Carlos Diaz, Downtown Boston

“When I was around the age around between 12 and 13 years old, I started being around adult people, and they were smoking. To me to feel part of them, I started trying marijuana- reefer- when they’re going out to racing cars, smoking, drinking. I feel I was part of the atmosphere of them. It was like bringing part of me to life.

When I get home, late at night, my mother is waiting for me in the door. And she started screaming at me. And she threatened to put me in foster homes. And I say to her, “Okay, okay, okay, I’m not doing.” And the next day, I’m doing it all over again.

At the same time, when I was home, I found my uncle doing heroin. I saw my uncle inject himself. I told him, I never tried that part. The part I tried was cocaine. Sniffing cocaine. And smoking reefer.

When I started getting older, I started distributing drugs to society. I was selling it to the older person, to the younger person. The younger person, God forgive me, but it was around 9, 10 years old kids.

The mother would send him to give the drugs. I used to put it in paper bag. They give me my money, I send it home. Some people would send it in the food stamps porque years ago, they give you money. And I buy that, too. Money was money. The only thing I seen was money. I don’t care what life I was destroying.

The same time, I was sniffing the coke. I was trading heroin for coke. I was trading it for reefer, black beauty, acid—and I was doing all that myself.

The Move

When I came in here (to Boston five years ago), I came in here broke like God send me to the world, with nothing on me—only the clothes on my back and no place to go. I went to St. Francis House. The one director in there, he said he was going to help me out, and the first night when I was going to go to sleep, they sent me to Long Island shelter.

The boss take you down there, and when I look at myself, where I was was, I say—God forgive me, I say—I’m in hell. Sorry the language, but that what’s that was. They woke me up between 4 in the morning and 5 o’clock in the morning—the most late you could stay in there was until 9 o’clock. And they kick you out to the street.

Every morning, I go- around 5 in the morning, I come to downtown, from there (in Quincy), to here, and I start walking the street. So I meet a few people. I meet this lady. She was like a lady with the drugs. She need some people to work for her, and I did it. I used to go to her house, pick it up the drugs, take the orange train, with the drugs on me, and go to Mass Avenue, see the person I was supposed to see, get the money, and go back.

I was getting $25 for each trip. I was trying to do the most trips I can to get the $25. Only thing I was thinking was to get the $25—to get money in my pocket.

The same time I was getting it, I was spending it. I meet a young lady, we buy the 45 beers—called 45s—and go to the park, sometimes to the liquor store, and get drunk.  Most of the time when I was getting drunk, I started puking.  And that’s when I said, “I have to change.”

Finding Family

I meet a lady in St. Francis House, Spanish-speaking lady, and I say, where can I go to a Spanish church? And she take me to the Salvation Army. I meet the pastor. I tell a little bit about my life to him. I started going to church every Sunday. I stayed cleaning, washing dishes. I started retreat from that kind of life.

The church opened the door on me. Sometimes I no like to get close to people. Most of the time I stay alone. And when I’m in there, I feel like a part of family. That’s why I started changing my life. People started opening their heart to me. They accepted me for who I am. How much I changed.

Sometimes I get depressed. Sometimes I think about my family. On special holidays, Christmas, I feel lonely. I want to escape. I want to pick a beer or a shot of whiskey or smoke reefer and push people away from me.

The day of my birthday, I used to share that with people, I do no such thing, I’m just keeping it for myself. Isolating. Unless I go for a walk. I walk sometimes from downtown to South side to the beach, sometimes walk to Cambridge, Charles River.

And sometimes, the pastor call me, he asked me, how I am, where I am, what I’m doing. I say, “I’m doing fine, fine. I’m staying out of trouble.” He say, “You not been coming here too much.”  I say, “No, no, no.” I started creating like a kind of story. I know I’m lying to the pastor, but when my mind started clearing up, I go back to him, I say, “Pastor, I need to talk to you.”

The Shift

St. Francis, he got a program in there, he call it the Next Step. They got the Spanish support group in there. You got 15 or 16 week class and you share your life history too and then they teach you how to use computer, go out in the field to look for a job.

I started looking for the opportunity to go back to society. I was blaming society for my fail. It was me fail myself, not society. And they started giving me a push. They found me a temporary room for 16 weeks, living there, going to classes Monday through Friday. To do all this, it had to come from inside of me, to change a way of thinking.

Most of the time, the problems coming when other people influences. You wanted to fit to that kind of people, so you got como 10 people, and one out of the 10 is bad, the other nine is started going to this thing and that’s where everything come up. I started telling to people, “Don’t do that.”

They ask me, “ Hey, bro, you looking for something?”

“Excuse me: let me tell you right now. Don’t even mention nothing.”

I cross the street, jump on the bus, go to the Salvation Army. I go in there, I stay there, a whole day sometime.

The Dream

Right now the governor is the one taking care of me because I am over 62 years old and the governor is giving me income.  I went for interviews but these new places want younger people to work and they say “Don’t call me, I call you.” I applied to UPS when they were doing the Christmas packing temporary. They turned me down. I went to car dealers, to car wash and they turned me down. I went to the regular garage. I tell them I even sweep the floor and they said no they don’t have that much.

When I got the (permanent) room (at St. Francis House), the first thing that came out of my mouth was: thank you, Lord, for holding me up. Thank you for giving me this room, and blessing me with someplace to go every night.  That room, it was like a blessing from the Lord, because I expect I never going to get it, living in there. When I got that room, I was in Cloud Nine. I was happy.

But from my heart, my mind, my feelings, my dream is to have an apartment. I like to have my own place to live, and that’s like an apartment, where you can move everywhere. I don’t feel isolated. Sometimes, that four walls get to me. Pero I have to share the kitchen, the restroom, and in my own place I don’t have to do that. That’s me– to walk around my own place the way I want to walk.

Advice for other addicts

My advice, really, from my heart, my mind, my feelings, is to share to him part of me. And the second thing is, he has to open up, to reach out to people, and really the people he wants, the people he loves. Because drugs, any kind of drugs, destroy family.

You see, you have your mother, your father—even the way they are, you have to tell them, “I love you.” So you don’t want to go to mother, father? Go to priest, go to a pastor, go to a person you feel safe and secure to open up. Because you no open up, you going to destroy your life. And that’s where my trouble is. That’s why I say the church is my family. Because I feel the pastor, the pastora, I can open up to them. And that’s what somebody need.”

UPDATE: Carlos found a job and is now working regularly.

Listen to more of Carlos’ story on Soundcloud. He was interviewed by story ambassador Carmen Pola. The interview was transcribed and edited for length, clarity and flow by Cara Solomon, founder of Everyday Boston, in partnership with Carmen.