by Wayne T. Dowdy
Some terms I use in this blog may be offensive, even though that is not my intent. Political correctness isn’t my cup of tea. If you are sensitive and feel offended by terms that appear insensitive, please read some of my other blogs. I have a variety to choose from, including some of which stick in my mind: “From Where Do Writers Root”; “Social Media for Writers”; “Vacation in Prison”; “The Truth About Incarceration”; “Gratitude & More”; “A Spiritual Journey”; “Love & Evil Are Color Blind”; “Southern Pride: Waving a Confederate Flag”; “We Are the Cancer”; “No Sympathy”; “Reentering Reality.”
BURNING BRIDGES: Metaphorically, I burned down many bridges during the early years of my life. I am sure many others will identify with burning down metaphorical bridges; especially, those with a history of drug abuse, alcoholism, and criminal lifestyles.
When a person reaches out to help someone and gets taken advantaged of or injured in the process, a bridge gets torched. Today I work on constructing bridges rather than burning them.
CRACKHEAD: I use the term “crackhead” to paint an image of someone who commits an act or says something that defies logic or doesn’t make sense. The way I use crackhead, it does not necessarily have to do with someone who smokes crack, though most crack smokers do qualify for what the term denotes that others coined for their behavior.
I often say, “He smoked one too many crack rocks.” I do not mean for it to be demeaning, insulting, or belittling, though it sometimes is. I also apply the term to some who never seen a crack rock, whose actions warrant the label.
In this blog, I refer to a person as a crackhead but cannot say he ever smoked crack, even though the media reported that he did. His extensive criminal record helps show he’s a crackhead, regardless of whether he smoked crack; however, he is innocent of the alleged crimes until proven guilty.
Addicts, alcoholics, and criminals burn more bridges in a year than can be built in a thousand. But one crackhead in Atlanta, Georgia, stands accused of burning a bridge so big that locals will remember its burning more so than the telling of General Sherman terrorizing the City during the Civil War, when he marched through it on September 1, 1864, burning buildings to the ground.
TRAITOR OR WISE MAN: When General William Tecumseh Sherman marched through Atlanta, he spared the Peters’ house, an Antebellum era mansion that rests on a city block.
Because of General Sherman’s mercy, I lived in a real mansion for a while. I posthumously thank him for sparing his torch on such a beautiful house.
I reckon I also forgive Mr. Peters for being a traitor when he helped the invaders. I thank him, too, for leaving behind his mansion for me to live in. Well, maybe he didn’t leave it just for me, but because he did leave it behind, I did get to capitalize on his kindness and successful lifestyle, even if just for a moment.
A HISTORICAL MANSION IN ATLANTA: “The Mansion” sat on a small hill, surrounded by concrete sidewalks on Myrtle Street, Piedmont Ave., Ponce de Leon Ave., and North Ave. The only other structure on the block was a tiny flower shop called Love for Sale that sat on the corner of Myrtle Street and Piedmont Avenue.
Sherman spared the mansion because of the hospitality shown to him and his soldiers by Mr. Peters.
The Mansion sat up the road from “The Bridge,” allegedly burned down by a crackhead. (Read below for “A CRACKHEAD AND A BURNING BRIDGE.”)
LESS KNOWN ATLANTA HISTORY: In December of 1971, I helped five other “residents” restore the Peters’ Mansion before Dante, the owner of Down the Hatch in Underground Atlanta, bought it for one and a half million dollars to turn into one of Atlanta’s famous restaurants, appropriately named, “The Mansion.”
CHRYSALIS: “a pupa of a butterfly : … : a sheltered state or stage of being or growth.” Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed.
All six residents (three boys and three girls), were adolescent addicts and juvenile delinquents. We were the first members to join Chrysalis–a residential drug program–created by Bob Griffith, who managed to get use of the Mansion to start the program. Three volunteer staff members assisted him at providing us with unconditional love to help us gain control of our lives, to help us change its direction.
I rejected their love and failed. At fourteen-years dumb, as is common for anyone that age who thinks they have all the answers, my decision making ability suffered. Spiritually, I lacked honesty, humility, and the willingness to follow directions, three major components for recovery.
I rebelled against authority and aborted the mission after four months, to go on to spend most of my life confined in correctional facilities, designed to contain and break my rebellious spirit; all of which failed until I became willing to change.
CHANGES: Two and a half decades later, I became teachable and God put people in my life that taught me how to change and to live my life without the use of drugs, alcohol, and criminal behavior.
BAD NEWS: After three months of intense work at restoring the Mansion, Bob gave us the bad news: Someone bought it.
The place was paradise in the city, with its state-of-the-art, architectural design, and towering oak trees that shaded the yard. As I recall, it had a sun porch, a screened in sun room that sat above the main entrance; turret-like balconies at every upstairs window; spacious rooms, including a massive living room with a wall mirror that span at least fifteen feet across the living room wall; and a stair case, made from red oak that we polished daily.
On the outside, sat a carriage house where the stable buck once lived to care for the horses kept below; a garage to store and service a Model A Ford, and a beautiful swimming pool that we scrubbed for weeks to restore. That list does not include the many parts and features of the mansion that I do not have the architectural vocabulary to describe.
As a gesture of goodwill for buying the house we had grown to love, Dante invited us to Down the Hatch. We accepted his offer. He then treated us to chocolate and cheese fondue. He even gave us a taste of his most expensive wine, which was far too bitter for my cheap taste. I’d been more happy with Boones Farm Strawberry Hill or Wild Mountain Grape. But I did appreciate his kindness and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of a lifestyle I had not known.
After the sale, Chrysalis moved to a less-attractive house on Boulevard Avenue, near the Atlanta City Zoo. By then, I had walked out the door of The Mansion to abscond from justice.
I was a “Wanted Child,” on the run from the law, a young thug out of control. Read ESSAYS & MORE STRAIGHT FROM THE PEN by Wayne T. Dowdy for inspirational stories that prove people change.
I burned a bridge when I walked away from Chrysalis. I was rearrested several weeks later.
I only agreed to go there to avoid returning to the Youth Development Center (YDC). Yes, returning. At fourteen, the judge sentenced me to an indefinite term of confinement for a violation of the Georgia Drug Abuse Act, theft by taking motor vehicle, and burglary.
BURNED BRIDGES: I did seven months at the YDC in Augusta, Georgia, before I got arrested again for drug-related offenses, within six weeks of my release.
Betty R., a beautiful social worker assigned to my case, stuck her neck out to get me in Chrysalis. “Everyone warned me not to help you because I would get burned,” she said.
I did not intentionally burn her, but I did. My history proved I burned bridges.
CRACK PIPE: I sympathize with a 39-year-old man, who allegedly burned down the only “real” bridge I know of being torched by someone smoking crack cocaine. I hope the burning bridge leads to him getting help to regain control of his life before the pipe takes him to his death.
I smoked crack in 1988 before my arrest and do not condemn anyone who smokes crack or does drugs. I would be condemning myself because that was me. I feel regret for those who chose not to seek help and do what it takes to change their lives; however, I understand their reluctance to try changing.
I failed thousands of times before I got it right in 1995. I feared failure and success. My lack of self-esteem kept me from feeling I deserved success. I was double-cursed!
FLAWED THEORY: Crack wasn’t strong enough for me. All it ever made me do was to want powder cocaine to inject into my arm. The government’s theory of the crack-cocaine-epidemic, used to support severe penalties for crack cocaine offenders, was flawed in relation to the dangers of smoking crack. If an addict injected a quarter GRAM of 86% pure, cocaine hydrochloride (powder), he or she would likely die, whereas, if he or she smoked a quarter OUNCE of crack, they’d only want more.
A CRACKHEAD AND A BURNING BRIDGE: Thursday, March 30, 2017: three homeless people entered a restricted area under Interstate 85 to smoke crack cocaine. A fence with a shabby gate surrounded the restricted area, where the city stored construction materials, in particular, a “conduit made from high-density polyethylene, used to protect fiber-optic cables.” Three hours later the bridge above Piedmont Avenue collapsed. [The Atlanta Journal & Constitution, April 2, 2017.]
Affidavits show Basil E., the thirty-nine-year-old, decided to smoke all the crack without sharing. As the other two were leaving, Barry T. claimed to have seen Basil start a fire. That does not mean Basil did.
Before leaving Basil with his crack pipe, Barry T., said he saw the crackhead put a chair on top of a shopping cart and set it on fire.
QUESTIONS: Could Barry T. have said the above because he was angry at Basil for refusing to smoke the crack with him? Possible. Could Barry T. have started the fire and blamed it on Basil because of the anger? Also possible.
People will tell lies to retaliate!
(I only use first names to protect anonymity, already exposed by the press.) Basil, reportedly homeless for 15-years, had been arrested 19-times, mostly on drug charges in Fulton County, since 1995.
I celebrate April 6, 1995, because that is the day I began a life of sobriety.
According to CNN, Basil’s arrests were for drugs, battery, assault and other charges. “An April 2014 mugshot shows [Basil] after he was arrested for charges related to the sale and trafficking of cocaine.”
For the bridge, law enforcement officials charged him with criminal damage to property and first degree arson. If convicted, he will go to prison because he refused to give up the crack pipe and allowed it to reek havoc on his life.
I understand. I acted like a crackhead, too, when I walked out of Chrysalis in 1972. I did so even more as an adult when I knew I had a serious drug problem and didn’t try to fight it.
Back then, I didn’t have the strength or courage to do what I needed to change. Only by the grace of God did I survive long enough to do so. My existence proves people can change.
An anonymous person told the AJ&C that Basil went to a 12-Step program and got kicked out because he became disruptive. I wasn’t there so I don’t know if he was wrong or if the members were wrong for not practicing more love and tolerance, as the program requires.
With him knowing where to find help, I know he can change if he makes the decision to do so. It is a decision I hope he and others make who are suffering from the disease of addiction. Build a bridge to those willing to help. Show respect by following the path to a better life. My prayers are with you.
The burning of The Bridge inconvenienced the lives of 250,000 daily travelers. Drug addiction kills more. If you have problem with substance abuse or alcoholism, consider contacting Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous.
Wayne T. Dowdy writes StraightFromthePen. Purchase ESSAYS & MORE STRAIGHT FROM THE PEN ($8.95) for more of his writings in relation to his life. If you do not have access to online distributors, or prefer not to make online purchases, order your copy from Midnight Express Books, P.O. Box 69, Berryville, AR 72616 (E-mail: [email protected])