Story by Lara Pickford-Gordon
Lenny George used to be a street dweller hustling money to get his next fix. Today, he is a recovering drug addict clean for more than a year. He does not deny that getting off the streets is “hard”.bHis story begins 57 years ago when he was born and raised “up the hill” in Laventille close to the Desperadoes pan yard. He lived with his parents and two sisters but his father died when he was young.
He grew up seeing a relative and men on the block smoking marijuana but never got involved. George would have received a beating because he was “too young”. He was however introduced to marijuana by friends while in Form Two, Diego Martin Junior Secondary. “In dem days, you paying 50 cents for a stick,” he commented. The boys would each chip in “cents” to make up the cost.
“Sometimes when we go by the ‘pusher man’ he see us in our school clothes and used to give us for 25 cents, 30 cents,” George said. He was good at basketball and “small goal”. George said smoking marijuana made him laugh during class and when the teacher asked why, he gave an excuse.
When his mother’s health deteriorated, he began working to help maintain the household; his younger sister was in school and older sister worked but was “earning small money”.
Although his mother, Jean voiced concern about his education being disrupted, her younger brother who was in charge of a work gang—“ten days”—felt that George would pass his exams if he were meant to.
George started as a “Trademan’s assistant” with the Development Employment Work Progamme (DEWD). “I helped the masons and carpenters bringing the water, mixing mortar. I used to go to work from 7 in the morning until 9 o’clock, then change clothes and go to school so sometimes when I reach to school is all 10 o’clock. That was when I was going to Mucurapo Senior Comprehensive.” He added that he would try to get to school between 10 a.m. and 10.30 a.m.
His lateness did not escape the attention of his Form teacher who found out about his activities before school. George was taken to the principal’s office and explained he was helping his mother.
The principal told George that he had missed so much class time that he would likely leave without passes. “I said I have to live with that. Remember I have to take care of my mother, my mother is old,” he said.
George also remembers the kindness shown by his Form teacher who kept him back after school hours for an hour or two to learn to read properly and help him with Mathematics. During the afternoon period she encouraged him to read something for the class.
“She knew I would get no passes but she said ‘Lenny I don’t want anybody giving you a six for a nine’,” George said. He left school in 1979 without any Ordinary Level passes.
Introduction to hard drugs
He got his next job with help from his paternal uncle as a stevedore on the Port of Spain wharf. He described the work as “hard” and his days of labour were not regular.
George said he was first introduced to cocaine when he attended a christening. At the time he was “tracking” a young lady and a friend called him over to smoke but he did not like it.
The second time was with another friend, a seasoned wharf worker. It was Friday when workers received pay and he had just over $100 while his friend who worked more days had $500. George was invited to accompany him to a house in Belmont with two girls.
Drugs were again available but George said he did not enjoy cocaine. One of the girls however, took him back to a room where they had smoked it and had sex. His friend invited him again and although he had no money, his friend offered to sponsor.
“That was the second session and I start to enjoy it…I start getting hooked,” George said.
The money from the wharf was used to help support his family. He got a “little promotion” but did not take advantage of the opportunity for advancement. “The drugs in me,” he said of his descent to drug addiction.
He stopped frequenting the wharf and instead hustled quick money. “I could get a $5 and $10 quick to buy a ball…just remember on the wharf, we have to wait until Friday to get pay…I find I have to wait too long to get money; that’s the way cocaine is,” George said.
More preoccupied with hustling money to purchase his next hit, he stopped going home. He became a tout on the maxi stand which at the time was on lower Charlotte Street.
“I could remember there was a time Mr Watson [Roger Watson, the manager Centre for Socially Displaced Persons (CSDP)] used to pass around in a white van and say ‘Allyuh come off the streets nah. Come off the streets, it have a place here for allyuh’ and we not listening to he…It took me a long time to end up in ‘the building’.”
George got money being on the streets and people familiar with him purchased things which he sold. A cousin residing in the United States came every Carnival and bought him clothes and pairs of sneakers which were left at his mother’s home in Laventille.
The cousin knew of his addiction but never distanced himself. George always promised not to sell the things but one night while his mother and sister slept, he sneaked out and did this. His routine of visiting home decreased, staying only for a day or two then leaving.
Street dwellers got money from carrying goods for vendors, and receiving food from passersby or through non-governmental agencies which handled food distribution to the homeless.
“People come with food. You get two or three boxes. You come in town, now you looking to get money to buy one thing…been there and done that,” George said.
While still on the streets, he found out his mother died. “I went up instant to find out if it was true…Sandra (his sister) say mammy pass away and ‘she was only asking for you’ and I start to cry,” he said with a pained expression.
He added, “I does take on my mother death…mammy used to say ‘Lenny, oh God, you know your father gone is I alone, if anything happen to you…I don’t have no money to take you out of prison, behave nah boy’.” `
Leaving the streets
George spent many years as a street dweller. His turnaround did not happen even after he had a stint in prison. He and another addict stole money from a maxi taxi driver on the Charlotte Street taxi stand. They were seen by another driver and detained by police not long after.
George pleaded guilty because with a not-guilty plea he did not have someone to pay his bail and he would then have to go into Remand Yard. The money taken was over $100 so he did not expect a long sentence. He got six months but served four. It felt like “years” he said.
When George was released, he did not smoke for almost a week then started again. He resolved not to do anything to be imprisoned again. He entered the CSDP where Watson and another man helped him.
He was still using drugs but two years ago something happened. One J’Ouvert morning, he admits, he drank and smoked cocaine and the scenes of people “wining” and “getting on” made an impression on him.
George said he told himself, “Lenny you better call off this thing. This ain’t right and I kneel down with a Bible in my hand and I ask God to change me… ‘God, Father I had enough’…tears run down my eye. I pray and ask God to help me please, ‘God I know you responsible for me, help me, help me, help me’. And He did!”
He said addicts need help to go into rehabilitation and someone constantly talking to them. They also had to get away from the “friends” who are addicts.
George has been attending counselling for more than a year at CSDP. Addiction has cost him a job, a “good woman” and his mother. He has a son who resides with his mother in Canada. He met her while he was smoking marijuana and playing dice.
George’s routine now is to talk to God daily and pray for guidance and protection, to be healthy and strong, and take it one day at a time. “I believe it have a God because if I could change, anybody could change,” he said.
At 57, he is getting his personal documents (ID card, birth certificate) organised, and looking forward to steady employment as he rebuilds his life.
Lenny George: “I pray and ask God to help me please, ‘God I know you responsible for me, help me, help me, help me’”