Break the Habit

John Schmidt will save Danny. Come hell or a good high.

"I talked to a lot of different people about the possibility of raising public money for Marvin's Corner," O'Dell said recently. But aside from introductory meetings with county Commissioner Dennis Moss and Homestead Mayor Roscoe Warren, not much materialized. "John has a solid idea," O'Dell added. "But we could never get off the ground for a variety of reasons."

Between June and November last year, Schmidt opened a small version of Marvin's Corner in a condominium at 1800 NW 24th Ave. "At one point I was packing ten people into a three-bedroom condo unit down the hall from the apartment where I lived," Schmidt attests. "We did it quietly for six months with the blessing of the owner, until he passed away and his son sold the building."

Every time he brought in a new client, he would shave the addict's head and hand him a broom. "I made them sweep everything," Schmidt says, "even the sun off the sidewalk." Among the people Schmidt helped was Mike, a recovering crack addict who was homeless when he went to Marvin's Corner. "For two years I slept anywhere I could in Overtown and Liberty City," he says. "John taught me discipline and self-respect."

John Schmidt chats on his cell phone before entering the Miami-Dade courthouse, where he helps criminal drug offenders avoid jail time
Jacqueline Carini
John Schmidt chats on his cell phone before entering the Miami-Dade courthouse, where he helps criminal drug offenders avoid jail time
Schmidt speaks with recovering addicts while visiting the James E. Scott Community Association Transition and Rehabilitation Program
Jacqueline Carini
Schmidt speaks with recovering addicts while visiting the James E. Scott Community Association Transition and Rehabilitation Program

Schmidt would wake Mike and the others at 6:00 a.m., feed them breakfast, conduct group counseling sessions for an hour, and then hand out chores. At night they would play "The Game" -- the system of therapeutic abuse Schmidt learned at Delancey Street.

Since establishing Marvin's Corner, Schmidt has earned the trust of some of Miami's leading drug addiction specialists. "When I first met John [this past August], I had reservations," says Jim Hall, chairman of Miami-Dade County's addiction services and a nationally known figure.

But he was intrigued by Schmidt's tale of recovery. Over the past year, Hall estimates, he and Schmidt have conducted 20 to 30 interventions together. "One of John's most powerful tools is his frank honesty," Hall says. "He realizes sharing his story is good for his credibility with other addicts."

Schmidt's approach is particularly beneficial for drug users with criminal records, Hall adds. "He gives a lot of hope to individuals who are quite hopeless," he says. "Where some programs are not confrontational, he comes from an old school of therapeutic sessions that believes you have to break down the person before fixing them. That is not what is typically seen today. But for some addicts, it is the only type of treatment they respond to."


This past May 21, Schmidt is sitting inside a Starbucks in Coral Gables. As usual he is wearing a light blue dress shirt, navy slacks, and dark loafers. He sips a tall iced coffee and reads the newspaper. He looks out the window when Jessie and Danny come strolling up the sidewalk. Jessie bursts out in a huge grin and waves at him. Danny, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, shows no emotion.

They enter and sit down next to Schmidt. Danny doesn't seem interested in being there other than to appease Jessie. Over the next 45 minutes, Schmidt gauges Danny's sincerity about seeking help. Danny claims easy access to drugs in Miami is part of his problem: "I need to get out of here, as far away as possible."

Schmidt tells him there's a two-year program in San Francisco, but then the crack addict reveals he's afraid of airplanes. "I'm not flying," he says. "You get me on a bus or a train."

Schmidt shoots a disapproving look at Danny. "If you are that scared, we can sedate you for the entire flight," Schmidt offers.

Danny continues to balk. "I'll go wherever you want me to go, but as long as I don't have to get on a plane."

Then Schmidt offers Danny a place at Pompano Beach-based Spectrum Programs Inc. "I want you to give me one day sober," Schmidt says. "You give me that, call me tomorrow morning, and I will get you in."

Two days later Danny telephones Schmidt, apologizing for his tardiness. They agree to meet May 24 for a group session Schmidt has coordinated at a friend's place in Coral Gables.

But three hours before the meeting, Danny phones Schmidt. "Yeah, I'm not going to make it to Coral Gables. Can you meet halfway, closer to my crib?" Danny asks.

Schmidt refuses. "It's not fair to the people who are coming in for this session," he says.

"Listen, man, I'm not going down there," Danny complains. "I don't have any money, and I don't like riding the bus."

Schmidt doesn't budge. "You've had 48 hours to get clean and save up three bucks to ride the bus," Schmidt says. "I'm sure you spend at least $100 a day buying crack. Now I'm not going to go to your place in the hood. And I'm not going to ask my friends to go to you either. This is the second step. You have to make the commitment to get clean and come to me. I'm not going to you. It doesn't work that way."

Danny loses his temper. "Well fuck you then."

Schmidt: "Fuck you it is, Danny. You have to do this on your own. I'm not going to take you there." He hangs up.

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