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Outside rehab, people in recovery thrive in community

Cody English, of Butler, paints the trim work on the Homage House in August. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle

Jason Beckwith grew up on The Island. He remembers when the influx of heroin reached a peak in the early 2000s, how crimes became more brazen and the community where he’d hung out by the swinging bridge, played midget football and boxed became more and more rundown.

To Beckwith, a certified recovery specialist and founder of Action in Recovery, the cost of addiction is a debt paid by each successive generation.

“My generation — I’m 46 — we started doing heroin,” Beckwith said. “We were going back and forth to Pittsburgh to get it and then it became available here because people started transporting from Youngstown and Philadelphia and coming here to stay. So then (dealers) started setting up trap houses.”

He shared how communities are reshaped by addiction: Children, who don’t have much in the way of resources, recreation or community support, especially in low-income areas, succumb to substance use. They grow up. Some die by overdose. Their children — in some cases — are raised by their grandparents, and those same children, in turn, grow up into at-risk teenagers and adults, he said.

Bobby Best, of Butler, sweeps up the outside of the Homage House in August. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle

“The big worry that we have is — and I’m trying to be proactive — you got to figure, this started in the late ’90s, early 2000s,” Beckwith said. “All the kids that were born during that time with parents that have overdosed are now becoming teenagers.”

Community support — outside of formal addiction treatment — is critical to breaking the cycle, he said, and being part of a receptive community can help decrease the likelihood of relapse.

At Homage House, one of eight recovery houses in Butler managed by Beckwith, camaraderie and routine keep residents grounded.

The road to recovery is a narrow one, house manager Cody English said. Finding community can ease one’s burden on the journey, he said.

“99.9% of the recovery time is not done in a treatment facility,” English said. “We're going to do 100 times more time as citizens in the community than we ever would in an inpatient facility.”

“If you go to an inpatient facility for 28 days, 60 days, and you come back and you live in the same exact environment that you left from, the chances of you staying sober are minimal at best,” Beckwith said.

While the cost of addiction was visible on Butler’s Island neighborhood, Beckwith said recovery from drug addiction wasn’t openly spoken about before the introduction of sober living houses.

“Nobody in the community ever heard of anybody (in recovery) so for the most part, it was kept a secret in the basement of a church,” he said.

Bobby Best, certified recovery specialist with Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services, said some people still dealt drugs in the neighborhood once the sober living houses were established, but the atmosphere around the recovery houses set them apart.

“If we see it, we tell them to take it somewhere else,” Best said. “We try to look out for the guys living in the houses.”

Best, who is in long-term recovery himself, provides support to residents of the recovery house as they navigate addiction treatment.

“My whole day, I’m surrounded by all of this,” he said. “Pretty much everybody in my life is either in sobriety or works in the field.”

In the recovery house, Best conducts drug tests, helps with job searches and supports residents as they apply for their driver’s licenses. He brings residents along with him to the gym and drives them to the grocery store.

“It’s pretty much about me giving back,” Best said. “I’m really big into karma.”

Best said he doesn’t plan to be in Butler forever. His plan is to move to South Carolina, he said, where he can feel the sun on his skin, and live close enough to the beach that he can visit after work.

“I’m trying to pay my way forward as much as I can before I move,” he said. “I try to do as much good as I can here.”

Now five years sober, Best said trusting people in the early days of recovery was a challenge.

“The world that we come from, trust — we don’t trust people,” he said. “When you’re in active addiction, the people you’re around, they’re not really trustworthy. So when you come in here, it’s … really hard when somebody says, ‘Oh, you can trust me.’ You take it with a grain of salt.”

“You think, ‘Can I really trust this person?’ But, believing in the (recovery) process, people are actually willing to help you without gaining anything.”

After about one year in recovery, Best found a group of friends who got sober around the same time as he did.

“Any negative behaviors I had, self-doubt, they wouldn’t co-sign on that,” he said. “They challenged me, and it made me become a better person, and seeing them better themselves made me want to better myself.”

Best said he is still in contact with friends who are in active addiction. He said he understands that as much as he wants to help them, it’s their choice to accept the support.

“I have a lot of friends who still use,” he said. “When I first started doing this, I was trying to 12-step people, like, try to get them to get sober. I’ve learned throughout the years that until they want it, they’re not going to get sober.”

Until then, he aims to “spark hope for them.”

“I don’t give them money or anything like that, but if they need a ride, or they need food or something, I’ll take them out to eat and get them food. Or if they want to go to rehab, I’ll give them a ride to rehab.”

He recalled one of his best friends from childhood who was sober with him.

“I don’t really put expectations on people,” Best said. “He was sober with me for a long time, and he went out and started using again. I tried to help him get sober again for a while … until he wants it, I can be there. If they need to talk to somebody, I always answer my phone for them.”

“When they’re ready to get sober, and they want to go to rehab or detox, I’ll be there.”

After finding out his friend was using drugs again, Best said he was put in the position where had to call his friend’s probation officer. He and his childhood friend are no longer on speaking terms, he said.

“I’d rather him be mad at me in jail than me attend another funeral,” Best said.

In February 2023, Best said he lost a friend, Brian, to substance use. In August, Best said he hoped that when his childhood friend got sober again, he would understand why Best made the decision he made.

Best said he saw his childhood friend shortly before an incident that got him arrested again on another charge.

“I told him, ‘When you get a year sober, we can be friends again,’” he said. “I spent a lot of time chasing him around out of trap houses, Narcaning him, taking him to rehab and getting him out of trouble with probation that I could have spent on myself, spending time with my family and my kids and growing.”

“I haven’t gotten to talk to him, but he’s sober, so hopefully he finds something while he’s in (jail),” Best said. “He’s going to be in there for a while. It just — it shows you the progression from, like, starting to use, relapsing and falling back into that pattern of using again — where it builds up to, and where it can end.”

Stories of recovery

English said this was his first time trying to reach sobriety. He is now pursuing a certificate program at Butler County Community College that would allow him to work in addiction recovery as a certified recovery specialist.

Another resident said he is pursuing his GED diploma.

“Most of us come into (recovery) so far behind,” English said, adding that entering the recovery house is a chance to “catch up.”

English said he first started using low-level opiates as a child, when he suffered from migraines. At 16, he underwent a surgery. At 21, he underwent neck surgery, for which he was prescribed more painkillers.

Once dependent on opioids, English said he started buying pills off the street.

While in active addiction, he said the threat of sickness from withdrawal was always looming in the back of his mind.

“I was fully aware that I could die,” Best shared. “We were so addicted that the consequence of death didn’t deter us.”

Robert Kennard, a resident in recovery, said his mother was addicted to cocaine when he was born, and that everybody in his family “always drank.”

Citing a traumatic incident, Kennard said he began taking drugs when he was 12 years old.

“I just gave up all hope on everything,” Kennard said. “I played sports — I was good at sports. My grades were good.”

Growing up in a small town, he said weekends meant drinking and smoking pot, which escalated to trying stronger substances — like oxycodone — to get high. Once the habit of buying pills became too expensive, Kennard said he turned to heroin.

“That’s what my life consisted of for the next 20 years,” he said.

“From 12 on, I wanted to numb my mind,” he said.

Hearing Kennard, English nodded in understanding.

“By the time I was 15, I was pretty much done with life,” English said.

“This is actually the very first time in my life as an adult when I’m seeing things clearer, and it’s all attributed to living here with the guys that live here and the guys across the street,” Kennard said. “Everybody looks out for everybody.”

“I'm actually starting to find myself since I’ve been here — I didn’t even know who I was my whole life,” he said.

When asked what he had learned about himself in recovery, Kennard, after a silent pause, answered:

“That I’m kind and caring man,” he said. “When I was in active addiction it was all about me, me, me, and now I want to see other people doing well. Before, I didn’t care. I was an addict for over 30 years. I’m 44 years old. My whole adult life I was in addiction.”

This past year, Kennard said he was able to reconnect with his eldest daughter.

“She tells me every day how proud she is of me and of what I'm doing,” he said. “It just makes me want to keep continuing. I want to be able to finally be there for (my children) if they need me. Because I wasn’t there for their whole lives.”

Kennard said that moving forward, he’s excited about spending time with his granddaughter, who is 5 years old.

“My granddaughter doesn’t even really know me much,” he said. “So I want to be able to show her what life’s about — the right way — and do it better than I raised her mother.”

“This is the first time in my life I’ve had that much time sober,” he said. “I recognize all the opportunities that I have now that have been there, but my mind was too numb, too clouded to recognize.”

In his free time, and when he’s not at work, Kennard said he likes to fish.

Best said the group attend concerts together, watch sports and hold cookouts in the backyard.

“The biggest thing for people in recovery is that you have time for yourself,” Best said. “When we’re using, it seemed like the clock was always running.”

English said he can now feel what it’s like to be at peace.

“(In addiction) your mind’s always racing,” Best said. “I like the fact that my mind doesn’t race anymore. I have a sense of calmness over me. Of serenity.”

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