Darryl Chestnut

I grew up in Harlem. My mother and father both worked, but they drank alcohol and they used to fight. My father got killed when I was eleven. I started smoking marijuana about then. I always hung out with older guys from the basketball team. At weekends we would save our money and chip in for marijuana. And eventually we started drinking. A lot of number runners, a lot of hustlers where I grew up. And a lot of people looked up to them. Because they had the fancy clothes, nice cars. And you thought that was the right way to go. And as I got in high school, I started selling marijuana. Even though I was on the varsity basketball team and was college-bound.

My girlfriend got pregnant after we got out of high school. She was about 19. I wound up getting a job, and I wound up hustling, selling dope, stuff like that. I got married at 22, I had two kids then. At 29, my wife died in a car accident. We had four kids. I was really close to her and I really missed her. I started drinking alcohol heavily every day. Still smoked marijuana, then I was smoking crack. I stopped paying my bills and lost my job.

I didn’t know anything about getting help. I thought I could stop on my own because I had done it before. But I couldn’t. Alcohol took me out, where I couldn’t stop. I was ashamed. This was when my sister-in-law told me that the housing office was about to put me out. It really hit me that I needed help. So I did a 28-day program. I went on 3/21/10. That’s my sober date, and I’ve been clean ever since.

After completing that, I knew I needed more help. I really wanted to stop using. I did a family program where my kids were able to come up and express to me how they felt about me using and all the things I’d done to them. How I’d stole from them. And that was real helpful for them and for me to hear it. So I was really dedicated not to use again.

I heard about Project Renewal’s Renewal Farm. I would be able to work on the farm. Get some structure, get my life back together. And that’s what I did. Project Renewal really helped save my life. Renewal Farm helped me get connected to myself, helped me get back to working.

And I learned a lot there. Patience and tolerance, working with each other. People would teach me things that I never knew about. Like transplanting plants, and seeding. You’d be surprised what a little seed will blossom to be. And it gave me motivation, because I wanted to see it grow. And as it started growing, you feel a part of that. And it makes you feel good, because you did that, and it’s mine. We grew lettuce, string beans, carrots, eggplants. And it was nice even when we changed over. When the winter comes, we have a greenhouse. And that’s where we come a little closer, because we’re right there together doing different things. This taught me how to get along with others and help others and stay focused.

Mr. Harrington and Mr. Gonzalez were great people. They see you doing the right thing, they really help you. And it helped me get back with my family. I was able to go home on the weekends, knowing that when I come back I’ll be tested. I needed that. You couldn’t just do what you wanted. They had rules you had to follow.

I took a security guard class up there; I was able to get my 8 hour certificate. They helped me get my finger prints and my background check. They helped me get my license and I wound up getting a job within 3 or 4 weeks. So that’s what I’m doing now, I’m doing security.

They placed me in transitional housing. I have a room. I’m working. And things are looking up. I have no desire to use. I’m going on 18 months clean. And it’s a great feeling, not to get up wanting or being sick, worrying about who you owe.

I feel good being back working and being a productive member of society. And being with my family. My kids, I love my kids. I tell them that I can’t take back the things that I’ve done, but we can look forward and go from here.