[In celebration of 20 years of service we are collecting 20 stories of people and events that helped to shape REMERGE. #20for20. This story is told by our executive director Andy Odle. It was originally published September 9, 2010 when REMERGE was still known as Church on the Street. We invite you to contribute a gift in celebration to honor this milestone.]
One of the most angry and feared drug dealers and addicts is off the street. His name is Ernest, but he’s known on the streets as Bank Robber. I call him Bank for short. I have been working with Bank for over a year. He has always been very honest and even helpful to me. We would talk frequently about writing a book together about what life is really like when you live in his world. He’s married, but has a girlfriend. The wife is sweet and caring (but also an alcoholic). The girlfriend is mean and violent. I suppose they represent the two sides of Ernest/Bank. He can be the nicest most caring guy you could come across, but you don’t want to cross him.
Thankfully, Bank and I always got along and he avoided doing anything that he deemed disrespectful to me or those that work with Church on the Street. One day I was on the streets and had some volunteers with me. Suddenly Bank appeared on top of the hill shouting at one of the younger dealers. These shouts were quite descriptive about what Bank desired to do to this poor fellow. The young dealer walked away toward a parked car. This could signal an extremely dangerous situation. If they were just shouting at each other then it would have been par for the course. But once one moves toward a car it is either a retreat or a pause to get a gun. Because I had volunteers with me I chose not to find out. We walked away briskly. Thankfully the guy was choosing to retreat. The next time I ran into Bank he promptly apologized and said that he wasn’t trying to scare our people away – “I was just letting the young fella know where he stood.”
Since I have known Bank he has consistently talked to me about getting his life in order. This became a central and frequent conversation for us. But just because someone wants to change their life doesn’t mean it is easy to take the first step – the life you have is the only one you know how to live. A few months ago a church had promised Bank that they would get him into a detox center and then get him into a rehab. They followed through on the detox, but when it came time for the rehab they were nowhere to be found. This began the process of rebuilding trust all over again. After about a month I began to tell Bank, “Say the word and I will try to get you out of here and into a program.” After another month he finally relented. I was able to find placement for him, with the help of one of our partners, in a program in Tampa, FL. If you could have seen his face when I told him. He pumped his fist in the air and shouted words of joy. The next morning he was on the bus to Tampa. If all goes well, in a few weeks his wife will join him, enter the female side of the program, and they will begin building a life together, just the two of them.
I knew that helping someone as high profile on the streets as Bank would build a momentum of its own. The next day guys I have worked with for years and guys I had never met came out of the woodwork asking, “Did you really help Bank? Could you help me too? If he can do it I know I can.” I don’t know how long this momentum will last, but I’m going to ride it for all it’s worth. If you ever wondered what your donation achieves, there’s a guy named Ernest in Tampa with a testimony you should hear. Or wait long enough and maybe you can read it in his book.