Gerald & Gary

On all accounts Gerald Battiste had a great childhood.  Both his mother and father were involved parents.   “There was nothing I ever needed that I didn’t get” said Gerald.  He did well in school and was quite the accomplished musician.  He even followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps by playing the trumpet in the school band.  As it turned out, Gerald was really good at the trumpet.

As a freshman in high school, Gerald felt a bit like a small fish in a big pond.  To up his status amongst his peers, Gerald started gravitating towards the upperclassmen that ultimately took him under their wings.  It was during this point in his teenage life when Gerald had his first taste of alcohol and marijuana.    Once Gerald became a senior, he was the section leader in the high school band.  “I felt like I was the big man on campus” said Gerald.

Always there for Gerald’s band performances was Gerald’s father, Gary Battiste.  Rain or shine, Gary sat in the stands at every game where Gerald’s band performed.  But as proud as Gary was of his son, he started noticing changes in Gerald’s behavior during his junior year in high school.  Gerald had more of an edge and attitude that bothered Gary, “he was cocky”.

Needless to say, when Gerald was offered a scholarship to play the trumpet at Alabama State, Gary couldn’t have been more proud.  “My son was living my dream” said Gary.  Gary thought his son will get his act together.  But, just a year into his tenure at Alabama State, Gary received a phone call from his son. During the call, Gerald said he wanted to come home.  He wanted to leave the college life behind where few knew him and return Mobile where he thought he would be “top dog”.    By this time Gerald had graduated to cocaine, and coming back to Mobile put him right in the middle of that storm.

Gerald he knew he wanted to do something positive in his life, so he decided to join the Navy.  Gerald made it through the in-take process and as he took the oath to his country, Gary was filled with satisfaction.  Having served in the military himself, Gary felt more reassured things will have to get better for his son.  But just a few weeks later, Gary received another call from his son.  Gerald didn’t even complete boot camp.  “I told my dad I was being discharged because of ‘flat feet’” said Gerald.  However, the truth eventually came to light after Gary discovered his son’s military discharge papers which read ‘discharged for drug abuse’.

After Gerald was given the “entry level separation” from the Navy, his drug habit was in full swing.  He began working odd jobs just to get enough cash to feed his habit.  Gary describes his son’s stay at home post-military as an “awful” experience.  “He would stay out all hours of the night.  When the phone rang, I was afraid to answer because I always thought it would be bad news on the other end about my son” said Gary. Gerald would have angry outbursts; throw rocks at cars and through the windows of his neighbors’ homes.  “I felt like I was watching my son kill himself” said Gary.

Gerald’s troublesome behavior eventually caught up with him.  He was ultimately arrested for robbery and trafficking and subsequently sent to prison.  “My heart was breaking, but at least I could finally sleep at night because I knew where my son was” said Gary.

After serving 4 years of a 20 year sentence, Gerald was released from prison for good behavior.  He came home to a family that loved and supported him and would do anything to help him stay on a good path.  Once free, Gerald cleaned up his mischievous behavior and stayed away from drugs at least for a short while.  The new lifestyle didn’t last long and after three short months, Gerald was back to his old drug habits.

Gerald knew he was running out of second chances.  He moved in with his grandfather.  He stayed in a room in the back of his grandfather’s house.  He kept the curtains closed to darken the room, and the doors were often locked.  Gerald would only come out of the room at night and once the sun would begin to rise, he would return to the solitude of his room.   “I felt low, I didn’t want to see or hear from my family” simply put, Gerald didn’t think his life was worth saving anymore.

But through this dark period in his life full of solitude and regret, Gerald would often hear his grandfather singing.  Gerald’s grandfather sang beautiful songs that had a magnificent melody.  The songs were striking to Gerald because he hadn’t heard them before.  After a while, Gerald listened earnestly to the lyrics of his grandfather’s songs.  What Gerald discovered was the songs his grandfather was singing were filled with sadness, frustration, love and hope.  Turns out, the songs were Gerald’s grandfather’s way of communicating with his grandson.  Through the closed door of the darkened room sat Gerald listening to every melody, every lyric and those sweet sounds reached him like nothing else could.

One morning, Gerald built enough courage to go to his parole officer and told him he needed help. Gerald realized he finally hit rock bottom and he was ready for a change, finally Gerald hit his bottom.  On November 14, 2011, Gerald entered into The Salvation Army’s Crisis Residential Treatment and eventually to The Salvation Army’s CSRC program.  “The Salvation Army gave me the opportunity to change.  I finally was able to admit that my life had become unmanageable” said Gerald.

At the Salvation Army, Gerald entered treatment with an optimistic attitude.  He really took his treatment seriously.  After completing his drug treatment program, Gerald wanted to continue his involvement within The Salvation Army.  He applied for a position and landed the job as Lead Houseman.  Gerald enjoys helping others in treatment.  He often acts as a mentor for men in the treatment program as he can provide a firsthand account of the long road to recovery.

Gerald’s sobriety was tested during the summer when he experienced the tragic loss of his son.  Gerald knows it’s going to take a great deal of time and work to cope with his loss.  He credits treatment methods learned at The Salvation Army along the love and support of his mentors in recovery with helping him weather though the darkest of hours.  “God is helping me get through” said Gerald.  Working at The Salvation Army and being able to seek the peer support of others in recovery has been monumental in coping.  One supporter in particular for Gerald has been Larry Vahle.  (Larry Vahle as well is a graduate of The Salvation Army treatment program, and is in his 10th year of sobriety.)  “Larry has been excellent with everything after my son passed.  Watching how he does things and how he handles certain situations has helped me grow.  He’s become more than my supervisory.  He is my mentor and I am proud to call him “Friend”.

My hope and prayer is that by telling my story I too may be able to reach someone still suffering and show them through example that with hard work, faith in God and with The Salvation Army they too can have hope!

Co-Authors: Patricia Finkbohner & Kavontae Smalls