James, a former United States Marine Corps Lance Corporal, can’t pinpoint the exact reason why his life spiraled out of control. He is, however, pretty certain that it had something to do with “drugs and stuff like that. That changed everything.”
James was born in Alabama into a large family – he is one of 10. He entered the Marine Corps directly out of high school and completed boot camp “with stripes” – something he is extremely proud of. For 6 years James enjoyed serving as a Marine and the overseas travel that went along with it. He was honorably discharged and went to work at his father’s construction company. Things weren’t quite right though. He was having difficulty getting along with his family. Needing a change, he left Alabama to live with a sister in Connecticut. That’s when James’ life fell apart. He started using drugs and ended up in prison.
When James was released from prison he had a hard time reconnecting. He tried to get the help he needed. But, soon he found himself in trouble and back in prison. James had literally lost the very freedoms he had served to defend as a Marine.
The second time he came out of prison, he was determined to make major changes. “I’m tired of being in and out of jail and institutions. I didn’t have freedom. Somebody is always telling you what to do.” James didn’t find help easily. He would have to reapply for disability benefits since he had missed important dates in the process while in prison. He had no job, no income, and he was bouncing from program to program.
James was still sober, but homeless when he finally sought help at the VA's Errera Community Care Center in West Haven. He was referred to Harkness House, Columbus House’s program for homeless male Veterans, and moved into one of the four shared apartments there. James says that staying at Harkness House was “just like being at home.”
While at Harkness House, James began attending regular group meetings at the Errera Center and was connected with a VA caseworker. “Thank God for that. She came right out and she did a lot of footwork for me. It didn’t take long.” After just a few months James’ housing application was approved and he moved into his own apartment. His caseworker continues to work with him. She has helped him obtain his birth certificate and high school diploma, and reapply for disability benefits. Since his bicycle was stolen, she has been driving him to his group meetings at the Errera Center. “She’s been like a mother to me. I highly respect her.”
James is saddened to have lost relationships with his family over the years. He has many brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and five children. Just recently, he lost his mother, his middle brother, and his 107-year-old grandmother. He wasn’t even able to attend his mother’s funeral. James hopes that time will mend the wounds with his family. He has fond memories of fishing with a brother that lives in Bridgeport and he hopes to return to Alabama one day to be with his family there. For now, James is happy to have his freedom back.