Ralph grew up in Washington State. His father was a rough and tough lumberjack who was physically abusive to his son. Finally, Ralph had enough and began his journey as a homeless young man at 14. Ralph had learned to drink at an early age and by the time he left home, he had become an alcoholic. Ralph didn’t mind living on the streets. It was better than getting beaten up every day. The winters, however, were cold. So, Ralph made his way south and settled in Sarasota.
Ralph continued his life as a homeless man with a drinking problem and the years passed. He was often cited, and sometimes arrested for minor violations over the years. Ralph managed to stay out of any major trouble, and was always able to get enough money to survive, and drink, every day. People liked Ralph – he was mostly gentle, even when he had been drinking, until the night he was attacked by a friend during a drunken brawl. Ralph grabbed the person around the neck to pull them off his arm. The police arrived and Ralph was arrested. While he believed he was just defending himself, Ralph was offered a deal to plead guilty for a short term sentence.
During his two years in jail, Ralph found religion and gave up alcohol. Now that he was released from jail and no longer drinking, he began to see how different his life could be. He was referred to Vocational Rehabilitation and he started working with the VR employment specialist at Goodwill Manasota.
Ralph’s employment specialist met with him regularly trying to encourage him to open a bank account (“I know how to keep my money safe”) and move indoors (Ralph had an eight-person tent with a television, queen size bed and Coleman stove – he wasn’t going inside). His recent felony conviction put lots of people off, especially since it was for felony assault. Ralph wouldn’t let that drive him back to drinking nor discourage his search for employment.
Finally Ralph found work doing drywall with a local contractor. He was busy for several weeks but then the job was over. The construction manager promised Ralph he would be able to come back to work in July when the company had a new contract. Ralph didn’t stand still – he found work cleaning the entertainment equipment that people rent for parties. Proudly he called his employment specialist to tell of his two-year sobriety anniversary. Ralph is still on his journey and getting support from his VR employment specialist to locate and secure stable long-term employment. Ralph put it simply when he said that he mostly felt like a newborn baby; that he had missed so much of his life while drinking and that he is learning to find his way in the world now for the first time. Until he has stable employment, his employment specialist will stay with him encouraging him to take each new step. It’s what we do here at Goodwill.