what you do when you’re out there?
Marshall: HIV testing, I have overdose reversal kits with me. I just got an organization to donate some pregnancy test kits. I offer them a way off the streets, if they want it. I use the harm reduction approach. I don’t try to make anybody do anything. I just let them know that when they’re ready, give me a call, no matter what time, day or night. I meet people right where they’re at and have frank conversations with them. I don’t force my views or my values on anybody. I just treat them with unconditional love. I don’t try to save nobody but I’m there when they’re ready to save themselves.
People know that I really care. I talk to them, hug them. I don’t care what they been doing or what they smell like or what drugs they been doing. I hug everybody and they know when I hug them that it’s a hug of love. I don’t judge them. It’s unconditional. I’ll love them whether they get clean or not.
You know what…after I paid the rent this week, I haven’t had no money since Monday. I haven’t even had two dimes to rub together but I’m richer than most folks that I know because of the work that I do.
I struggle every week and my biggest fear is being homeless and clean. That’s my biggest fear.
BW: Well, that’s why we’re here today. My partner Suzu told me that you’d been going through some hard times. I know you lost the apartment in The Bluff due to the owner of the place not paying his bills. She mentioned that you’d taken a spill down the stairs at this motel and you haven’t been able to work.
A few months ago I met a lady off of Fulton Industrial who was selling DVDs out of her backpack. People that follow the project gave me money to help her out with a place to stay. Unfortunately, I could never reconnect with her. The number I had for her was wrong and I went back several times to look for her but no luck. So, I’ve been sitting on this money and when I heard about your situation, it seemed like you could use a hand.
Marshall was grateful and immediately started talking about helping other people. Thank you to everyone who pitched in and help raise that money. You did a good thing and you helped someone out who spends their life helping other people out, right here in Atlanta.