I come from a family of addicts. My mother left when I was two. I got taken by the state when I was three. I was around drugs and alcohol my whole life but I don’t blame that on my family. My addiction is my addiction. They tried their best. They told me not to do what I ended up doing anyway.
I got back with my family eventually. I looked to my older brother for guidance. I wanted to be just like him. He started getting in trouble… so I had to get in trouble, too. He went into juvenile detention and I went out of my way to get locked up. I wasted my life trying to be like him. He pushed me away for a reason.
He got locked up, I got locked up, and when I got out I started drinking and smoking weed. I dabbled in other hard drugs. I dropped out of school. From there, I moved into an apartment with this guy I knew. It was a stash house for hard drugs. We used to break them down to pay the bills. I worked construction and sold drugs. My dad finally got it together and wanted me to come home. At the time, I was seventeen and I was dating a twenty-year-old, and I thought we were going to spend the rest of our lives together. So I ran away. I was out committing crimes. I got picked up by the cops with a bunch of drugs on me, and I caught my first adult case.
I got bailed out by my foster parents. It was weird because they are very religious people, and I lied and manipulated them. I started working again and moved into my own apartment. The apartment was part of my pay. My brother got out and I was trying to impress him. I was selling a lot of drugs, trying to be the cool kid on the block. Somebody robbed my house and I ended up pistol whipping fourteen people. I caught a big case. I wasn’t getting bail. But I thought, “Hey, I’m cool, I’m in jail”. Now my brother and I were locked up together. I was always trying to prove myself to him: He became a gang member, I became a gang member. He got tattoos, I got tattoos. I have some of the same tattoos as my brother.
Fast forward a little bit – I got out and started using and selling Perc 30s and Oxy 80s. I didn’t know they were addictive. I didn’t know I was going to get sick. I didn’t know the person they would make me become. But it was the cool thing to do. Everyone was doing it. They gave you energy. You’d be flying around a job site, wanting to work ten more hours a day.
Eventually those dried up. I remember the first time I used heroin. I made a phone call to this guy I looked up to as a father figure. He taught me almost everything I know about construction. He said, “The only thing I have is heroin and I don’t want you trying that”. I said, “Nah, I’m good, I’m all set”. But I was sick. Twenty minutes went by and I talked him into bringing something. I tried it and I was off and running from there. I sold drugs, I worked, I manipulated anybody I could to get my next fix – because I never wanted to be sick. I ended up catching three sales to a criminal informant. I did two to four years in the prison. I went in with the best intentions. I didn’t even fight my case. I didn’t wait to get indicted. I said, “I know I did something wrong and I know I need help”. On the other hand, I thought, “I finally made it. I made it to prison”. Normal people think, “I’m going to college”.
I went in with every good intention: “I’m not going to get high. I’m done with that life”. I got my GED in Valley Street jail before I went to prison. When I got up there, I joined the small business management class and started working in the kitchen – laying low. I started going to the gym and working out. A friend of mine said, “Suboxone will make you want to work out ten times harder”. It gave me energy like Perc 30s. I did two years in prison and I was in active addiction a year and nine months of my stay.
I faked the funk for awhile. I drank tons of water and beat the urinalysis. I got out in active addiction. I didn’t have my connections anymore. All of them were in prison. My first day out, I was laying on my dad’s couch. Everybody was happy and I was sick. I wanted to kill myself. So I jumped right back into it. I started using and selling again. I kept telling my parole officer, “Send me back. I need to reset”. Prison and jail were like a reset button for me. It helped me get my mind right. He sent me to the Suboxone clinic. I had this guy giving me 3 Suboxone a day, 90 Gabapentin a month, and Adderall. I kept coming up positive for heroin. He asked, “What’s going on?” I said, “I have ADHD. I’m having trouble concentrating on not getting high”. My thought process was, “My brother’s still in prison. I’m going to send stuff”. It was a downward spiral.
I don’t know why they didn’t kick me out of the Suboxone clinic because I never had it in my system. They just kept giving it to me every week. The whole time I was telling my parole officer, “Just send me back. Please send me back”. He said, “No. I’ve got faith in you”.
I didn’t have faith in myself.
I started selling a lot. I had no license. I was driving a car that was not legit. I bought it for drugs. I was in Manchester and I got pulled over. I thought, “Everything’s going to be fine. I’m going to give him my little brother’s name”. My little brother is a citizen. He’s never been in trouble – never been pulled over – nothing. I asked, “What are you pulling me over for?” He said, “You have a brake light out”. I knew I didn’t. I had just changed all the lights in the car. He said, “What’s your name?” I said, “Kyle Smith”. He asked, “You related to Sean and Josh Smith?”
“Yeah, those are my brothers”.
He saw some of my tattoos – gang affiliated – and he asked, “How’s Sean doing?” I said, “He’s been better”. He asked, “Why don’t you come out and check the tail light?” So I did. He asked, “Do you have anything on you?”
“No, no, no”.
He put his hand in my pocket and pulled out some fentanyl. I had more in the car. I got caught with 55 grams, an eight ball of crack, 3 Suboxone, and a ledger of people who owed me money.
I’d already been convicted of a bunch of drug cases. I was sitting in Valley Street and I got my indictments. They were reading fifteen to thirty; seven and a half to fifteen; seven and a half to fifteen. I thought, “I’m 30 years old. I’m about to do 15 years. This is what this addiction has got me”. I started reading my discovery because there is nothing else to do except play cards and read. I went to the law library and looked stuff up. I ended up filing a motion to suppress evidence under a Terry stop law. The officer was not supposed to put his hands in my pocket. They said, “If you withdraw your motion, we’ll give you a suspended sentence”. I said, “Yeah, I’ll take that. It’s perfect. I’m already a ten time convicted felon. What’s a few more?”. So, I signed off on that. But then they said, “You were driving without a license, subsequent offense. We’re going to give you a year on that. You gave a false name. We’re going to give you another year on that”. I thought, “Yeah, whatever. I’ve got nine or ten months in – it’s a little bit more time.”.
I heard about this program called SACO and my brain started clicking: “How can I beat the system?” I signed up for it and they accepted me. My whole thought process was: “I’m going to get out, cut this bracelet off, get high, and go on the run. Catch me if you can”. I had 7.5 – 15 years over my head, and my mind was still saying, “Let’s go get high”. I was faking the funk, going to the classes, waiting for that bracelet. I was on the phone at night, talking to a girl, saying, “Don’t worry. I’m coming home, cutting this thing off, and we’re going to get high”. She was all about it. Those were the kind of people I surrounded myself with.
When they were doing the home check for my release, a guy came and did an interview. He said, “Smith, how old are you?”
“Thirty years old, man”.
He said, “Listen, I’m just going to tell you this now. If you don’t get this by the time you’re in your mid-to-late-thirties – you’re probably not going to. And you’re going to be that guy who keeps coming in and out of jail when you’re fifty, sixty years old”.
That had been a fear of mine my whole life. I don’t want to be that guy who’s sixty, coming onto a pod, where the COs are like, “Hey, Smith, how’s it going?”
Something finally clicked: “Why not give this a chance? They have faith in you to do the right thing”. It was a turning point for me. My eyes opened. So I gave it my all. I got out on the ankle bracelet. I started a job at T-Bones in Hudson. It the only place that would hire me. I had never made $11 an hour in my life. It was a humbling experience. I worked 50 hours a week… and all I was doing was sitting in my room at my parent’s house. I wanted to go get high and drink. I wanted to do something. I had no friends – nothing.
I had to go to the jail every week to do a UA and give them my schedule for my ankle bracelet. I was talking to this guy and he was like, “You should come to where I live.”
“Where is it?”
“It’s in Nashua. It’s called Rise Above”.
I was trying to figure out, “How can I get out of this one?” So, I said:
“I’ve done too much time. I don’t want to sleep in a room with another guy”.
He said, “The perfect thing is there are singles available”.
I thought, “Oh, man, what’s my excuse now?”
I moved into Rise Above. I was still working at T-Bones but the jail was getting on me to do an IOP. I had to cut down my hours. I was working in Hudson – no license, no ride. I was making $240 a week. My rent was $200. I started talking to some of the guys at the house. There was this one kid, Mick, who said, “I’ll give you a ride anytime. I work second shift, too”. I don’t know if he knows – to this day – how much that really affected my recovery. I was ready to give up. I had no money in my pocket. I was walking from Hudson to Nashua. It wasn’t fun. I’d call him at one o’clock in the morning and he would be right there.
I got talking to a kid, Dreads, who started his own company. He was the house manager at the time. I was like, “Hey, man, I know how to do construction. I’ve done it my whole life”. I kept bugging him about it and bugging him about it. He said, “I’ve got a roof coming up. I’ll pay you $200 a day. Come help me out. It’s probably 3 days”. Now, I’m Irish, and I sunburn really bad. I’m not meant to be on a roof. I was doing that and going in as a fry cook. It was horrible. The last day that I did the roof, he paid me, and I quit T-Bones that night. I took all my money and I put it toward my rent. I said, “I’ll figure it out. I can’t keep doing what I’m doing”. Dreads kept finding stuff for me to do. And that led me to Chris DiNicola.
I was doing a wood floor repair on this house. I didn’t know who the guy was. But he had just bought the house and he had some built-ins. We tore them out and I was patching in some hardwood. Dreads told me he was the owner of the sober houses. I went up and introduced myself. At the time, I still had the ankle bracelet. For some odd reason – I still don’t see what he saw in me – he’d find work for me to do around his house. No matter what, I could call him and say, “Hey, Chris, man, I’m struggling. It’s not even the money, I need to stay busy”. The guy went above and beyond to find things for me to do. It was crazy. He said, “Call me anytime”. So I did. He ended up becoming my sponsor.
Today, I work for the construction company he started. He’s still a big part of my recovery. I tell him he does more than he will ever take credit for. He hears what I have to say – my crazy thoughts. I’ll drive myself nuts thinking, “I’m useless”. That’s what I heard my whole life. When my dad was in jail, I lived with my uncle, and he used to make us say we were worthless or stupid. He’d get drunk and beat us. One time he came home and said, “Who’s stupid?” I said, “You are”. I took the whooping with a smile. Because I’m not stupid. But he wanted to degrade me.
Chris started trusting me – and the trust was a crazy thing. I’ve never been the type of criminal to do credit cards. I don’t do stuff that gets me caught. I had to pay for something when I was doing work on his house, and he sent me a picture of the front and back of his credit card. My mind was going crazy: “I gotta hide this from people. If somebody else gets it, he’s going to think I did it”. I did what I had to do and deleted the pictures. I was in a rush to get it over with. But it was another huge turning point. I’d earned someone’s trust again.
Chris helped me get my license back. He helped me set up a bank account. He helped me get my credit set. He’s always been there for good, solid advice.
I looked up to my brother my whole life. I wanted to be just like him. I still do. I love my brother to death. He is my best friend. But now I’m trying to guide him in the right direction. My brother got a case not that long ago. He was still in active addiction. I told him, “I’m going to try and get you PR-ed to a program”. He’s done 10 years and he was looking at more prison time. He never got a chance. I know what it’s like to get that one chance and fight for it. So I just needed him to be in a situation where he finally needed my help. I used to stress to Chris all the time: “Man, I wish I could just get my brother out of this. It’s not the fact that he wants money, because I’d give him money, but I’m not going to give him money to kill himself. I’m not going to feed his addiction”. Chris kept telling me, “Just hold on until he’s ready”.
I finally got that call from jail. I said, “Bro, I will do everything in my power to help you”. I went every week and visited him. I went every week and put money on his account. I showed him, “Hey, I’m here to support you if you’re doing the right thing”. That was my ‘in’. I talked to Chris and he said, “If you can get him out on bail, we’ll scholarship him into the Process Recovery Center”. I was at a loss for words. The guy literally doesn’t know how much he has affected people’s lives by helping. He doesn’t take credit for it.
My brother got out and went through the program. He’s living at Rise Above. I have a healthy relationship with my brother for once. It’s not, “I want to be just like you and go to jail”. Now I’m showing him a new way: “Let’s get our lives on track and break the cycle – so when we have kids, they don’t have to go through this”. He had his first kid when he was in jail. He wasn’t there for the birth. So it was good to be able to get him out. I brought his son to him. I wouldn’t be able to do all that if it wasn’t for being clean – and the people who helped me be able to show up. My dad still is struggling. But I’m there. My cousin just called. He was in active addiction. I got him on a bus, picked him up in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and now I got him at Rise Above. Family is everything. I’m just trying to be the person in my generation who helps bring my family back together without drugs and alcohol.
It’s literally as simple as “don’t get high”. I still have tons of problems. My head is a hot mess. But the problems I have today are, “Oh, I spent too much money. Oh, I stayed up too late binge-watching Netflix and I’ve got work at 6:00 a.m.” People rely on me today. People call me when they have concerns. It’s a great feeling to be there, and to be able to pick up the phone and say, “Hey, what’s going on?”
Chris put enough faith in me to be the project manager of his construction company. I’m really good with numbers. I sold drugs most of my life. I keep stuff on track. He put me in charge of that and making sure things are getting done. It gives me a reason – “I can’t let all these people down”. Above all, somebody is trusting me to do the right thing.
Do I work a solid program? I can’t say I go to ten meetings a week. But what I do is keep an open line of communication with people in recovery. I surround myself with positive people who are doing the right thing and who motivate me. Chris told me a long time ago: “It’s not all about step work and meetings. It’s about the communication and the connections you make along the way”. I’ve met so many incredible people. When I first went to Pine Street, I felt like nobody wanted to talk to me. I sat in my room. But eventually I was like, “I gotta do something”. I sat on the porch where people were talking, and I’d just jump in. They were probably like, “Who is this kid?” But I kept forcing myself in. I wouldn’t take no for answer. Along that path, I met tons of good people.
I stay connected, I don’t get high, and I put my recovery first. If I feel like anything is going to jeopardize my recovery, I don’t do it. Chris told me: “If you’re the smartest and most motivated person in your group of friends, go find a new group of friends. You need something to strive to be better at”. So I try to surround myself with people who are doing bigger and better things. I’ve finally seen that I can have a normal life. I can strive for greatness instead of sitting there, putting myself down, and saying, “You’re useless. All you’re going to be is a drug addict and ex-con”. I’m living proof that it works. I’ve never done rehab. I’ve been through literally every step of the system: foster care, juvenile detention, placement homes, tracking, probation, county jail, prison, parole, the ankle bracelet. It took coming to sober living and meeting positive people. That’s all I needed – a positive role model. Everybody thought I was going to fail. So I had to prove them wrong. Now I don’t want to go back. I’ve found there’s a better way of life, and I’m trying to live to the best of my ability.