Ron is a 55 year-old recovering heroin addict who has been sober for one year and off the streets for two.
I picked him up from a recovery center after his meeting with a counselor. He is currently on 35 milligrams of Methadone to ease the pain in his back that he had been self-medicating for 35 years with heroin. He got into a car accident at 15. His mother was driving, but put the car in cruise control after taking an overdose of sleeping pills. They crashed at 85 mph and somehow both survived, though maybe six years later his mother committed suicide. He ended up with a tangle of hanger wires in his back to hold it together–at least that’s how he described it to me. He looked like he was in pain when I picked him up, upper torso bent forward at a 45 degree angle.
His sister, with whom he is now living, has been calling the clinic, harassing the counselors there about the Methadone treatment. He says she wants him off the Methadone because he changes when he’s on it. But if he goes off the Methadone he’ll relapse, for sure, he says. “The pain is just too much to handle. I don’t know what else to do.” Says he is actually down from 55 mg of Methadone everyday to the 35 mg every other day. He’s doing well, but the pain is unmanageable at the present dosage. Actually needs to go back to the 55 mg dosage, despite his sister’s protestations. Counselors are amenable to that, but not to his sister’s constant calling.
“I’m going to have some words with her,” Ron said, as we were on the way back to his sister’s house, situated in an affluent suburb of South Orange County.
I asked him more about his life. He has two sisters and two brothers–one of whom went looking for him two years back and found him with his street family in a shopping center parking lot in the city of Bellflower. Said he couldn’t believe it when this man walked up to the group and asked if anyone knew of me. From there he spent some time in a motel where his brother put him up before his sister, the one in South OC, took him in.
He still keeps in touch with two of his friends, but the rest have died. He is lucky and grateful for his fortune, as he says.
I asked him what he thought about the forced movement of the homeless encampments along the Santa Ana riverbed some months ago. He spoke unfavorably of it. “We’re not harming anyone,” he said, “We’re just trying to live. Where do they expect us to go?” Said the police harassed him often when he was on the streets, treating him like a criminal and forcing him to pick up and move camp, shopping cart in hand, just as he would find a place to settle.
As I dropped him off, I watched him exit the car. His feet were a bit unsteady stepping out and his back hunched. I wished him well and told him I would keep him in my thoughts and prayers, wondering what would become of his recovery and whether or not his sister would ever come around.