Circle of Recovery

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Bill Moyers speaks with seven African-American men — all recovering from drug and alcohol addiction — about their efforts to heal through a voluntary recovery group they formed. Each week, members of the group meet and openly discuss issues involving family, love, sex, racism and work, which are interwoven with their struggles and achievements as they strive to rebuild their broken lives.



DAVE, Recovering Addict: I was in this place called San Quentin when they had the earthquake, you know. And I could remember being there and feeling so hopeless and getting on my knees and asking God, “Man, show me-I don’t want to live like this no more. Show me-show me something else.” And this is where He sent me, you know, to this group.

ERIC, Recovering Addict: What do you mean? What are you saying?

LEON TIBBS, Recovering Addict: You felt the way you felt, I felt the way I felt and Eric felt the way he felt and that’s just how it is. We’re not going to feel the same way you feel.

[to Moyers] It got to a point where I couldn’t buy alcohol, couldn’t buy wine. I was a wino, you know, I became a wino. And it got to the point where I’d go in people’s houses, if they didn’t have anything to drink, I’d go and look in the medicine cabinet and see if anything was in there that said, “May cause drowsiness,” and I would take that one, you know.

KEVIN, Recovering Addict: I go out with my mother -she’s white -people see us together and think to themselves, “This older white lady with this young black boy, hmm,” you know. It’s real strange when you go someplace and somebody calls, you know-some white man calls you “nigger,” you know.

KENNY HALL, Recovering Addict: [to Moyers] I’m not a drug addict because of racism. I’m not a drug addict because I’m black. I’m a drug addict because when I put drugs in my body, something happens. But when you remove the drugs, I’m still black, I’m still worthless, I’m still ugly, I’m still no good. That’s recovery for me. It’s to challenge those demons in my life so one day, I can look in the mirror and I said, “You know what? I am worthwhile.”

TONY, Recovering Addict: When you put somebody on a pedestal and you find out that they’re really not up there where you think they are, then the only thing left you got to do is to resent them, you see what I’m saying? And that’s how come this is important to me, that we sit down and talk, that you don’t put me on a pedestal, nor do I put you on a pedestal.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] This is the story of a group of men sharing what will surely be a lifelong struggle-recovery from addiction.

TONY: But the very few people I put on pedestals, I wind up resenting them.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Each has gotten clean of drugs in what’s known as a 12-step rehabilitation program, the kind used by Alcoholics Anonymous.

ERIC: Same thing I was. I wanted to be close and I didn’t know-the only way I knew how to be close to this dude was, “Well, should I sneak and wear his shoes, his lizards, ’cause them lizards was tough.”

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Each has also come to believe that recovery means much more than staying off drugs.

ERIC: My father’s shoes, the old-style loafers, you know, lizards and you know and I see now there was some people that was jealous.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] It means joining with others in a search for self-worth and healing.

ERIC: But alligators and stuff-you know, them old plastic alligator shoes. You buy one pair, you get another one free.

KENNY HALL: It’s so important to have the support, the guidance, the direction and the caring of other people who are struggling down the same path that you’re struggling down.

ERIC: That’s how I feel, right now. I feel good that I shared that with you guys.

TONY: Yeah. I was thinking about that when you said, “Make my burdens lighter,” I was thinking about that old gospel song they used to sing-“Make My Burdens Lighter.”

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Kenny Hall is a drug and alcohol counselor in San Jose, California. He’s also a recovering addict, clean now for about six years. His new passion is spreading the word that black men who use drugs can and do recover.

KENNY HALL: So when I speak of the healing of the community, I speak of a whole people, not just ourselves, ’cause when we heal, the children heal, the family heals, the mother heals, you know, the grandfather, the grandmother. Everyone heals when we heal.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] It took Kenny Hall many years to find the road to recovery and the men who would travel it with him. His mother died when he was two. Then, he and his father moved from South Carolina to New York City. There, Kenny’s life came apart.

[interviewing] Do you remember when you first stuck a needle in your arm?

KENNY HALL: I was 15 years old-15 years old, sitting in an apartment in Harlem. It was something new. It was just something new. A friend said, “I got something you can try.”

BILL MOYERS: What happened to you after that?

KENNY HALL: I spent the next 20 years of my life just living in total hell, trying to satisfy a demon that had an insatiable appetite. It was always hungry, always wanting to be fed.

BILL MOYERS: How did you feed it?

KENNY HALL: Oh, I would steal. I’d do anything I had to do. You know, I woke up, I got my drugs and I went to sleep. You know, I say that in the sense that there was no participation in this thing that we call life. It got to a place where I became so ashamed of who I was becoming and what I looked like, I would-I mean, I was sleeping in basements at this time and I was sleeping on rooftops. And I would-the subway in New York runs 24 hours, as you know, and I would catch the A train. You know, every time I hear the song, “The A Train” now, it provokes these memories, but I would jump on the train and I would just ride it all day long because I didn’t want to be seen during the daylight hours.

I felt that ashamed about myself, you know, and I felt so bad because I couldn’t stop myself from becoming the person that I was becoming and I didn’t want anybody to see me that way. And I would come out at night when the sun went down, you know, and I would walk on the side of building in the shadows where no one could see me. And you know, I would do what I’d have to do to satisfy my addiction, you know. And then, when the sun come up, I would go back underground again.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] When Kenny Hall was 19 years old, he enlisted in the Army and was sent to Vietnam with the 82nd Airborne. There, he became, as he puts it, “strung out to the gills” on opium.

KENNY HALL: I was back in what we called the base camp, the main base camp and I had a nervous breakdown and they shot me up with a bunch of stuff and I went AWOL and I went to Saigon and I was AWOL in Saigon for many months. And it was just me and Papa-san sitting in a hootch, with me with my arm out, shooting up opium 24 hours a day.

BILL MOYERS: What happened? Did you go back? Did they come and get you?

KENNY HALL: They found me. The MP’s found me one day and they locked me up and I was sent to see a psychiatrist and I broke down and I just cried my eyes out and-I wasn’t fit to stand trial and so, they busted me and they took my stripes away and-well, they sent me back out to the field.

I’ll tell you something about Vietnam. When I got sent to Vietnam, I really got in touch with being-with power. They put a gun in my hand and they gave me permission-they gave me the power over life, over life and death. And the first time I pulled the trigger of that M-16, something surged through me. Something surged through me and for the first time in my life, I knew what it was to be powerful. All my life, I had felt powerless, you know, and it felt so powerful every time I just pulled that trigger.

BILL MOYERS: What were you shooting at?

KENNY HALL: Other people.

BILL MOYERS: Did you hit any?

KENNY HALL: I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ve seen dead bodies and I don’t know whether it was me or not, you know, but what it did for something inside of me, this craving inside, you know, to be able to just have this sense of power, you know, of life and death in my hand. And then, to come home and have it taken away from me, you know, and to relegate me back to that position of being powerless again was real devastating for me, real devastating.

BILL MOYERS: So when you got back, did you clean yourself up?

KENNY HALL: My father sat with me in my room-he sat with me in my room for like three days, four days, while I kicked, holding my hand and-

BILL MOYERS: “Kicked” meaning?

KENNY HALL: You know, withdrawing from the opium, you know, cleaning my system out. And he sat there, holding my hand and what that experience showed me was that he loved me and that he wanted to relieve me of the pain that I was experiencing.

But my illness-whatever that thing that’s inside, you know, of my soul that drives me to self-destruction, it was stronger than love, it was stronger than family, it was stronger than everything because I turned around and I just bit the hand that was feeding me, you know.

BILL MOYERS: What did you do?

KENNY HALL: I went back out and started shooting dope again and that’s when I started going to institutions, to jails.

BILL MOYERS: What was your lowest point?

KENNY HALL: Are you asking me when I stopped, when you say what was my lowest point?

BILL MOYERS: I don’t know if that’s when you stopped. I mean, you

KENNY HALL: My lowest point is when I stopped in 1985. I had been going to mental institutions in the VA. I was on mental wards. I was taking Haldol. I had reached a place in my life where I didn’t want to go on anymore. I didn’t want to go on anymore and I made attempts at not using and to quit-you know, just stop using, but every time I quit using, it was unbearable to live with myself and so, I would go back to using.

And one day, I was standing in the middle of my living room floor with this young lady with a spike hanging out of my arm full of cocaine and I was crying, you know. And she said, “What’s the matter?” I said, “I don’t want to do this anymore, but I can’t pull it out.” And she told a friend of hers about me, who was clean from drugs for a number of years and one day, he walked over and stuck his hand out and said, “I hear you want to get clean.” And I said, “Yeah, I do.” And he introduced me to a bunch of other people who were like me and-

BILL MOYERS: That was Tony?

KENNY HALL: That was Tony.

TONY: The way it sounds to me is that you’re not going to be able to put together the neat package. My son was 18 years old-when he turned 18, his mother called me on the phone and says, ”Tyrone has nowhere else to go. You’ve got to take him.” And the woman that I was with was pregnant. I don’t know whether to shit or go blind. I’m going to meetings and my life was going the best it’s ever gone ever. I’d just got a job. I got a name tag, you know what I mean, I got a badge and I got to work and it’s kind of like I’m feeling good about me. And all of a sudden, here shows up this kid.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Tony, like Kenny, was a heroin user. Now, he’s studying for a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He brought Kenny into a circle of black men who believed they needed to support each other, not only to stay off drugs, but to fight other battles as well.

TONY: And so, what we decided to do is meet on Sundays, with no real agenda other than just to get together and talk and kick it and have food and enjoy each other. And then, we grew and as we grew, the topics of discussion got deeper and we were able-I was able, for the first time, to be able to really show emotion with men, you know, tell another black man, especially, that I care about him, I love him, you know, he’s important to me in my life, you know. And we started sharing with each other like that and a bond kind of developed from that.

KENNY HALL: It was important for me to see other black men who didn’t use drugs and alcohol and who were trying to live a life that wasn’t filled with tragedy and self-destruction, because every time I looked at the television or anything, I saw us doing was killing each other and selling crack cocaine. And every time I read a newspaper or any article, it was a black man just making babies and then running out. And I didn’t get any images or any messages that we were responsible people and that we could heal and turn our lives around.

And so, when I sat in the presence of these men, I heard them talking about living a life without drugs and alcohol and accepting pain in their life and having joy, I knew there was something there for me.

ERIC: I just-right now, I just feel kind of OK with just sharing that with you guys. I feel like I got what I needed to get off, man, you know.

BILL MOYERS: Could you have stayed clean without those men?

KENNY HALL: No. I can adamantly and emphatically say no.

LEON TIBBS: I used to try real hard to please my father, you know.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] A second group evolved from the first, with Tony and five other men.

LEON TIBBS: You know, and I’d be doing the best I could and sooner or later, he’d just grab it and he’s just, “Get out of the way, I’ll do it myself.” And I hated that.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The circle of recovery was widening.

MEL Recovering Addict: Recovering Addict: I wanted to be his friend, I wanted to talk to him, but I was shut off every time because-

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] They meet every Sunday night in an apartment north of San Jose. Together, they confront their addictions and the issues they believe they must resolve to truly recover, among them racism and self-image, struggles with their children, with women, with their fathers.

MEL: “No, I’ll do it myself. Give me that, give me that wrench,” you know.

ERIC: Somewhere I got this dream or this illusion that him and my other had been married. He was 21, my mother was 16 and I was born and they had been married for a year and they got divorced. Somewhere I got-I don’t know where I got that from, but that’s-I got that and that never happened. What I found out later, you know, clean and sober, was that they never were I was the product of a one-night stand, you know. And she told me that, sitting in The Good Earth Restaurant one day at 12:00 noon and we both was in tears ’cause we had had this stuff inside so long, man.

TONY: Wow, you did that in The Good Earth Restaurant?

ERIC: The Good Earth Restaurant, man, at noontime. Everybody cleared out ’cause we was crying. These folks went, “These folks in here are crying, boy, let’s go.”

TONY: Hey, ”What’s wrong?”

ERIC: But yeah, she told me all that stuff, you know, and it was like I needed to hear it, man, ’cause it was like, dang, man, you know, all this time I’ve been holding onto this stuff. And then, I met him. I met him like-I don’t know, I met him right after I got married and it was a trip, man. Me and dude is just alike.

MEL: You know, Pops is dead in my life now. I have to choose other options, to write and let know or go to the gravesite and I could feel his spirit and go, you know, into it like that, but I can’t physically-he can’t physically be there. And I say, ”Well, hey, you know what? I forgive you for these things. I can see where you’re coming from,” or, you know, “This is where I’m at now,” and even, plus, “Look, I finally am clean. I’m not like a dope fiend, you know, like you all used to say and be ‘shamed of me,” and things like that. That part of it, that’s what I’m getting in touch with.

LEON TIBBS: My father-you know, he’s dead, too. And I was going up to Reno and his spirit kind of came in the car and his spirit came in the car and I was crying. And what I was crying for is because I wasn’t available, you know-you know, like I am now, when he was alive, you know, and I was real sad, but-you know because of that.

KEVIN: When my father passed away, my grandfather knocked on my door and I knew-I don’t know, I knew. I didn’t cry for nine months after that, not for him. I’ll be damned if I’d cry for that motherfucker. I know I was holding onto that.

TONY: When I was 17 years old, my father was coming to visit us from Texas and he had another family and I remember building a case on him. And I’m going to tell you just how I felt. I felt like, “I’m going to kill him when I see him.” That’s how much anger I had inside of me for this dude. “I’m going to kill him. I’m going to let him know that what I had to go through by him not being here, he’s a coward” -and I became a coward, you know what I mean?

And I remember my mother says, “Here, here’s the keys. You can go,” and so, I drove up to the airport. And you know what? The pain that I wasn’t able to get in touch, that-I didn’t even know what he would look like. I had no idea. I was looking up and down the thing, you know, you drive up, looking. ”Who am I looking for? What am I looking for?” Then, all of a sudden, I seen this big old guy walking with this woman up to me and he had, you know, some of my-you know, my features and I could see some of myself in him. And all of that stuff -talking about the spirit -all that stuff just left, man. It was just like it just went out of me. It just went-

DAVE: My main objective in all this is not to use any kind of chemical and they have kind of really walked me along the way.

BILL MOYERS: These guys?

DAVE: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: How, though?

DAVE: By sharing their stories, openly saying stuff that I feel that, you know, that’s maybe kind of easy for them to say, but hard for me because I come from kind of like a background where you really don’t, you know, express how you feel, to cry like Tony cried, about another man? You know, that just, you know, was not permitted, you know.

TONY: A key point about black males in recovery, for me, is that we got to get past that anger, that resentment. I’ve had to get past a lot of pent-up rage, frozen rage that I’ve had about injustice, you know, and somehow try to find some justice in all of that injustice.

BILL MOYERS: You said, in your letter to me, “I was bombarded at a very early age with messages and images of what it meant to be a black male and what place I would occupy in the world. Those were the moving forces which shaped my mind, my body, my soul.” What were those messages? What were the images? What did you see, ads, commercials-

KENNY HALL: Oh, my God, I’d look at television, I’d see The Little Rascals and I’d see Buckwheat. You know, I had a resentment for many years because my hair wouldn’t stand up, because I thought that’s what black people’s hair did. And I’d look in the mirror every day and say, ”Why don’t my hair stand up?”

KEVIN: I’d try and find myself in work or in poems or in my computer and when I found this group, I was trying to find myself in this group.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Kevin is 29, the youngest member of the group.

KEVIN: I deal in a lot of emotions, you know, probably a lot like Mel here. I got a lot of emotions that I don’t put there all the time.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] He’s been sober for over a year, but he still fights every day against what drugs and alcohol helped him to hide.

MEL: It’s like you be saying stuff like you think that we might want to hear or whatever, you know, so you’ll just say that. That’s the correct one, if you think that that’s what we want to hear, whatever. And that’s the feeling I get from you.

KEVIN: As I grew up, a lot of people would ask me, you know, hearing my voice or seeing my curly hair or seeing my nose, which doesn’t look, you know, traditionally like a black man’s and they would say, ”What are you, half-this or half-that” or you know, or da-da-da-da. And I would always proudly say, you know, “Oh, you know, I’m mulatto” and so on and so forth. And what I’m finding out is the way I really felt about that was they were asking me why am I only half human?

[at work] I’m an intern at NASA under the scientific technical program. I have never had a chance to work with a machine quite like this. It’s-oh, some $300,000 piece of equipment where people trust me on it, where at one point in time, somebody wouldn’t trust me to look at their house from the outside with all the doors locked. I went to college in Mississippi, a school named Tougaloo, which was 99.9 percent black. I was thinking, “Oh, well, now I’m among my people, I can be comfortable.” And what I found myself doing is I was so uncomfortable in my own skin, I gravitated towards those people who had drugs and alcohol. I found that when I came back to California, I got very, very involved in drugs at that time. I was mixing and matching. I was trying anything. So I went into dealing and started feeling like somebody, sort of like from back in high school again. ”Wow,” you know, “I’m really somebody. I’m a hell of a guy. I’ve got everything you need. I got the coke, I got the pot, I got the booze, I got the money, I got the time,” when all inside, I wasn’t shit.

DAVE: Dealing with this group, man. It kind of really-you know, it really shows me that I can be, you know, my color and some of the feelings that I have inside, you know, I can be with those feelings and don’t have to put on no show about them, you know. Just like Leon Tibbs, man, I’m just a old collard-green eating country boy and I feel real good about that, man, so-so, you know, I really get that, that, you know, it’s OK to be that, you know, black like I am, you know, I don’t have to go get no bleaching cream and no jeri-curl juice and all that kind of stuff.

KEVIN: That used to be me!

KENNY HALL: All my life, I’ve been singing someone else’s song that wasn’t mine and it never worked, you know, because I wanted to deny who I was because I didn’t like being black. Black was something bad. Black was something no good and so, I did everything in my power and in my life not to be black. So I learned the words to your song.

BILL MOYERS: As I hear you, though, I think of all the people I know, white, who are recovering addicts or not recovering, but addicts . They suffer a sense of worthlessness. They suffer powerlessness. They turn to drugs, alcohol to fill something inside and they would say the same thing that you would say about being worthless, lacking self-esteem, not being loved, not having connections with other human beings, not being able to share. So I’m wondering why you’re different.

KENNY HALL: There is no difference with feelings. There is no difference on that level, you know, and what the consequences and the tragedy of racism in our society is that it has made a difference. On a feeling level, there is no difference.

TONY: I could pick all kinds of things, that are-“I’m too big,” you know, ”My voice is too loud,” you know. “I’m too black,” or “I’m too white,” you know what I mean?

KEVIN: Yeah, I got to act black. [in a low voice] I got to act black or you know what I’m talking about? I got to act like I ain’t me. Yeah, I got do this, “Man,” you know. I got to wave my hands in implied language all over the place, you know, all that sort of stuff in order to-and it ain’t me.

TONY: It needs to get, for me, beyond the color because it goes deeper than that. It’s that we have to learn how to live together and the only way I can learn how to live with you is to learn how to live with me. If I look in the mirror at this guy and I don’t like who I’m seeing and I hate this guy, well, guess what? I get to hate you.

ERIC: I think it’s unique, though, but like Leon said, that the fact that I’ve always been afraid of black males. I’ve never trusted black males. I’ve been always∑ afraid that I was going to lose something or I was going to be judged by black males. You know, I grew up-you know how kids are when they grow up, you know. They well, they laugh and they tease you and a lot of those scars were still in my soul, you know. And there’s lot of apprehension and a lot of fear about getting close to black men because they’re going to, you know, steal my woman or they’re going to judge-they’re going to laugh at me again. We talked about the feelings of being angry, just being able to share that stuff with these guys.

”You can’t do that. You ain’t supposed to do that.” And the tone of voice he used, I said, ”Man, mother fuck you, I pay the rent, I do woo-woo-woo, you don’t tell me what to do.” I went off, man. I seen the little tears come-I didn’t-you know. And I-“I don’t care about you crying.” You know, I went right to place of-like my old man used to go to. “I’m paying all the fucking bills and here I’m buying the bills and woo-woo-woo-woo-woo. I don’t care about your feelings.” I went right to that yes.

And you know, after I did it, I heard how it sounded and I sat down. I was really-I was like really-you know, it was like it took an act of Congress for me to say, ”You know what? I was out of line, boy, big-time,” you know. But I didn’t go to him and tell him I was out of line. It was like-I told her.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The men sort through their lives, looking for the source of their resentment, anger and emotional difficulties. The writer Ralph Ellison used the term “invisible” for the experience of black men in America.

[interviewing] So what did drugs do for you?

KENNY HALL: It made my invisibility OK. It made it OK to be worthless. It made it OK to be powerless. It made it OK to be black. That’s all it did for me.

BILL MOYERS: If I hear you, you’re saying, “I turned to drugs because I was black and felt worthless.”

KENNY HALL: No, no, no. I think I continued to use drugs because of some of those reasons, but I became addicted to drugs because I was a drug addict, pure and simple. I’m not a drug addict because of racism. I’m not a drug addict because I’m black. I’m a drug addict because when I put drugs in my body, something happens, just like anyone else who has that propensity to addiction. If you use drugs, you’re going to get addicted, so that’s why I was a drug addict. But when you remove the drugs, I’m still black, I’m still worthless, I’m still ugly, I’m still no good. That’s recovery for me. It’s to challenge those demons in my life, so one day I can look in the mirror and I say, ”You know what? I am worthwhile. I am lovable and I am somebody.” You see, that’s recovery for me, on a daily basis, on a daily basis.

DAVE: [driving] All this is kind of, you know, real new to me, getting up, going to work in the morning and stuff, you know. It’s kind of really new to me. I was thinking earlier this morning, you know, about like this traffic.

I used to often wonder, you know-like I might be up this time in the morning, trying to buy dope or something like that or doing something, up all night. And I would kind of always often wonder where were all those people going? You know, what the hell are they doing? You know what? I thought that the people that did this, they really ran the world, you know. They really ran the world, the people that did this, because I would go to prison and come back do three, four, five years or whatever and come back -and they’d still be doing this, you know. And life went on.

[to Moyers] I think I’m what, 35 years old, and I think maybe after like, shit, 10 years in prison, I quit even counting, you know. I don’t-I can’t-right now, today, you know, in a sense that anybody would know exactly how much time they have done confined, I don’t know. I can’t remember. I would have to get pencil and a piece of paper and add it up, you know, because I just like quit counting because I thought that was the way my life was supposed to go.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Dave met Leon in the recovery group and recently began working for him. For years, during Leon’s addiction, he, too, lacked the confidence to keep a steady job, let alone run his own business.

LEON TIBBS: [driving] It’s worth it, man, I tell you. I like-I like being able to do my own schedule and stuff, but it’s a lot of responsibility that comes with this stuff and sometimes, I get real overwhelmed by it, you know. But shoot, I enjoy it. I like what I do. I really like this.

[to Moyers] It was around ’81, ’82 and I was working for this guy and the only hang-up I had during that time was that I couldn’t show up. I wasn’t dependable, you know. If he gave me some money, that was just it. I wasn’t coming the next day and he knew it, you know. And in fact, he had liquor and stuff and I remember, I say, ”Man, why don’t you credit me a bottle of liquor?” And he’d give me, you know, like a quart of gin or something and I couldn’t go to work the next-so he stopped doing it. And I remember when I went to work for this guy where I learned a lot of stuff. I had a big ego, you know I said, “I know.

You don’t have to tell me everything, I know how to do it.” And the interesting thing about Dave is he’s so humble, it blows me away, ’cause it usually a real gradual process, you know, when you see people come into recovery, where it takes time to knock that ego down. But Dave, he’s just like he’s hearing me and I see he’s learning, you know, and it’s real good.

DAVE: I could remember, when I first started working with Leon, you know, we discovered the fact that both of us was clumsy, you know. And I could remember, man, going to the pen, man, you know, you couldn’t do that. You couldn’t walk crazy. I mean, you had to–you know, you had to be and had to have, you know, a glide to it, you know. And man, you know, I took that, “Boy, lookie here” and I ran with it because I really didn’t want nobody to see that I was clumsy, that I might trip or fall or something like that, you know. So I took that walk and perfected it. Boy, lookie here, when I come through the yard, everybody’ll stop and all the guns are beamed down ’cause I’m coming, you know what I’m saying? And I’ll be pushing it through there, you know.

And it was so good about Leon, saying, “Boy, you just clumsy,” you know what I’m saying? And I’m clumsy-yeah, and I mean, we’re tripping over each other, you know what I’m saying and man, that was good for me, man. That was-you know, I could really let that thing down, you know, because

TONY: ‘Cause you used to do that and then me.

LEON TIBBS: Yeah, I still do it sometimes.

TONY: You’d be holding up the wall, you know, like how we do–and then, something happens. Then, all of a sudden, you’re just-


TONY: And you get-

LEON TIBBS: I say look at the home boy, that homie.

DAVE: I didn’t feel like I was trying to project that image. Man, that’s just something that just, you know, has growed on me, man. That behavior, man, it just really-I don’t try to do it. It just comes, you know. I mean, it came natural. I practiced-it, practiced it so long until it just became natural and I still find myself sometime, you know, falling back off into that-

TONY: When you get what?

DAVE: Scared, when I get scared, yeah. I fall back off into that.

BILL MOYERS: What do you get out of this that you might not get out of the more traditional 12-step program that a lot of people participate in?

TONY: It’s real simple. We offer each other feedback here and there’s no dialogue in the 12-step meetings. How do they say it?

LEON TIBBS: Dialogue or debate.

ERIC: No crosstalk.

TONY: No crosstalk, no debate and we crosstalk. We dig. We pursue.

MEL: My daughter called three or four days ago and she wanted to know-she wanted to stay with me, you know, move over and stay with me over on this side. You know, she stays in Oakland with her mother.

TONY: Is this your daughter?

MEL: No, the-well, it’s my daughter, but it’s hot my daughter, natural daughter

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Mel is 45, the oldest and newest member. His daughter hasn’t lived with him since he’s been sober.

MEL: With me, it was always real good. It was somewhat superficial for me because I’ve always overcompensated. Like when I used to cop drugs and everything, she was right there with me a lot of times and she’s been at some shootouts when I was, you know-I mean, we had pistols and she was right there. She’s been with me. I’ve always had her around and anyway, she calls and it really threw me off. And she wanted to, you know, know could she come over and stay? And I said, ”Well, when are you talking about?” She said, “Well, right away,” you know. I said, ”Well, how long are you talking about?” And she said, “Oh well, temporary,” or something like that. And I said, ”Well, what’s temporary to you?” She said, ”Well, about a year or so.” And I’m scared to death ’cause I don’t know how, you know-I haven’t learned how to really take care of myself.

LEON TIBBS: Is this something you want to do or is this something you’re doing out of guilt?

MEL: Both. What I guess what I want some feedback on is somebody who’s been through this or whatever can help. I get

LEON TIBBS: My daughter would like visit me like, you know, during the summer or whenever. And boy, whenever she came, I had to have everything laid out just right, you know. Tomorrow, we’ll go to Great America, the next day, we’ll go to up to this place and the next day, we’ll to Santa Cruz and do all this stuff perfect, you know, which I thought-you know, that’s how it was supposed to be. And then, one summer, she came in and stayed like three weeks and I ain’t had no money. I ain’t had no money and we just had to just spend time, to just be together, you know. And it was the best visit we ever had ’cause we had-you know, ’cause I had to be with her, you know, and that’s what was uncomfortable for me. I didn’t want to be with her ’cause I didn’t know what to do. I don’t know where-I ain’t have a clue what to do, but I could go get lost in these amusement parks and all that stuff, but-and that’s being together, man. That was the best visit we had. And what I’m finding out, man, it’s like she don’t want all of that. She just want to be with her dad, that’s all she want. She want to be with her dad.

MEL: Well, you really hit a key thing right there, ’cause every time she’s down, that’s what it’s been like. “OK, I’ll come on over,” we go to Great America or whatever. We’ll go for a walk and we always have a plan and always taking her out, money and things like that. And this is just going to be on the raw, straight up, uncut, you know, the dirty drawers and that and that, you know. ”Move over.” “No, you move,” you know. Oh, go on, “Excuse me,” you know, all the human things, yeah, and I have no control over that. Yeah, and it’s scary.

ERIC: It’s going to be worse, brother. That means two jobs and school and all that stuff. There’s a lot of a changes, going to be a lot of stress on yourself and for you to bring another person into your space, maybe somebody you haven’t lived with in a long time, it’s going to be some more stress.

TONY: But it doesn’t sound like he’s got the choice.

ERIC: Well, from what he gave me, he does. He’s saying that maybe he’s not ready to deal with it right now.

TONY: But, actually, is he a stepfather-and he says, “This is my daughter.” And the way I’m looking at it as-from a parent’s point of view is that my son or my daughter needs me, you see, whether it’s convenient or not-you see what I’m saying? ‘Cause I didn’t have that when I was growing up. I didn’t have a father to be able to go to and I know how important that is. You see what I’m saying?

ERIC: Sure. I do.

TONY: So I don’t know. I mean, it depends on how you look at it. Either it’s my convenience or is it something that I realize that my kid needs?

BILL MOYERS: As an outsider to any group like that-and this is, of course, part of the problem of non-recovering addicts. I mean, some of us are addicted to other things than drugs and alcohol, but we’re still an outsider to your experience. It’s hard to see what a group like that does. It looks like they just sit around and talk.

KENNY HALL: We sit around and get honest with each other, you know. It’s a like a form of celebration, you know, for us and we would disclose things and we would talk about things. We would talk about our inability to love ourselves and to love black women. That’s been a big thing that group has allowed me to do, to learn how to love a black woman.


KENNY HALL: I didn’t know how to do that?

BILL MOYERS: You had never loved a black woman before?

KENNY HALL: It’s part of that internalized hatred and that internalized oppression and racism, internalized sexism, that everything that was beautiful was white, blonde and blue-eyed, you know. And it’s not conscious. It was so internalized that I didn’t have to think about it. It was instinctive.

ERIC: Well, the thing that I’ve done in this relationship is that I haven’t done recently, but there’s a couple of times when I got scared, that I would say, “I’m outta here!” And so that one, you know, that’s done-that’s left some scars. That’s left some scars. “I’m outta here,” you know and so-

TONY: And she didn’t say anything?

ERIC: “Oh,” she says, “Oh, so you’re going to run, huh? You’re going to run, huh? Tuck your tail and run, huh?”

TONY: I need to be checked. I need a woman. I can’t be having no weak woman that’s going to be subservient to me. I don’t respect her. I don’t respect that kind of woman.

ERIC: I guess-and there’s a part that I like about that, too, is the fact that-it’s kind of like I always wanted to have a partner that was like my road dog, you know, and when I see that in her, that-you know, that’s that part, that “road dog” part that I want, you know.

And I guess I haven’t quite learned how to work through to just not be intimidated by that masculine side that she shows and continue to talk through it to get, you know, to share my feelings with her.

LEON TIBBS: I used to try and do it and I’d wait till it would get real bad where I couldn’t stand it no more and then I’d try and communicate. And then, I’d have to kind of have to put out how I was feeling and what was going on for me and usually, it was stuff that we had talked about before and it was still going on for me. And my fear was that, “Damn, if I keep bringing this shit up, she going to fool around and leave my ass and go find somebody who’s strong,” and that, ’cause I felt weak.

TONY: Sometimes, working on this stuff with my partner, I get tired of it, man, you know. And especially when it affects something that I want, you know what I’m saying? When I want some sex from her and it needs to be love and it starts before the bedroom and I know all that stuff-being vulnerable with her and sharing how I feel with her and doing all that stuff.

And then, I do all that stuff, you know, what I mean and I you know, I rub her back and give her a massage and I take her and get her something to eat or bring her something home to eat and she said no. And then, it happens over and over again and then, I’m thinking, “God damn, when we first met, it was more regular. What’s up,” you know.

DAVE: I don’t know. I really connect with you on this whole situation about the relationship thing with the woman. And I was hearing you saying that you was talking to Eric on the phone and you went back and called the lady and told her you love her. When a woman tells me that, I still say, you know, like “thank you,” you know. “I love you, baby, thank you,” you know. You know, and I see one day, maybe I might be able to, you know, say, “Well, OK, I love you, too,” you know.

And I think it’s amazing ’cause I think you come from maybe that same kind of cut, you know, where you just, you know-I don’t know what you might have said in the past when a woman told you she loved you, how you took her off on it or did you just concoct something? Well, OK, I’m going to say I love you, but it’s really about this-what I want you to do over here and all that kind of shit, you know.

LEON TIBBS: Sometimes, when you was talking like, you know, going out to dinner and bringing this in the house and bringing all that stuff, it felt like your motives were for sex and when you didn’t get it, you know, you were all disappointed, you was fucked up about it, so it was just like you was setting yourself up for it, you know. It was conditions on it, you know. “Let’s go out to dinner,” and, you know, in the back of my mind, it was “It’s going to be nice when we get home,” you know.

TONY: Yeah, sometimes. Well, this shit ain’t easy and I guess I’m finding out that a relationship is more than sex, you know. It’s about giving and I’ve been a taker for so long, man. I’ve just been taking from so many people for so long. Everybody that I interact with I take from.

DAVE: Well, this group has showed me how to live, how to be a black man, something I’ve wanted for a long time, but I just didn’t know where to look. I couldn’t get it out of no books, you know. I don’t read that good. My education level is real low, so I couldn’t get it out of no books.

And all the role models that I really kind of looked up to or had a chance to rub shoulders with, they’re in prison. I told you what they did, you know. And this group has really gave me-has fulfilled that-my gut feeling, you know, that I want to be a black man, I want to be a father. I want to be maybe someday a husband to some woman, you know. I get all that from here.

KENNY HALL: How many times have you seen black men sitting around with each other, telling the truth to each other, sharing their deepest feelings and their deepest fears and their wishes and their dreams and their hopes? And to be able to say, ”You know what, I’m scared and I don’t know how to do it. Please help me. Please show me.” You know, “Please walk with me.” It’s not necessarily giving someone an answer, you know. It’s having someone there to hold my hand while I walk through that period in my life that’s so devastating and so confusing. But I have someone there, holding my hand, saying, “It’s going to be OK.”

BILL MOYERS: We were struck -my colleagues and I, listening to some of your friends the other night -how many of them talked about their fathers, the absent father, the father who wasn’t there. All of them seemed to want to discuss their sons and their own failures as fathers, playing out of the fear that maybe it’s going to be repeated again.

KENNY HALL: The bottom line is how do we, you know, change tradition in our lives? I remember complaining one day to one of the elders in our community about our ancestors. And he looked at me straight in the eye and he said, “What type of ancestor are you going to make?” And it became real clear to me then that I do have a responsibility in this process in rewriting tradition in my life, you know, that I don’t have to pass it on. I don’t have to pass on the violence. I can pass on the love.

DAVE: I got a son 18 and it hadn’t really dawned on me until tonight how I might have been the cause of maybe him going to penitentiary one day. Soon, probably, because he’s got this kid coming. He doesn’t have no job, he never went to school, you know what I’m saying? He’s going to do something, you know.

I went by his house the other day and he had a big diamond ring and shit and I said, “Let me wear this ring, man.” He said, ”You ain’t got none, no ring?” And I said, “No,” He say, “I get you one,” you know, and it scared the hell out of me. I don’t know what to do, you know. If anybody, you know, know anything or have any suggestions or?

TONY: Start hanging out with him. Start doing things with him. I take my son to the show, take him to the Burger King. If he calls me, I talk to him. You know, I don’t fake the funk with him. You know, I just talk with him. I didn’t raise him. I was in jail. I was shooting dope. I was drinking up, you know what I mean? I wasn’t there. And I always had a woman, so my older son wants to be like that. My middle son wants to be like that, you know what I mean? And so now, every time my son sees me now, I got a book. I don’t tell him that he needs to read, I show him that he needs to read.

DAVE: Well, I’ve seen people-fathers and sons in prison together and man, it would always kind of like stir something up in me, you know. Am I going to ever have to share a cell with my son? I got some work to do in that area, a lot of work, man.

ERIC: Wow, you know, I think about this youngster, man, and man, this youngster’s future’s bright. It’s a trip ’cause last season, I was at his basketball games. I was sitting there and I stopped-I got pissed ’cause the coach wouldn’t play him, you know. I wanted to beat up the coach. I went to a game and they was winning by like 20-something, you know, and there was like five or six of us parents sitting in the stands and we was pissed, man, ’cause you know, all of our kids was sitting, you know, on the bench and stuff, man.

And I went up to the coach afterwards and I told him, I said, “Look, man, you’re taking all the fun out of the game when you’re winning by that much and you don’t put those kids in there,” you know. And I don’t know about you, but I played organized basketball before and I know how fun it is when you’re winning by that much and everybody gets clear the bench and have fun and stuff, ’cause-especially at that age, you know. And the coach told me, he says, ”Yeah, well, we needed to win,” and that, you know. And I wanted to snatch his ass, man, and-you know, all that stuff, you know, all that-this white dude, you know. And all my stuff, all that racism came up. I wanted to kick this punk’s ass, you know.

And it was a trip ’cause after that-you know, that was the first experience I had with Bacari where he cried, man. It was like he was so hurt, man. He came up to me afterwards, man, and he says-I say, ”Man, how are you feel, dude?” And he turned away ’cause he didn’t want me to see cry, you know. It was like [sniffs]-and we went outside.

We walked away from, you know, his mother and Alicia and we got outside, man, and he broke, man, you know. And I was fucked up ’cause I broke, too, you know. So I-“Damn, dude, I know how you feel,” you know. And I told him, I says, you know, “It’s like you got a lot of character, man, hanging in like that, man, ’cause I don’t think, you know, when I was playing basketball, I don’t think I would have hung, man, you know, if they asked me to sit on the bench all fucking season like you. I mean, you got a lot of fucking character, dude. And you know, I’m proud of you, man, ’cause you know, you could hang like this, you know.”

[weeping] And I’ve been so fucking-just selfish, man, you know. I haven’t been to any of his games this season, you know. And

[to Moyers] You know, what I say is that God has a sense of humor, you know, and He knew that I was the type of recovering addict that forget a lot, that I would-you know, and I do. I get lost a lot. I forget a lot, you know, and so He put me in a job where I can’t forget where I came from. You see, every single day that I go to work, I’m reminded of where I came from.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] As the men in the group fight their own addictions, several have returned to their communities to share some of what they’ve learned.

ERIC: My job is, for the San Mateo County AIDS Program, I was hired as a Community Program Specialist to coordinate outreach to substance abusers ’cause they smoke crack and they drink and all of those different substances put people at risk for HIV. But that’s what I do.

What my experience has been the last 3-1/2 years doing this, it’s been that, you know, there’s been some people that, you know, I’ve become involved with that I have actually changed their ritual and so if I’ve reached one person, I’ve done my job.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] North across the bay at the County Probation Department in Oakland, Kenny leads recovery workshops.

KENNY HALL: [leading workshop] If you’ve been bombarded with stuff a whole lot, you know, for a long period of time in your life, it’s like we get these messages about ourselves, you know, over a long period of time.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] He’s trying to widen the circle further, to include people who may have walked and worked the same streets he has.

KENNY HALL: And if you don’t sympathize anymore, it becomes real invisible. And you see, I know where I came from, nobody ever told me I was smart. I was always told how dumb I was. I was always told what I would never amount to. I always heard those messages and I always tried to meet up to someone else’s expectations and I could never make it. I want to tell you that you don’t have to strive to meet up to anyone’s expectations, no one else’s but your own.

[to Moyers] Recovery doesn’t happen in isolation. No one does it alone.

TONY: And this is the cement, this is the glue, this is the cornerstone that makes my life what it is.

MEL: You got to, one day at a time, just do whatever is in front of you today.

That’s Tamika, that’s my daughter. They’re cousins. I’m just surrounded with beauty. Can’t help it.

LEON TIBBS: Man, I never dreamed that I would be fighting this traffic.

ERIC: This is my wife, this is Juanita. This the woman that I love, OK?


DAVE: I’ve been in groups, gangs and clubs and stuff like that all my life, you know. And I would like to kind of send a message out to some people that might be like me -that’s, you know, a drug addict, alcoholic, convict, gang member, you know -and kind of let them know, man, that, you know, recovery is possible, you know.

This group is everything to me. My whole life right now is in this group. And anytime I get the notion that this group might not be, I get real scared, you know. I get real scared ’cause, for me, not being at group, I might as well be in prison.

KENNY HALL: [leading workshop] I didn’t have-if I had $10,000 when I was using, I wouldn’t have stopped! OK, so I didn’t go into a treatment center. You see, but what I’m saying-no, what I’m saying is how hard is it to let something like that go?

MAN: You’re right about it’s hard stopping drugs, but how do you deal with, like you say, the pain, you know, deal with that part of the addiction?

KENNY HALL: I’ll tell you how I’ve dealt with it. I have support groups that I go to that the sister just spoke about and I also have that group of men that I’m involved with because that’s one of the only places I can go to tell the truth about what’s going on inside and still be accepted and not told I’m a wimp or not told that I’m a chump or not told that I’m sometime this or I’m that. It’s the only place I can go to put my stuff out there and everybody understands. I say get the support. Don’t do it by yourself. That’s how you do it.

This transcript was entered on April 21, 2015.

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