Vincent Turner

Vincent Turner once lived on the streets of Los Angeles, in a liquor store parking lot. He tried to build barriers to keep others out because he was disappointed with himself. He knew he was hurting himself and he didn’t like hurting others. When he was ready for change, he used the one bus token in his pocket to go to the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row. They took him in, he worked through their program, and now that he has graduated from it, he works there as a maintenance technician and has his own apartment.

“When I got out the military, my mother passed away. I was 22. That hit me like a ton of bricks. When your mother’s eyes are not on you, you do anything you want. So when she went to heaven, I figured out, what I got to live for? Who I got to stay straight for? Then I got wild, you know what I mean?”

“I had a very good upbringing. It was me that took me to the streets for several different reasons which I didn’t understand at that time. But it was like a lot of grief and loss going on in my life. A lot of misunderstanding. I was raised in Compton, California, so that was an area with drugs and alcoholic and gang bang. And you know, it was my choice, and I wasn’t forced in it. It came upon me and it was exciting, but I didn’t know the ups and downs until I got into the thick of it.

It did change my life, to where I was more away from my family and more in the streets. That started in high school…16, 17, 18. Then I went to the military after high school, and things didn’t turn out too well in the military. So that was trying to do something, but it didn’t work out. It felt like a loss in my life. It kind of depressed me. So when coming back to civilian life, I had to try to find a job, had ups and downs with that. Started affiliating back with the gang members, in and out of prison, been shot a couple of times.

Wherever the gangs or whatever the drugs were, I was there, but it got down to where I was living in a neighborhood parking lot. A store liquor store. Everybody that knew me, I could stay in contact with them, but I could keep my distance from them because I felt bad for myself, but I didn’t like hurting them right in front of their face. They used to come by—my brother, lady, friends and stuff like that—bring the food.

One particular time my brother had called me on a Thursday night. He said, I’m gonna need your help to change one of my daughter’s brakes. So I said, okay, I’ll be ready. But now I knew I was going to make money the next day. So I was drinking, smoking and having a good time. So when the next morning came and he pulled up, he just looked at me and said, I can’t use you like this no more. He said it’s hard on him and harder for me to get out of that rut. And he just drove off. I had a few words I said, but he was driving off. I was disappointed at myself, but mad at him for not helping me. It was his choice.

Then later on that day one of the lady friends named Gina pulled up. She had a bag of food.
She said you need to stop. Stop hurting yourself, hurting me. So she gave me the food and drove off. Well, that started sticking.

So that Friday, and then Saturday morning, I just woke up with a feeling of sorrow and sadness, but I knew I had to do something. So Sunday morning came and I was still laying there, but I refused to drink. I refuse to get high that day for some odd reason. Something was over. I was fighting a battle inside me. So the sun’s going down. I’m like, what should I do?

And I thought about the Union Rescue Mission, and lo and behold, I had one bus token in my pocket. So I put it in there, came on down here and I started the journey of the program.

First six months, I didn’t own a cell phone and I wouldn’t get on general relief because money and things like that can take you off focus. I started learning that from what my brother was saying, don’t get in there and try to clean up too fast. That’s a bad thing. People do. We clean up too fast. We get little money in our pockets. We communicate with the outside world too fast. We started letting their problems be our problems.

You need to help yourself. So this time around, I started clinging to the Bible studies, clinging to everything that was positive. If you constantly work on one thing, you get more successful at it. So as time went by, that was helping me learn how to deal with my own emotions, my own fears. If I fear something, I had to challenge it to get over that feeling. I didn’t know that people was going to die and to understand how life and death work. You be you, you grieve, but you can’t go into pity because that’s where the PCP used to help me blank stuff out. I got sad, go get loaded in the car, go away. But you realize, when you come down, you’re right back at it, it’s still there.

So I found out if you don’t do what takes you out for a minute and just ride it like a wave, you can last longer.

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So I had the graduation and I got the job. I saved up. I had that funny feeling like if you move out, will it work? But you know, I said, it’s got to work because I had all the means to move. So I moved to Huntington Park, which is 50 minutes away from the job. So I’m able to go get a peace of mind after work. I didn’t have no struggles. Pay your rent, pay your bills, come to work. It’s helping me at this specific moment to stay connected with the sobriety and to understand that I know life goes on.

See, I got over that fear that I can’t accomplish something in my life, ‘cause it’s been a period of time that I went further than I’ve been before and it’s still working.

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When I got out the military, my mother passed away. I was 22. That hit me like a ton of bricks. When your mother’s eyes are not on you, you do anything you want. So when she went to heaven, I figured out what I got to live for? Who I got to stay straight for? Then I got wild, you know what I mean? ‘Cause I didn’t have that pair of eyes here, or that voice to talk to.

But my father sat down and he said, do you know you are not right? He made me see that he was hurting, too. He said, that’s my wife. That was your mother, but I’m still all right with it. I was mad at him, my siblings, God for taking her. So their pain didn’t make me no difference. My pain was more intense, which it should have just been the same kind of level. But that feeling? That’s feeling sorry for yourself and drugs—it makes you feel sorry, but it makes you feel worthy of that.

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I was just drawn here. [to the shelter] Something brought me here. And I guess it was the holy spirit because I wanted something better, but I couldn’t get it sitting around people drinking. [I tried to clean up before] And I did it all too fast. I did it one time because the courts ordered me. And the other time I did it for a person, but I found out I needed to do it for me.

 [I asked my friend] Jeremiah Johnson, how do you do this? He said, man, what I didn’t do yesterday, I’m not going to do today. He said, if I didn’t mess with drugs yesterday, I’m not going to mess with them the next day. He said, it’s so simple. It’s like passing a urine test. Only one way you can pass a urine test is don’t use. I mean, they got all these little chemicals and stuff you can put in your urine to pass, but are you being right with yourself? He said, you’re just hurting yourself. So you gotta just go step-by-step.

AA meetings, CA meetings is all good for some people, but it is not good for me because it’s like this interview, it’s a double-edged sword. You bring back up stuff that died. That’s buried. I don’t think about this every day. But when you talk about it, you have to shake it off. All of them memories start coming back. So I have to be cautious to remember that the demonic forces of Satan is always trying to tempt. See? And especially when you sleep at night, you can be going fine, but you can have one of these rollercoaster dreams that would send you to the loops when you wake up in the morning. But that was just a dream. I have a purpose in life. I need to make my coffee. Get me a little breakfast. I need to go to work and don’t dwell on the dream because dreams can take you so far to where you might run into something on your way to work that could distract you. So you have to stay prayed up. You got to stay strong. You got to believe that you have a purpose.

I’m being honest with myself. I have to sit back maybe a few minutes later, say like, okay, we talked about that. Ain’t nothing changed. But I could change it if I don’t keep my mind right. See, I make the choices. God just gave me the blessings to keep staying stable. But as a man, we can choose what we want.

It’s like we jinx ourselves to believe something can happen. If I say, I got to go up on this big ladder, I can’t think about falling. I got to think about finishing the job. See, if I could get up there and think I’m gonna fall, most likely I’m gonna fall because that’s the only thing on my mind. I’m going to slip. I’m focused to be positive and think that this ain’t my last day. I don’t know when my last day is, but I can say that this ain’t going to be the last day because I’m not going to put that in my spirit for an accident to happen. Sometimes we make our own situations worse. You got to keep some kind of control of your mind.

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If you got something to give me and I got my hands like this [closed], how can I receive it? I have to let go of what I got that I’m holding on to, to receive anything. So you can see, garbage got to come out for something new to come in. You have to start being honest with yourself. You can’t hold this garbage. It’s trash. You have to open up everything, pour everything out. If you take all the garbage out, all this dope and drinking, you’ll be able to receive something better. It makes room for something else.

You got to know if you run your batteries down, you need to get a charger. You don’t need to get another dead battery and try to connect. See that made sense to me. Like going to Bible study, that’s a charge. Going to the pub or the bar, that’s a discharge. You’re not going to get nothing helpful right there. You got to find the right charging stations.

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I know it’s been maybe six, seven years [that I’ve been sober], but I don’t count. It was a saying that I picked up off of a magazine and it was pertaining to when you’re in prison, you count days. But when you’re in normal life, you need to make every day count. So I don’t sit back and say, I got another day sober. What I want to say at the end of the day is I fixed this room, I put these pictures up. I did my job for the day. It makes you a better person. When you don’t count days, you make days count.”

Vincent Turner interview

Discussion questions:

-What are the things that take you away from your focus, or derail your goals?

-Have you ever had to keep people away for fear of causing them pain?

-Have you ever had to keep people away to protect your own progress? Your own happiness?

-When has an event been so traumatic that it altered the course of your life?

-Do you know anyone who has struggled with housing insecurity? With mental illness? With substance abuse?

-Vincent doesn’t count his days of sobriety. He makes his days count. How do you make your days count?

-What is a good “charging station” for you? What drains your charge?

-Vince suggests that when we experience pain for ourselves, it becomes more difficult to recognize the pain in others. Have you experienced this?

-Have you ever found rock bottom? What ket you going?

-Is there a housing crisis in your community?

-Have you directly engaged with people who are experiencing homelessness?

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