I grew up in a drug and crime-addicted family. I was raised in the streets of Oakland. Really that’s all I knew — the life of crime, drugs, and stuff like that. I never made it to high school. I barely completed middle school. I started running in the streets and selling drugs, then doing drugs, at a young age.
My mom was always in and out of prison growing up, but always there—in my life. The last time she was out, I went to stay with her, and we had that whole year together. Then suddenly she passed away. It was completely unexpected. That was my superhero—my best friend. Everything started spiraling from there. I started to get heavy into drugs and criminal activity. I ended up breaking my leg from running from the police, and actually almost lost my leg entirely due to an infection later on.
Eventually, I ended up getting caught by the police—they rescued me. I spent almost a year in jail, worked on my GED, and really took that time to get back to me.
I had always wanted to change, but I didn’t know how to change. I had always wanted that responsible life, but I never knew how to get it. I always wanted to have a job and be a productive member of society, I just thought it was too late to get there — that you had to start at a younger age and I’d already missed that opportunity.
Someone told me about the Father Alfred Center and how it was a working program, and that’s always something I’ve wanted to do — get a job and save money.
When I got close to my release date, I was still in a wheelchair due to my leg. The nurse practitioner didn’t want to sign off on the Father Alfred Center program since it was a working program and I wasn’t mobile yet. But I prayed to my mom and just said, pleeease let me get this program. Please mom, just give me one shot; talk to God or whoever is up there with you and allow me to get this. The next day the nurse practitioner finally cleared me.
You know what really got me about the Father Alfred Center? It was Father Alfred Boeddeker’s story. We were in orientation and they explained how Father Alfred Boeddeker started this, how he would go through the Tenderloin and hand out sandwiches and lunches and stuff, right? And the demand got overwhelming, so he would ask people for help handing out the sandwiches in exchange for a place to stay. And he was doing that for a couple people, but then it eventually transformed into [this whole thing]. So that really got me. I knew at that moment that I was in the right spot because helping the community grow is what I’m all about. Community service was a big part of my recovery — not only doing it for my community, but doing it for myself.
Throughout the year, people kept telling me [I should become a counselor], but I was hesitant. After I completed the program, the staff at FAC asked me to keep working there and I did for the next two years. Eventually, they helped put me through school to get my counselor license. I graduated in March and was recently promoted to counselor here.
I really enjoy what I do. Seeing these guys grow and being able to reach them on a different level because I’ve been there — I know how hard it can be. We’re here to help people, no matter what. Some people come in here with no family, no support, but I’m like ‘well you got me, so we’re gonna do this together.’
Recovery is to regain the things that you lost… But for me, it was to obtain the things I never had in life, that I always wanted. And a strong recovery is building a foundation of people who are on the same path or who support your path because 2 is better than 1.The relationships I’ve gained at the Father Alfred Center have blossomed into a brotherhood. In this life you lose people, but you also gain people that are forever.
I love this foundation. I love everything it represents. This place has changed my life and many people’s lives. And it’s allowed me to obtain so many things I never thought I could. You know, I was homeless 5 years ago and now I have a beautiful family, am engaged, and just bought my first house. People rely on me now, and I want to be a part of that change for these guys here too. I was willing to do whatever it took to change, whatever I had to do to not go back to that life, I was willing to do it. I just want to show these guys at FAC that anybody can do this.
Justin currently works as a counselor at Father Alfred Center, dedicating his career to helping and motivating others in their recovery.