Mike P. has been out of jail for three months, and in that time he has taken part in multiple outpatient recovery programs for drug use, and joined The Contributor — all while staying sober. His lack of permanent housing makes it all more challenging. Mike wanted to talk about how he feels the criminal justice system is broken, having seen it from the inside.
How did you end up in downtown Nashville?
I was arrested. The whole time I was in jail, the plan was to get me into a halfway house and get my disability and stuff started. My family is in Virginia now. They were willing to help, but the public defender office said, ‘we’re going to get you housing, we’re going to get you disability.’ I went to Tennessee Mental Health [Services] before I went into jail. I’ve had mental health problems most of my life. My family sat back and let the public defender’s office do their job, but they didn’t. When I got released, I got released into the streets of downtown Nashville.
Where did you go then?
I walked around. I didn’t know what to do. Back before I went to jail, I was living in my car. I lost that when I went to jail. I was scared. At first I was happy when I got out, but then it was a slap in the face because I was standing there with no money, no nothing. I ended up in Vanderbilt psychiatric hospital with [suicidal] thoughts for one night. It wasn’t until four days after I got out that I finally went to the Mission.
The court put me on community corrections with a 7 p.m. curfew. Basically like house arrest, without a house. That’s how broken the system is here.
Why was it so important to you to get into a halfway house?
I had actually told my public defender, it’s very important for y’all to get me into a halfway house. It’s so important to me, that if you told me I could get out today to be free on the street, or I could stay 60 more days and have me a halfway house, I would stay the 60 more days.
The last time I got out of prison, I went to a halfway house. I had nothing — and this is why it was so important to me — because within two years I had my own business. My family paid for it last time. They paid several thousand dollars. I finally one day said ‘hey, y’all gotta stop paying. I gotta pay. It’s my responsibility.’ I couldn’t do this to them again. I know what I’m capable of doing with the right resources.
It’s sad when jail releases a man homeless like that, with mental health issues on top of that. It would have been easy for me to reoffend. I’m 45 years old, but if I had been 25, I would have reoffended. I’m just a little bit more grown up and know the consequence.
The system here is broken. It’s really broken, and I’m living proof of that. Im homeless because of drug use, and pretty much it’s been on my mental health, but I came out of jail homeless due to the court system.
What has worked for you with the programs you’ve been in since you got out of jail?
[The Centerstone Keys to Recovery Program] meets with me every week. They come to me wherever I’m at. What’s helpful is having people I can call on. I guess you could say I have a friend. I have a job and housing coordinator, and they’re doing what they can to get me into a halfway house, and there’s a wait. I got a housing and job coordinator, I got a therapist, I have a recovery specialist, and I have a caseworker. The downfall is probably on the weekends, I don’t have anyone I can contact.
It’s all new to me. I’m not only doing that, I’m doing community corrections, which means I have to do a drug class every week. Then I sell the paper. I got a lot going on for the good. It can also get overwhelming at times.
What effect has selling The Contributor had on your recovery?
If I’m not selling the paper I’m sitting around. Selling the paper keeps me clean, because if I wasn’t sitting out there on the corner selling the paper, I’d be sitting out there bored, contemplating using. Selling the paper gives me something to do.
With my mental health, there are some days where I don’t feel like doing anything. Selling papers gives me a chance that, if I don’t feel good that day, I don’t have to do anything.
That’s why I’m here today. Before I started selling The Contributor, I was a ticking time bomb, ready to start breaking laws.
What do you see in your future?
I hope in the future, in the years to come, I’ll have a nonprofit organization one day that focuses on homelessness. I’ve always been an entrepreneur, selling drugs, or working for myself. I think if I do another business it’s going to be a nonprofit organization. I see halfway houses in the future, 10 years from now. My long term goal is to try to start something to help homeless people, transition coming out of jail like I did. That was not good. That could have been a disaster to Davidson County, to society, the way I was let out of there.
My short term goal is to stay clean and sober every day.
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