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The transformation of Gary White

Gary White

By Steven Malik Shelton
Special to The Michigan Citizen

Gary White has beaten the odds and proven the doomsayers and naysayers wrong. He was not supposed to make it out the vicious grip of addiction to heroin and crack cocaine. He was supposed to die in some forlorn alley or to subsist as an urban zombie, existing solely on the prospect of another fix or another “high.”

When you meet him, it is hard to imagine him as a former dope-fiend. His diction is sharp, his mannerisms regal. And although he is a small man, he has that intangible quality of presence which compels your attention and respect. In fact, one could just as well envision him as a lawyer, a professor, or an ambassador. In a way, he is all of these and more, for it takes these skills to reform as an addict and (once reformed) to help other addicts to do the same. And Gary White has done so and is doing so.

We meet at his office at Elmhurst Home, Inc. a place that has become legendary for helping addicts to get off drugs. He explains how( from the very beginning) heroin seemed to medicate all those personality traits and anxieties that he wanted to escape from, and to usher in a peace and tranquility that he had never known.

“When I used heroin, all my troubles melted away like snow under the sun. My innate shyness and sense of inadequacy left me and I felt like I could do everything better. I could talk better, dance better and make love better. Everything within me improved and the world, which I viewed as gloomy and mundane, was miraculously changed into something exciting and gorgeous. Or so it seemed.”

This false sense of happiness and empowerment was purchased at a terrible price. A price that he would come to know all to well. He saw both his brothers (who were also addicted to heroin) die from AID’s and gangrene. He witnessed how his addiction devastated his mother. And he experienced his own private hell of incarceration, lost jobs, lost health and homelessness resulting from his protracted love/hate relationship with drugs. A relationship that, even after nearly 20 years of recovery, he is still struggling with. “ Recently, I went to the hospital,” he says. “As part of the wreckage of my drug addicted past, I had to have by-pass surgery done on my major heart arteries. After the operation I was in a lot of pain. The doctor prescribed me some narcotic based pain relievers, but I refused to take them. I told my wife that when I leave out of here I’m not going to be addicted to anything. Later on, I sat on my front porch and watched the crack addicts who live in my neighborhood as they went to this area called the ‘the island’ and did their drugs. And as I watched them I remembered the madness and the confusion and the physical and spiritual death; which is always the price the addict must pay for his or her dope. And I was so happy that I had not taken those doctor prescribed narcotics.”

I ask him about the turning point in his life when he made a conscious decision to get off drugs. He recounts the time when his addictions to heroin and crack cocaine had taken him to the bottom of the abyss.

“I had gotten bad, really bad. After I spent all my money, I sold all the furniture out of my apartment,” he says. “I was hardly eating anything because every penny that I got my hands on was spent on drugs. I got to the point where I was avoiding my own mother because I looked so bad. I mean I looked like death on two feet. One day, while I was getting high, I looked in the mirror and I broke down crying and I hollered, ‘Lord! Lord! Help me! And I heard a voice respond and say, ‘fool you know what to do. You need to go do it.”

This was the catalyst in a process of recovery that is constant and ongoing. For the addict (regardless of how much clean time he has accumulated) should never become so complacent as to think he is completely healed. Indeed most experts agree that although addiction can be arrested, it is never completely eradicated.

I ask Mister White if being a substance abuse counselor is rewarding. He smiles and his eyes sparkle, giving me part of the answer even before he speaks.

“There is a former client of mine who drives a city bus. In fact his route takes him right by this facility. Sometimes he’ll run in and ask for me, and when he sees me he always gives me a big bear hug and thanks me for saving his life.” Gary White pauses a moment and looks at me. And what he says next I will take from this room and carry with me for the rest of my days. “But I tell him that the credit should go to God and to himself,” he says. “ I can do nothing without their help and will.”

For further information contact: Elmhurst Home, Inc., 12007 Linwood St., Detroit Michigan, 313. 867.1090

Steven Malik Shelton is a journalist and human rights advocate. He can be reached at:


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