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FROM DOPE TO HOPE
"I used to be a 'dope addict', addicted to heroin! Now I'm a 'Hope Addict' addicted to the word of God!"
This is my refrain NOW, since only God was able to spare the torture that ended in 1965. It all began with a poverty stricken childhood; but there was nothing obscure about my first stretch in Lincolndale Boy's Reformatory in New York. My year there was the payoff on the investment I made during the five years that led up to the sentencing.
Skipping school was a "kick". I would often sneak across the schoolyard, and then hop over the rock wall and into Central Park across 5th Avenue. Church and Sunday School were "bummers". I nodded my way through the Bible stories of David and Jonah, I knew something about religion, but I was not interested because I did not know Jesus, the Christ.
At the age of 12, I graduated from childhood truancy into adult delinquency, where a good time meant going out and getting drunk with the boys of our street club, the "Puerto Rican Knights". My initiation into adult delinquency began one rum-soaked night, when I smoked the first "joint" (marijuana) at a dance hall (Oddfellows Temple) on 106th and Park Avenue in New York City.
Pot, rum, and burglary lead me to the "bar of justice" on a charge of burglary and possession of stolen property. The next step was spending time at Lincolndale's School for Wayward Boys, a Catholic Convent. I began to view God as someone you use only to bail you out of your troubles. I entered Lincolndale a thrill-seeker and left it a God-user.
As soon as I hit the streets, I started upping my daily whiskey intake to a full pint, and my drug dependency was deepening. The ever-increasing demand for more money led me into armed robberies.
Strange, hallucinatory inner drives threatened to destroy me. They first appeared as a voice urging me to blast the brains out of a helpless holdup victim under circumstances, which made escape impossible (?).
Not long thereafter, loaded on "pot", standing on the edge of the subway platform, the light of the oncoming train triggered that same devilish voice within me to say, "Jump, jump just to see what will happen"; as if I didn't know! It was an act of God's grace that landed me in the Elmyra Reformatory at age 16 as the result of a drug related armed robbery.
At the Elmyra Reception Center, the shock of a maximum 30-year sentence filled my consciousness. The "Big Time" at last! This enforced retreat from society converted my Elmyra "pad" into a God-user's prayer cell for the next three years. Finally, released on parole with a promise of dropping the remainder of the 30-year sentence if I stayed "clean" for three years, I soon forgot all of the prayer promises I had made.
Again on the streets, I found life to be filled with emptiness and boredom. The void was soon filled with old associations, old ways, and drugs! Only one thing was different. Heroin was gaining an ever-increasing control of my life.
A check-forging incident landed me into the Danbury Federal Penitentiary and a return to Elmyra, then to Compstock State Prison. Three years later, I walked out of the gates with an ever-developing bitterness. My parole years were spent in pursuing freedom, but not being able to abstain from heroin use, abuse, and addiction. I tried desperately to stop this heroin monster that constantly demanded its "junk" ration, but found I could not stop. I had no choice! By then, "drug pushing" was survival.
"Pushing" (drugs) lashed(?) me into a life of total terror! "Narcos", "pushers", "junkies", police, neighbors, and even family became enemies that could cut me off from the drug for which cravings were ever-growing. I had a "habit" that couldn't be controlled. I was constantly "fixing", or "Shooting up". Disillusioned and bitter, I hated everyone, including God and myself.
The transformation to a "Hope Addict" began with much misgiving. My drug supply exhausted, I faced the torture of "withdrawal". Having neither "bread" (money), nor a welcome mat at home, imagine my letdown when, in 1965, the Teen Challenge Center of Los Angeles (a Christian Rehabilitation Home) who took me in, greeted me with, "We can't help you. Jesus is the only one who can help you".
I had cursed God angrily in the past. Now I heard others like myself telling how God performed miracles in answer to prayers. Doubt was added to doubt within me. I thought it impossible that the God, whom I had cursed so often, would have any kind of miraculous, loving compassion for me, as to deliver me from the agony of my "withdrawals". It just could not be! I could not believe in a miracle-working God who would perform in my behalf!
All that first evening at the Center, a record player kept repeating the song "I Believe in Miracles", over and over again. I wanted so much to believe but I was afraid to hope that maybe, just maybe, God would help me. I finally prayed, "God, if its true what these people are saying, if its true what my mother says, ... I don't want a miracle in my life because You know I don't believe in them. I just want You to help me with the "withdrawals" for the next three days. I want to be able to 'make it' this time". Then, I made sure that God would not misunderstand me. I promised him nothing and told him so, and then I got into bed and slept through the night, awakening only once.
On the third morning, I was like a man who had risen from the dead! Not a pain, not a twitch, not a tremor had touched my body over the course of the acute phase of withdrawals. Instead, I was eating well and keeping the food down. My mind was clear and, furthermore, I had a new sense of well-being!
Now, in the year 2000, over 35 years have passed since that miraculous event and, with God's complete cure, I have yet to feel any "withdrawal" pains or cravings. It has been as though I have never used drugs. It was this personal experience with God that freed me from a horrible pit and taught me that God really cares.
Now, I have turned on to a new "kick", which is perpetual, the search to know more about my saving Jesus. The Bible tells about this Jesus, so I became an avid Bible student. I placed my faith in Jesus and my life has been transformed. I formally lived by the needle, now I live by the Bible. I am now transformed from a "Drug Addict" to a "Bible Addict". I am now addicted to the Word of God! I used to inject a needle into my vein, but now I inject the Bible into my brain - praise the Lord, Jesus!
Inspiration has been added to my life through faith in the Word of God, the Bible, as I have become aware of its promises; especially the challenge made by our Lord, Jesus, when he says, "Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I shall give you rest! Take my yoke upon you and learn of me!"
Not only did the Lord instruct me to learn of him, but He also made it possible by placing me in a Bible Institute, as a residential student from 1965 to 1968, where I could be rooted and grounded in Him.
But listen! It is no secret what God can do! What he has done for others, He can do for you! Especially when your life is described by the following passages of His scripture:
"Have mercy upon me, oh Lord, for I am in trouble; mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly. For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing; my strength faileth because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed. I was a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbors, and a fear to mime acquaintance; they that did see me without, fled from me. I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind; I am like a broken vessel. But I trust in Thee, oh Lord; I said, 'Thou art my God! My times are in Thy hand' " (Psalms 31:9-15a)
Chaplain Raymond Feliciano