Cadets of Salvation
Four addicts on the brink of self-destruction claw their way back to civilization — enduring countless stints in rehab, multiple relapses back into addiction and several overdoses. The program that saved their lives might just ring a bell.
You likely know the Salvation Army most from the infamous Christmas Kettle manned by volunteers during the holiday season. In Savannah and in communities around the South and the nation, those dollars raised help fund community centers like the one on Montgomery Street that is a lifeline for the Coastal Empire’s homeless and destitute.
“You get so used to the world letting you down, you lose hope. The folks at the Salvation Army brought me in and wouldn’t let go until I believed in hope every day,” said Shane Pritchard, one of the four graduates of the organization’s Corps Salvage Rehabilitation Center (CSRC) program chosen to participate in a South photo shoot.
The six-month program offers men fighting drug and alcohol addiction a structured atmosphere to continue their path to recovery through a regimen focused on establishing routines, work ethic and mental and spiritual growth.
“You’ve got to pass a drug test and show us you want to work at it,” said Savannah CSRC program director Dwayne Dasher. “The addict behavior is blaming everyone else, but we force these men to look inward and to see there’s a road back to a meaningful and productive life.”
Dasher, a pastor at Lighthouse Baptist Church in Bloomingdale who has led the program for eight years, said the vice grip of addiction knows no societal boundaries.
“Many are referred to us from jails or homeless shelters, but we deal with doctors, lawyers, physically fit men who, at first glance, appear to be perfectly put together,” Dasher said. “The one constant is that vice grip, and through working the program, they rebuild their self worth and a belief in themselves and their ability to fight that addiction.”
Dasher and his staff help the men procure identification and Social Security cards, birth certificates, mental and physical health evaluations, and medicine, eye glasses, and reading and GED classes when needed The men can extend the program as needed up to six months and often pay a small rent to stay at the shelter after graduation while transitioning back into living a local life clean and sober – thousands of dollars’ worth of guidance and structure for free thanks to Salvation Army donors.
“To get this for free, it’s amazing, but for folks like me, putting in the effort to work the program, that’s the real cost,” said Tim Jordan, a Germany native who moved to Savannah from Atlanta at age 17. The son of an Army veteran struggled with mental health and anger issues that led him to a level of marijuana and alcohol abuse that estranged him from his family and landed him in jail.
“My Mom and Dad tried to send me to rehab when I was 25, but it didn’t take. I went out drinking one night, I was supposed to go looking for a job the next day and instead, I’m in jail,” said the 30-year-old who learned about CSRC after two previous shelter stays at the Salvation Army. “When I got out, I knew I did wrong, I knew I’d pushed my family away and I didn’t know how to rebuild that trust. The Salvation Army gave me that starting point.”
Jordan graduated CSRC in April 2018 after a year in the program. He lives on his own in Hinesville and is working for Roger Woods Sausages.
“I live for my niece and nephew, I’m earning my way back into my family’s lives,” Jordan said. “It’s hard everyday, I walk down the street, smell that cannabis and I want a hit. But the Salvation Army is there for me. I’m stronger now and I know I have support.”
One part of his support network is 50-year-old Jerome Roberts, a Savannah native who worked the program with Jordan. Roberts, who started using crack in 1984 and has been jailed 10 times, was first introduced to the program in 2011.
“I met Dasher on the streets, he gave me a ride one night and the next day, I was headed to jail,” Roberts said. “But meeting him, it stuck with me. I had a good childhood with parents, money wasn’t a problem. This all started as just experimenting as a teenager. I got curious about crack seeing a friend try it and once you go there, there’s no staying afloat on crack.”
“Romy,” as his friends call him, has five kids by three different women and has always managed to provide for them financially.
“Providing for me, that’s a different story,” he said. “I have two older brothers in Savannah, they’ve always been there for me. This program gave me the strength to be there for myself so I can truly be present for my family.”
Roberts got within two weeks of graduation in early 2017 but he got back to the center late on a four-hour pass. He restarted the program and graduated in May 2018 and now lives on his own in Savannah and works construction, helping to build new hotels downtown. The practicing Muslim has become good friends with Dasher and recently went on a mission trip with Dasher’s church group.
“Dasher, my brothers, they showed me that with faith, anything is possible,” he said. “When you believe you deserve better and have more to give to this world, this path becomes easier each day. And I do, I have so much more to give.”
After spending most of his adult life behind bars in jails from Columbia, S.C. to Atlanta, 56-year-old Savannah native Tyrone Owens has rarely felt he had much to give to society. He was raised by his Mom in Yamacraw Village and never met his father. His first run-in with the law was at 9 and drugs came in to the picture soon after.
“I didn’t believe there was a God for so long. I’ve been in jail for 30 of my 56 years. I witnessed so many things in prison – murder, drug overdoses, rapes, guys hang themselves and cut their arms,” Owens said. “The walls were closing in on me, my Mom died while I was in prison. But for some reason, even though I wanted to give up, for some reason, I found the strength,” Owens said.
After his last jail release in 2014 and a failed life restart in San Diego, Owens got a one-way bus ticket to Savannah after learning his favorite uncle had passed. He had hoped for help from a cousin, who instead directed him to the Salvation Army.
“The first couple days were rough. I listened but didn’t talk. I didn’t believe this new life could be mine,” Owens said. “Every day, I gained more strength, more belief.”
After graduating in 2015, Owens has worked for the Salvation Army for the past four years driving their donation pickup, the longest he has ever been part of free society. He even met his girlfriend of two years, Maudeester, by chance when he delivered her a piano from the Salvation Army Donation Store. The two live together and are talking long-term commitment.
Owens has a son, 32-year-old Tyrone, Jr., who is in jail for drug possession. He hasn’t been present for much of his son’s life, but hopes to be an example upon his release that there’s always time to build a new life.
“Every day, I’m gaining more and more strength to keep going, to stop looking back, to look forward,” he said.
Pritchard works the front desk at the Montgomery Street center and is the first person Owens and so many newcomers talk to. The 38-year-old CSRC graduate is immediate proof for the hopeless that there is a path forward.
He grew up with no Mom or Dad in Charleston and was raised by his grandmother and his aunt.
“I grew up around drugs and alcohol, it looked glamorous at the time,” he said. “I got involved in a gang as a teenager, but I wasn’t a gangster like my brothers. I knew if I didn’t get out of Charleston, I was going to die quick.”
A car accident in his early 20s led him to pain killers and a cycle of jail stints and rehab and relapses in Beaufort and Florence, S.C. before he ended up in Savannah in jail in 2013.
He was told about CSRC by a prison chaplain and went right from jail to the Montgomery Street Salvation Army in April 2014.
After working intake after graduation, the death of one of his four brothers in a car accident made Pritchard decide to leave Savannah for a similar job in West Virginia three years ago. While returning to Charleston upon hearing of the death of a second brother to throat cancer largely due to smoking crack, Pritchard returned for the funeral only to find out that a third brother had died in a car accident.
The tragedies sent him into a relapse. Shortly after, he reached out to Dasher.
“Shane is an amazing person. He came to us full of prison tattoos and looking the part of a thug. But there was an incredible person inside,” Dasher said. “We got him wearing a shirt and tie everyday, working intake and he quickly matched his outward appearance with how he felt on the inside. So I am so thankful he reached out. Anyone would reel from such an awful series of events.”
Pritchard is back working intake at Montgomery Street after graduating from CSRC a second time two years ago. He has his own apartment and has also earned Serv-Safe certification through a culinary program at Union Mission.
“I have options now and a support system and it helps me every day that I can be the first part of someone’s support system,” he said. “I love that people see me coming through the doors and I can give them the hope the Salvation Army has given me.”
The four men are among the 100 men that come through the CSRC program each year, according to Dasher. Roughly 30 of those 100 make it to graduation day – a number on par with national averages, according to Salvation Army officials.
“It’s an uphill fight, but I’m so proud that pastors, parole officers, wives, they all keep referring folks to us because they know that we fight hard for these men to give them a foundation for success,” Dasher said. “We will never give up on anyone as long as they want to fight and want to truly embrace a new future.”
For more information on the program and more information on how to volunteer, call the Salvation Army, call 912-651-7420 or visit salvationarmygeorgia.org/savannah.
The abbreviated version of this story originally ran in the August/September 2019 issue of South.