Unforgettable, though near or far

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Orlando Guidry

by Orlando Guidry

I am the man I am today because of the work of countless individuals who have poured into me. teaching me how to uphold my values, strengthen my commitments and deepen my efforts to address recovery. I lost an entire generation of elders of my life – the ones who guided and aided me. Suddenly, when I looked up for guidance, all I saw was the sky. Then I began to unravel the trauma, break the shackles of bondage and secure my future. 

I was raised by a village that included two sets of grandparents, mom and dad too. I ask myself why did it take over 20 years of prison stints coupled with good intentions and dreams of grandeur that crippled me until I became the man I am today – sober, respectful, trustworthy, confident (not arrogant), lending a helping hand and leading a healthy lifestyle? Today, living my best life is about creating balance so that all of my successes – and failures – can co-exist. 

A Black man has to be willing to work harder than anyone else in the room. By putting in the work, even when you don’t feel like it, you’ll always be able to achieve results, whether it’s learning something, building something or changing something. 

My paternal grandfather influenced my life. He was an educator and administrator, a trailblazer in San Francisco. He was my biggest champion. I am who I am because he loved me. He’d be the loudest in the room when I was winning. His wisdom will be the shoulders I stand on. His tears broke my heart. His joy was my joy. 

When my grandfather looked at me, I wanted him to see me as a whole person. I disappointed him so many times. Since he’d watched me grow and transform from a baby to a man first hand, his face was etched in my mind each time I went to prison. The cell door shuts, a loud, eerie bang, then dead silence – a feeling like the end of things. 

He’d hoped it’d be my last time. I would give anything for him to see me today and the man I became. I vowed to spend the rest of my life being someone who he’d be proud to call his grandchild. 

We are better for having the opportunity to move his legacy forward to the next generation. Twenty years later at a retreat during a reenactment of the funerals I’d missed, I threw myself on the coffin and all I could do was holler, calling on the voices from the ancestors. I began the journey of healing – processing the anger, sadness, shame, guilt and anxiety. I was thinking how I helped put my grandma in the grave and stressed her out. Suddenly a still small voice said, “In order for you to make amends, you have to remain sober. Don’t let your momma, daddy, grandmoms and grandpops die in vain.” 

I was the little Black boy with curly hair and the toddler with a ponytail, cute on the outside and tough as nails on the inside. My dad worked at a local health facility as maintenance and he kept that job for years. My mom worked at a hotel. My parents were in the drug life too, selling and using. 

During my childhood in San Francisco, I witnessed violence and my parents exposed me to things I shouldn’t have seen or heard, from their domestic violence to violence inflicted on others. When my dad would hit my mom, he would make me call her Diane. When I was 4 years old, we were returning home from the Fourth of July celebration in Pleasantville and out of nowhere I said, “Diane, you really pissed me off.” My mom turned beet red and my dad and his friends were laughing. My dad said, “Baby, I got it.” My dad beat my 4-year-old behind. Then he told me, “That’s your mom and don’t disrespect her!” 

Another time when my parents were entertaining company at home and the Brady Bunch was on television, I liked Marsha Brady. My uncle said, “Who is that?” I looked around the room for approval and got the nod, and said, “That’s my Bitch,” they all laughed and I went back to my room. At that age I couldn’t connect my misbehavior to the positive reinforcement of being the center of attention.

My maternal grandparents were constants in our home. One day they counted $200,000 in a drawer. And they told my dad, you need to invest this money. They told him, “Y’all exposing that boy to too much gangster life.” My dad said, “I won’t let nothing happen to my family. The boy knows how to count money and can’t spell his name.”

When I was a teenager, I did what I saw in my home. I wanted to be like my father; he was glamorized by many, and people would tell me, “This is who you are destined to be.” So, that is what I aspired to be and do. 

I was 15 or 16 years old when I realized there was no fun in the game. The boys came to the neighborhood shooting it out and there I was hiding behind some cars. Me and my friends heard so much about the life, we would sit on the corner and talk about prison like we knew we’d be there one day. 

Looking back, we were not prepared for the traumatic event of being imprisoned. I thought I was a star in the dope game like Ron O’Neal in “Super Fly.” I looked the part. I was reckless and living life without a plan. One day I had an aha moment and I realized even though I was in the dope game, I lived from transaction to transaction – still the working poor. I had a steady customer, a Muni bus driver who drove a Marzari, and he’d spend $40 or better each day with me. One day he said, “You sell dope and that’s your car? Here it is I’m buying dope from you and you probably making more in a day than what I make in a month.”

I snorted coke at age 14. When I turned 19 or 20 years old, I’d smoke crack on the pipe, my ears opened up and bells were ringing. Because it felt so good, better than snorting heroin. Every day in the game, we’d finish up with our dope business, drink Grand Marnier, snort coke or heroin, and talk about the good ole times.

I vividly remember this day me and a partner was smoking dope in the apartment garbage

room. I remember thinking, “Is this the end?” I was reminiscing about living comfortably in these very apartments, and now here I was hanging in the trash room subjecting myself to all kinds of bacteria, smelling like crap. If a piece of crack falls on this floor, I’m going to pick it up and smoke it. 

One day I had six dollars and a bunch of products, and I looked up and snorted what I was supposed to be selling and my profit. I was laying up in the bed and my grandmom came in my room and I was crying. She looked at me and called my mom. My mom came in the house. “Where’s Lando?” grandmom said. “What’s wrong with your son?” 

My mom busted in the room with a smile on her face that quickly turned to pain like I had not seen before. She turned around and ran out the room and came back 20 minutes later with my stepdad. She said, “You’re dope sick, you think I don’t know what I’m looking at? You’re a dope fiend!” And she gave me two balloons. She told me to remember when we used to go to the clinic and you’d see me drinking that pink stuff. Then I remembered she told me it was Kool-Aid. I didn’t know it was methadone. “Stop saying that’s Kool-Aid, cause he’s going to see it laying around and drink it,” grandmom would say.

Seeing me dope sick, my mom said, “I’m going to tell your dad.” And she did. He flew up to the house. He had not been in my maternal grandparents’ home in years. He came downstairs and looked at me and said, “I never wanted to see you in this game. You allowed somebody to turn you into a dope fiend!” He checked my arms. He said, “You are too young to get on methadone!”

I was 19 when I went to prison for the first time in San Mateo County where I committed my first heinous crime. I didn’t know all the big money from car sales goes to the bank, not the showroom. The dealership had Jaguars, Mercedes – luxury rides – and I just knew there was going to be a lot of money. I made the man take off his jewelry and give me the cash. On the way back, I was thinking I’d scored big, $30,000-$40,000. Shame on me; it was $250, a $100 bill and the rest ones.

I fled in a stolen car trying to outrun the police. They chased me and I hopped the fence and was greeted by a huge Saint Barnard. I walked to the bus stop, got on the bus and sat in the handicap seat, looking horrible. The bus takes off. And the passengers kept looking at me. Then the police lights and sirens started going off behind the bus.

This Caucasian lady said to me, “Whatever you did, God will forgive you.” The cops ran on the bus and asked the passengers and driver, “Did he get on at that stop?” They grabbed me and my gun fell out. The police sergeant said, “This is not Los Angeles and you’re not Rodney King.” 

Later I found out that the victim told the police, “The kid needs help!” and he came to my court hearing and testified to the same. I quickly learned that San Mateo County wasn’t playing. I was facing 12 years. The judge gave me five years, since it was my first time going to prison. I’d only been to county jail before. He thought I could be rehabilitated.

I got arrested in October 1990, and went to prison around March 1991. I came home August 14,1994. I had a plan, had my mind made up. When I came home it took less than 24 hours for me to pick up the pipe. I went back to jail two weeks later after doing the five years. For that second prison stent, I did eight months. And within those eight months, my mom died. I suffered in silence, traumatized.

Then I caught a burglary case and got 16 months as a new commitment. I came home on Sept. 26, 1996, and stayed home maybe a month. And then went back to jail on a violation. I got caught with some dope. I went to do the violation and did a year at Mill Street Prison, and came home on Dec. 7, 1997, my daddy’s birthday, and stayed out three days.

I got home and got back in the game like I’d never left. This next time, I went to jail since I had a case on top of the violation, and they sent me to a program, Roads of Recovery. The next thing I knew someone came up representing recovery. I was tired and thought I’d give it a try. Cregg Johnson, Cedric Akbar and Lee Boone from Positive Directions Equals Change, who were also affiliated with Roads of Recovery, started helping me. Through their advocacy I accepted probation and parole and served one year and got released. 

Unfortunately, when I got out, I forgot all about Positive Directions, and about 19 days later the police knocked down the door of a trap house I was in. Since the police knew my history and that I was a repeat offender, I was violated. This time I was sentenced at San Quentin for six months with no hold, but they kept me in orange.

I was eventually paroled out of there and went home, doing me. I stayed out two weeks, and then went right back to prison, this time at San Bruno, where they ran my parole and probation together. I stayed in the county jail for eight months.

I got out and moved to Pittsburg. I came home hugged my family, stayed about a month and went back to San Francisco where I was right back in jail. I was reintroduced to Roads to Recovery. When Cregg and Cedric saw me, they said, “You tired yet?” I was blaming everyone else for my mistakes. My grandfather would say, “When is it going to be your fault? That’s why you keep going back cause it’s never your fault!” The truth hurt and it hurt deeply.

At this time my father, who was out of prison and doing a program at Walden House, told me, “There’s a new sheriff in town – it’s Recovery.” After my second go round at Roads to Recovery, I got grounded, but not enough to keep me sober.

I was off and running in Lakeview, my familiar territory, doing me – smoking dope and hustling. This time I’m in the car with my female friend, when the police rode up on us and began to harass me. I had dope in the car and got sent back to jail.

Now I have a violation with a new beef. I was sitting on 6 South, believing I just need to ride out this time at County. I got Judge Sims, known for this tough love and long sentences. Judge Sims came to my hearing and told the prosecutor, “He’s been back and forth to prison.” They allowed me to go to Walden House and waive my time and now I was ready to get sober. 

I got to Walden House and that plan to do good was short lived. I got caught up with people, places and things. Next thing I knew, I was walking through the door at Walden House for using. Still not ready to give up the life, I went back to my criminal behavior.

I ended up in prison again, this time at Vacaville, where I served six years and some change. This time didn’t seem as hard as the others. I’d had time to reflect. God helped me when He knew I didn’t have the strength to fix my problems. This was my last hurrah. My heart was shattered when I learned my grandmom had passed. I had only two months left. I sat on my cot in prison wishing I was at her deathbed holding her hand and letting her know I’d finally started to process the trauma, make amends and become accountable for the mistakes I’d made.

I meant what I said: I wasn’t going to let my people die in vain. When I came home this time, I knew I needed to be accountable. I didn’t drink any homemade wine or take any mind-altering substances, not even a cigarette for about a whole year.

My cousin Darryll was there to get me when I was released. For years my long hair was a big part of my identity. When I showed up, I was bald headed and looked different; no more Jeri Curl or Ron O’Neil wanna be. I went to my sister’s in Fillmore, and I called Shedrick Ferguson who I hadn’t talked to in eight years. He said, “What are you going to do? Stop playing and come to PD. I’m going to pick you up for group on Friday.” 

He picked me up and we went to Group. As soon as I entered the room Na’im Harrison walked up and hugged me. Then Cedric walked in and said, “Man I thought you was dead!” Cregg said, “That’s Lando!” And then they went to work on me in Group. Na’im said, “Let’s keep him.” Cedric said, “You’re going to come to the office every day.” Cregg said, “Turn your brain off. You’ll be like a video game. You just put the footwork in.”

That was Friday, and I gave everybody my number. On that following Monday, I was supposed to go to the PD office to be there when it opened until it closed. I did that. It was Tuesday and I went along with the plan, up to the office on the third floor and there weren’t many people there. I was bored. I didn’t have anywhere to go. Cedric said, “Sit your ass down and be bored around here. Be still!” The way he said it wasn’t an option. I’ve been working hard on sobriety ever since.

Cedric took me to Mother Brown’s, and then he took me to get my driver’s license. Charles Nicholson, Reggie Boyer, Na’im, Cedric, Cregg and Shedrick walked me through the process. And, at that point I didn’t want to do anything to stay sober. They took this wretched man and put him back together. 

Here were men just like me with a little of nothing making a way for others and doing a good job. Positive Directions’ intentions were real, not for show. I knew that was where I wanted to be. They instilled in me how important it is to give back and giving back to family and everyone who stuck by me in good and bad times to remain sober, to remain reliable, to be everything I wasn’t in the past. To take care of my paternal grandma, take her to the store. It put a feeling in me to see her smile.

My view of recovery as a free man at first was not using drugs, but you gotta put some work in, work on some stuff you have kept hidden, work on yourself. And have compassion for other people. I came from being a problem, and now I’m part of the solution. So many people helped me, so who am I to be stingy with this gift to help others. You can offer me a job at the White House; this is what I want to do. I will always have several jobs, and my main job is helping other people in recovery. This is what I’m built for. I’m not perfect, but I’m not the last one at the bowl either.

Even being in recovery, I’ve taken a lot of hits, losing family members and dealing with those feelings without getting high to cover up how I am processing the loss. I’ve learned life goes on. I have eight children, and I helped support them as best I can. My youngest is 19, then 22, 26, 28, 30, 32, 32; my daughter is the oldest at 33. I have seven grandkids, and one on the way. All they know is papa; that’s me. My three-bedroom house was filled with eight of us. I thank my wife for this beautiful blended family. 

No matter the challenges, she reminds me, “We’re going to be alright.” I learned to let go and came to the realization that some people are part of your history, but not a part of your destiny. Success is not final; failure is not fatal; it’s the courage to continue that counts. I keep pushing forward.

If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Positive Directions Equals Change, a community-based organization in the Bayview, offers classes and support groups each day of the week. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (415) 401-0199 or email our team at: contact@positivedirectionsequalschange.org. And visit our website at www.positivedirectionsequalschange.org.