It was March, 1993. I don’t remember the precise date. My wife and I were homeless and strung out on heroin, getting sick (withdrawal), and out of money. I was at Porter Square shaking a cup and trying to come up with an idea so we could get fix money to, “get well.”
My wife, Sascha, came out of the subway, walked up to me and said that she had seen an older woman selling a newspaper at Davis Square. It was called Spare Change. She asked the woman what it was about and she said, “you go down to the Old Cambridge Baptist Church and in the basement there’s an office called the Homeless Empowerment Project. If you go in, they’ll sign both of you up to sell the papers and give you ten copies each. Free.
“When you finish selling them for one dollar a piece, bring the money back to the office and buy more papers for ten cents per paper. So, like, if you each kept five dollars, you could still get fifty papers with the other five dollars.”
That sounded really good to me so we headed down to the Homeless Empowerment Project office and signed up. We went back to Porter Square and split up and sold those papers, bought one bag of heroin and split it, and went back and picked up 100 papers in total.
That was the beginning of my career with Spare Change News. It was called simply Spare Change back then. It seemed like the papers literally flew out of our hands back in those days. It was a new item and had gotten big press by the major papers and everybody seemed to want to know what it was about so they sold easy.
Today, the paper has been around for a while. The first issue came out in May of 1992 and in the beginning the paper came out once a month. Nowadays vendors really have to work to sell the papers, as they cost the vendor twenty-five cents a piece and still sell for a dollar. That’s what they call inflation.
I continued to sell the paper. My primary motive back then was to get enough money for my drug of no choice. I call it my “drug of no choice” because it took away all of my choices. But suddenly I realized that I was no longer begging for money. I was working! It was the first honest work I had done since 1988, almost 5 years prior.
Selling Spare Change News built up my self-esteem. Sometimes a person would pass me while I was selling the paper and say, in a nasty tone, “Why don’t you get a job?”
I would respond, as politely and quickly as I could, “This is a job. It’s the same as selling the Boston Globe or the Boston Herald. You don’t tell them to get a job, do you?”
I would keep a few back issues, from previous months, on my person and offer them free to the person who “dissed” me and say, “Why don’t you take a look at this free to see what we’re about?”
I began to enjoy selling the paper. pare Change News even published three of my poems. Let me tell you, I sold that issue with pride! I was always a writer. I started writing in junior high school but my addiction to heroin took my writing away. At first I thought it enhanced my writing, but heroin has a big lie that it tells anyone who uses it. That’s part of the illness of addiction.
Then I put myself in the hospital to detox. I had to do it over and over again because, when I got out of the hospital, I didn’t realize how much I had to change to stay clean of drugs. Alcohol addiction is the same thing, just legal.
Finally, in March of 1994, I began to sustain a long period of abstinence from heroin and all other drugs. I didn’t have a hard time staying off of other drugs because nothing talked to me like the opiates. Most people have one particular drug that speaks to them the most. With some it’s cocaine, some alcohol, some speed, etc. Very few people are what they call poly-substance abusers.
A poly-substance abuser is someone who will do anything and don’t care what it is; they just want to blow their minds with something. Most people are mono-substance abusers, people who are hooked on a particular drug. That doesn’t mean they won’t do something else to get high. It just means that they favor the one drug, like me with opiates, so much that they wait until they can get that drug.
I used to turn down other drugs. I was waiting for what I called “home base.” Heroin. But back to “clean-time.” My clean date was March 12th, 1994 and by September of ’94, I became the editor of Spare Change News. I went to support groups every day and therapy once a week.
It was difficult at first but, the longer I stayed away from drugs, the better my life became. Spare Change News played a giant part in my recovery. First, Spare Change empowered me by giving me an honest job. Then it gave me my voice back on the printed page.
Funny thing, I found that I could write better without heroin, thereby exposing the BIG LIE. I have to tell you though, when I get writer’s block, my mind still says to me, “Marc, if you take a shot of heroin, you’ll get your writing voice back.” My drug of no choice is still chattering away in my monkey mind. Unfortunately, Sascha didn’t make it. It wasn’t her fault. The illness killed her before she could get clean.
Addiction is an illness that never leaves. It goes into remission only. To stay clean I have to pay attention to my physical, mental, and spiritual condition. I try to keep my body in good shape. I’m getting older, almost 65, so that’s no mean feat. I still go to a therapist regularly and have support groups that I attend at least five days a week. And, last, but not least, I have a God of my understanding in my life. What does that mean?
I believe that something I can’t define keeps me off drugs. Call it God, call it anything you like. All I can say is that, it works. And I have Spare Change News to thank for starting my recovery by empowering me. The Homeless Empowerment Project gave me a chance when no one else would. I guess, you could say I owe Spare Change News my life.
As you can see, I’m still here. I’m writing this on Thanksgiving and my daughter, granddaughter and my son-in-law are having dinner with my wife, Mary Esther and me. It’s a miracle. And, dear reader, I couldn’t do it without you either. Thank you. I hope you stick around.