The signs of Richard Andrews Jr.’s new life are in his pockets.
House keys jangle against his right thigh. “I haven’t had these in a long time, man,” he said.
A Massachusetts driver’s license sits in the brown wallet at his back. “I never used to carry this ID,” Andrews said. It’s foolish to have identification if you don’t want police to know your name.
A golden medallion, marking Andrews’s 18 months of sobriety, stays behind a fold in his wallet.
Just a few years ago, Andrews was homeless and addicted to heroin, untethered from his family and on the precipice between jail and the streets. He said his turnaround began when he sought help from the Pine Street Inn in 2012.
On Wednesday, Andrews and 91 others graduated from the South End shelter’s job training program.
“This place here does it,” said Andrews. “It saves lives if you go with it.”
‘This place here does it. It saves lives if you go with it.’
Mayor Martin J. Walsh, a recovering alcoholic, delivered the graduation address and told the graduates he understands their struggle and knows firsthand how they can overcome.
“Follow your dream,” he said. “Whatever your dream was as a kid, a teenager, as an adult, whatever your dream was before you made the decision, before you said, ‘OK, I’m going to turn my life around.’ ”
Ellis Wright, 43, graduated with Andrews in the HandyWorks training program, which prepares people for jobs in building and maintenance. After a solid upbringing in Jersey City, N.J., Wright said, he dropped out of high school and fell into a life of narcotics, fights, and petty crime.
This week, Wright said, he will take Andrews’s old job in maintenance at Pine Street, but he hopes to one day become a motivational speaker.
“I’m not where I want to be, but I’m definitely not where I used to be,” he said.
Andrews has left Pine Street to find a new job. Until then, he has a place of his own in Malden, and he plans to do jobs for a construction company that used to employ him to operate heavy equipment.
On probation until next August for convictions on drug charges, driving without a license or insurance, and assault and battery on a police officer, Andrews said he has interests in marketing and drug counseling. He said he plans to apply to the University of Massachusetts Boston.
On Wednesday, he did a lot of walking, the last legs of a 40-year journey that began when he first got high in 1974 at South Boston High School.
He walked from the kitchen upstairs at the Pine Street Inn, through the winding hallways and stairwells, past the butcher block cutting boards he used to help make in the shop, and out into the bright sun where the humming of pile drivers and the whine of buzz saws, sounds of rebuilding, provided the soundtrack to his graduation.
His Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor — Dan Wrenn, 75, of Malden — watched Andrews wear an itchy cap and gown for the first time since 1977, when he graduated from Brighton High School.
“I helped him out many a time, but he kept coming back, and the door was always open,” Wrenn said, adding that he first met Andrews 20 years ago. “He wanted what we had, and I know God didn’t give up on me, and I didn’t give up on Richard.”
Andrews listened to the mayor, ate a roast beef sandwich and a chocolate chip cookie, and walked to Dudley Square, where he grew up and the old-timers still remember him. They yell from cars and sidewalk benches, “Hey, Rick,” “Congratulations,” or “Where you been, man?”
Where has he been?
To the street corner near Roxbury Presbyterian Church. That’s up the way from his old house, near where he said he used to buy heroin. If money was short, the dealers sometimes let him buy on credit because he kept his Lincoln Continental clean, and they could tell he had a job. From 1982 until 2008, he said, he held on to a wife and four boys — or, more likely, his wife held on to him — until a sudden cash infusion from back wages led to a major binge and his family fell apart.
He has been past the dope houses on the side roads around Washington and Warren streets, near the McDonald’s where Andrews said he washed up and shot up in the bathroom many mornings. He still has the scars on his arm to prove it. He leaves them exposed under short sleeves, hoping the sun will darken his skin until they are invisible.
He has been to 30 Copeland St., where he grew up, and where he said he slept from about 2010 until 2012, often strung out in his cold, dark childhood bedroom, because his sister kept the property but turned off the power and heat.
On Wednesday, he was there again, in the overgrown backyard, searching for signs of the old cinder block grill by the chain link fence, or the peach tree, or his mother’s garden. Andrews listened to the wind blow through the leaves overhead. He looked up and thought about how he never used to pay attention to simple beauty.
The house is empty now. He thinks his sisters want to sell it. Andrews’ dream, the one the mayor told him to follow, is to buy that home and save the memories. There are birds there, and peace.
“It’s just little things, man,” he said. “It’s just good to be alive today.”
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