New Program Gives Men with Substance Abuse Issues a Second Chance
Peter knows he’s not the first person to say this, but he truly believes he wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for this program. Peter, who asked not to use his real name out of confidentially concerns for his family, doesn’t say that lightly.
Gesticulating with muscled, tattooed arms, he mugged in mockery of taking himself too seriously as he spoke about putting a gun to his head. He may have done that in the past, he said. Okay, he did. A big guy like him, he joked, who up until now had always made a lot of money and been successful in his career. Though he grew up poor, cycling in and out of foster care, he knew how to work hard and do well on the job. In the past, he’d rapidly ascended from entry-level positions to management, first in the construction industry in California, and later, in the oil field in North Dakota.
Peter recalled the big houses full of stuff and the stay-at-home wife who was more than happy with the constant cash flow. After weathering the booms and busts, he took stock of his life, leading to a divorce.
He’d always been a heavy drinker, but as he noted, excessive alcohol wasn’t considered a problem when a guy is bringing home big bucks. When he was laid off from the oil field, suddenly his drinking made him a bum. He’d spent more than one night alone in a hotel room where he contemplated hanging himself with his belt.
His love for his children always persevered, but there were many dark nights where he hated himself for his weakness.
Friends in North Dakota suggested Peter get some help. This led to a short stint at the Adult & Teen Challenge residential facility in another state. It didn’t take the first time, though the seed had been planted. Now he’s back to try again. This time in Wyoming.
The Cross and the Switchblade
The Adult & Teen Challenge is a voluntary addiction recovery center that grew out of the mission of small-town preacher, David Wilkerson, who felt called to bring the word of God to inner city youth and gang members in New York City, one of whom threatened to kill him.
In his book, The Cross and the Switchblade, Wilkerson described his journey and belief that people can do anything when grounded in their faith, and that addictions, crime and violence, are empty holes people fill in the absence of God.
His centers were originally geared toward youth, but in recent years, have also grown to include adults. Since opening his first facility decades ago, Adult & Teen Challenge centers can now be found in more than 90 countries, and now, in Wyoming.
In December 2020, Patty and Clay Dykes felt called to open the Black Hills Men’s Center, at the Ram Center on US Highway 14 between Moorcroft and Devils Tower. The center, which is spread across several buildings on what used to be a church camp, is 100% free for men like Peter struggling with addiction.
The Dykes, who inherited the land from Patty’s father, and new program manager David Hollingshead run the center with the help of a small cadre of volunteers who all live on site with the students.
The idea is to offer a refuge for the men to study the teachings of Jesus Christ in an effort to refocus their lives on God in a loving, therapeutic setting that feels a lot like a big family with residents and staff sharing meals together and helping students with their daily lessons and getting their lives back on track, Dykes said.
The focus of the program is to provide the care necessary to help people become mentally sound, emotionally balanced, socially adjusted, physically well and spiritually alive, according to the center’s mission statement. The goal is to help adults struggling with life-controlling issues like drugs or alcohol while addressing underlying triggers such as anger, conflict, depression and co-dependency.
For Peter, this was no small feat. With three DUIs under his belt, he’d become masterful at tuning out life instead of dealing with it.
Here at the Black Hills Men Center, Hollingshead and staff have been helping him chip away at the issues that made it easy for him to drink. Little things, like helping him pay off fines, helping him sign up at his children’s schools, so he can log in and follow their progress and check grades. Not the least of which has been just listening to him talk about his problems without any judgement.
It’s been life changing, Peter said, with tears in his eyes.
Currently, Peter and another student are the only residents, though they are rapidly fielding applications with another man coming from out of state next week to take a look at the facility.
With their current staffing and funding, Dykes estimates they can reasonably care for five residents. Space is not a problem in the former camp which has at least a dozen available rooms – some with bunk beds, if they get too full – in their two residential buildings.
Additional funding would allow them to slowly grow, Dykes said. For now, they want to take their time and do it right.
A big family
Sitting at conference table with an open laptop in the sprawling dining room/staff office with comfortable recliners lining three walls, Peter banters good naturedly with his fellow student and Patty, who he affectionately calls mom, while teasing Hollingshead about always having his nose in a book.
Hollingshead did not protest. It’s true. In fact, one of his first contributions to the center after moving to Wyoming from his home in North Dakota to take the position had been helping build a library while tracking down donated books.
Hollingshead and Peter go way back, it turns out. The two had met at the Adult & Teen Challenge facility in another state, where they’d been assigned to the same pod. Back then just as now, Hollingshead read a lot. Once, Peter said, he’d come into the room hopping mad and knocking a shelf off the wall while the quiet man kept reading. Eventually, Hollingshead asked if Peter was okay.
He wasn’t, Peter joked. Clearly. But Hollingshead had been patient and let him talk when he finally cooled down. Though the program wasn’t for Peter at the time, the two stayed in touch, which is why Peter is here today.
For his part, Hollingshead can speak to the effectiveness of the program for a guy like him. The 39-year-old had struggled with drugs, which ultimately led to him divorcing his wife and losing his son. Now, his ex-wife is still marred in their old life while her father raises their young boy.
“I can speak to the saving power of Jesus Christ,” Hollingshead said, as he walked through the snow en route to show off his library currently housed in a utility building at the bottom of a hill. He can also speak to the difficulty in shaking off addictions.
“Just because I’m sober,” he said, “doesn’t mean I’m healed.”
The difference now is that he feels like he’s standing on steady ground. The power of God has grounded him, he said, and he no longer fears relapsing.
The hardest part is being away from his son, though he makes it a point to visit as often as he can.
Along with a library and a clothing room, where residents have access to free coats, clothes and shoes, they also plan to start a welding and auto mechanics program as well as making and selling leather crafts and other goods and starting a big garden. The idea is to create an on-going training program to help the students develop skills that hopefully turn into jobs while providing various services in the community to give back. Hollingshead, a former roofer, said he’d like to put on roofs for free as long as the homeowners provide the materials.
“We want to give back to the people who have donated to our center,” he said, “as well as to the community who supports us.”
Peter, meanwhile, continues to get his life back on track. Today, he has a short to-do list with most of the hard items already behind him. Once he finishes his lessons for the day, he’ll be getting a few toiletries in Gillette and cleaning up Little Homey’s cage. Little Homey is his pet rat, and as stupid as it sounds, he said, the little guy has been his trusty companion through some pretty tough times.
When he agreed to move to Wyoming and do the program, he was worried it would mean getting rid of his beloved rat. Immediately, Dykes told Peter to bring Little Homey along.
“We’ll make it work,” she said, noting that one of the keys to this program is to cater to a particular individual’s needs, which are always going to be just as wildly different as their understanding of the Bible to their length of stay, which on average is a year or less.
So far, they are already seeing the life-changing rewards of their first two students, which makes Hollingshead emotional when he talks about it.
“Peter has had all these victories,” he said. “We’re watching him turn the corner, and it’s pretty amazing to see.”
“God told me to trust him,” Peter agreed, as his eyes pooled. “This place, these people are amazing. They don’t treat me like a bum or some kid. They just listen and love.”