Those People are Too Far Gone (Interview with a graduate)

My wife and I just celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary and found ourselves reminiscing about the marriage process of becoming a partner in life and not a sole proprietor (so to speak). I recalled how a friend would invite me to a movie or a day trip to the beach, to which I would immediately accept. “Don’t you need to talk to your wife?” they would respond.

Oh, right. Yes, yes I do. It took me awhile to learn that I no longer live for myself — a lesson that repeated itself when my first child was born. While you hold that little, beautiful, screaming thing in your arms, you suddenly understand unconditional love.

Yet sometimes, sadly, we forget that first lesson: our decisions affect other people.

After nearly four years under my VRM belt, I’ve heard all of the criticism regarding our services and programs — “the Mission is just a band-aid or you’re just enabling people who won’t change.” And most recently, “Those people are too far gone. We should just focus on the next generation.”

On our latest episode of Here’s the Deal, our VRM podcast, I was able to connect with SirJo, one of our Life Change Academy graduates from June of last year. He is one of those guys you would never suspect has a past riddled with drug addiction and incarceration — especially when you see him around his children. We talked about being “too far gone” which was ironic. 

I asked SirJo, “What do people think happens — for the next generation — when a parent like you comes home?”

He recalled becoming a father as a high school senior, with three more children following while he was “out there” in his addiction. “I didn’t give them the life I wanted for myself growing up. They had a pretty rough start with me. I’m sure they don’t remember a lot of it, but I do. They remember me being in a jail or the cops coming, but they don’t remember what happened or why I wasn’t there.”

Fortunately, this isn’t the end of the story.

“It’s good that it was so early and I was able to take the steps I needed to change it before they were able to really remember and be affected by it.”

Now, SirJo is in his children's’ lives and is able to provide for his family having landed a great job. Making healthy decisions and putting his children’s needs above his own is an intentional choice he makes everyday.

There’s so much worry I’m not used to, but it’s a good thing to feel that. You learn how to feel through it and actually deal with it — instead of just trying to mask it — and it goes away. I don’t have to keep things bottled up inside anymore. I didn’t want to believe that I could work through something without using drugs. It’s definitely not always easy, but it is possible. That’s something I learned here and I’m learning still.”

So, don’t give up hope as you see men and women on the street. They are someone’s mother or father, sibling, or child. They are someone’s SirJo, and God willing, aren’t at the end of their story either.

Ryan Stillwater

Ryan is a longtime Visalian — a graduate of Redwood High School and Fresno Pacific University with a bachelors degree in Christian Ministries. Intrigued by the partnership between the Visalia Rescue Mission and the City of Visalia, Ryan began putting his vision on paper as VRM's Oval Venue Coordinator in August 2013, and has sparked the interest of many throughout the community. Ryan and his wife Amy (a Mt. Whitney High School graduate) have been married for seven years and have three amazing kids — ages 6, 4, and 4.