Bobby Boyer was on his stomach, his face close to the crack at the bottom of the solid steel door. He often hoped to see movement through the crack. Sometimes, if he stayed there long enough, he would see the correctional officers’ shoes as they walked by.
Although there were a few other inmates in the basement, where cells were separated from each other by layers of steel, he didn’t know what they looked like. He knew their voices. He would yell at them through the crack at the bottom of the door so they could hear him. They would yell back.
Often the talk was about what they were going to eat that day and if it was time for the guards to shove the food through the slot in their doors. Sometimes he would joke with the guards when they took him for his shower.
For 120 days he sat in the tiny cell with nothing to watch, nothing to read. He lived in his own mind and he didn’t like what he saw.
He saw a friend on the bathroom floor near death. He saw himself frozen, not able to move, not able to make a sound. Someone else in the apartment called 911. His friend lived.
He saw the years that had gone by with a hazy separateness from his son. For the first time in years he let his heart hurt for the lost time and for his love for his little boy.
[The facility where he found himself] was different from the rehab facilities he lived in throughout most of his life, with their movement, people and programs to distract him. He was at the bottom of the well and all he could see was his own face as he sat in that box. He couldn’t avoid it.
He had enough. He was finally finished.
EDITORS NOTE: Now 27, Boyer is a father and part of a strong relationship with a non-user. It took 10 years for him to begin conquering his addiction—and it’s still an uphill battle. Would things have worked out better for him if he had more targeted help? His probation officer at the time wanted him to enter the Somerset County juvenile drug court, but Bobby could not stay clean long enough to do so.
Funding cuts have since closed that court; but like Bobby’s addiction, remnants of the specialty court still exist. Bobby’s story helps explain why such courts are key to rehabilitation of juveniles in similar predicaments around the country.
Bobby wanted to live. He wanted to love. He wanted to dream. He wanted to hope.
Every time the jail officials would tell him his time was up in the hole and he could leave the basement and have a jail cell in one of the units, have a roommate, go to the dayroom, eat in the cafeteria — he would flout the rules to stay where he was. He flooded the cell. Whatever it would take. He wanted to live.
In Bobby’s words:
“My time was getting ready to come up. I knew it was best for me to stay back there. I knew it was helping me, all this time to think, to come up with a blueprint of who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do with my life that did not include this craziness.
“They say when you start using, your mentality stops. I believe that. When I got out of jail, my maturity was way down there. I had to get used to being a man instead of a little boy. I was a little, arrogant punk. I didn’t know how to treat other people. I acted like a little kid.
“I was afraid of getting clean and facing facts I hadn’t faced for so long. I was more afraid of losing out.”
Two addicts add up to one
He was with the mother of his child, Mia, on and off for about five years. She was an addict. And like Bobby, she kept going to rehab to get clean. But they kept pulling each other back into addiction.
“This is the longest I have stayed clean outside a rehab.”
While on the run from the law he began to reduce the number of drugs he was using because he knew he was going to be caught and he would have to go through detox once that happened. After he was apprehended, he was resentenced to four to 12 months on parole revocation and placed in the Somerset County Jail in September 2015. He was released on Jan. 28.
Bobby credits several things and people for his recovery: the 120 days in the hole, his probation officers, Matt Peters and Bob Landis, and God — especially God.
“I look back and I am so much more grateful for the life I have now. I think it was God’s plan. ‘Cause without God it would not have been possible at all. I think God put me through an obstacle course to be able to come out on top and to show people what they did wrong or what they are doing wrong and what it took for me. For me, what it took was to go to extremes.”
He opened up to those who wanted to help him this time. He let his probation officers in.
“Matt and Bob, they are awesome dudes. I had other good PO’s, but I was more afraid of them. I didn’t want to go around them. But these two, even when I finished with them I still wanted to go see them, to see how they were doing and tell them how I was doing.
“They hooked me up with the homeless shelter and gave me a referral. Because I went to the homeless shelter, it really helped me out. Without the homeless shelter, I would have had to go back to the same place.”
Ten Years Later
“Someone called me the other day. They called me twice, and it was unlikely of them to call me. It was one of my friends from when I was younger. Her brother is struggling with drugs. She said she didn’t know who else to call. Anyone else she knew was on drugs and she told me the reason why she called me for help with her brother is because I beat it. And I said to her, “I beat it, but I’m still in progress.”
Bobby sat on his couch, a thin blanket covering his lap and leg. His son sat beside him playing video games, curled in against Bobby’s love and future, Alyssa. Bobby had burned one of his legs at work. It had blistered. He said he went to the doctor and got antibiotics. He said he wanted to take medicine for the pain, like Tylenol, but he was afraid it would take him right back to the place he had for years tried to escape.
“I wanted to take something so bad, but then I thought about my son and I thought about what was ahead.
“I didn’t do anything about it and I stood on it at work all day. By the middle of the day, I could hardly stand on it. But I got through.”
He watched Taylor continue to play the video game and shoot the enemy.
“Hey, dude, you know that isn’t what you really do.”
He teased Taylor about his age. Taylor showed him he was 7 by counting off each year of his brief life on a finger.
“Well, I guess you are 7.”
Bobby’s son asked him if he was going to make millions at work. Bobby laughed.
Not millions, dude.
Alyssa grinned and snuggled Taylor under her arm.
But you never know.
Bobby grinned, reached out and gently touched his son’s chest. A smile for Bobby is normally as natural as breathing.
He has always loved his son, but he admits he has not always been there for him.
“I think I took him for granted. We’re closer now. I spend so much time with him. Before, I would do things with him. It wasn’t with heart; it was just to do it real quick so I could level him out, so I could do what I needed to do.
“A lot of people enabled me. I was able to come at this person’s doorstep, stay for a night or two, go to the next one, stay for a night. I needed money, go here. I had all these people, but I finally ran out and the rope was cut and I had nowhere else to go — that was when I hit bottom. It is real unfortunate, but sometimes that is what needs to happen to some people.”
He looked over at Alyssa, her face partially covered with her long, curly locks.
“Alyssa was the first girl I ever was honest with from the beginning. When I first wanted to hook up with her I told her I was just out of jail, I was living in the homeless shelter and I just got a job that pays minimum wage. And she said, “Where do you want to go.”
“I think I’ll be OK, with the help of Alyssa. Some days I don’t know. She pulls me through a lot and vice versa.”
It can be difficult for a non-user to be with a former user. Alyssa said she feels pressure sometimes.
“I worry, this is all new to me,” she said.
Bobby is not sure she would stay if he began using again.
“She says no, but I don’t think she would have liked me the way I would have been on drugs. I pushed people away, especially the people who love me the most because I didn’t want to hear what they have to say. It was good stuff. They are trying to help me out, but when you are on that stuff, it is the last thing you want. Besides that, when I’m using, I’m one way with tunnel vision for the drugs and that’s it. If that person ain’t the drug and ain’t a path along the way, then that person is out. You lose a lot of people along the way.
Alyssa: “Bobby makes eye contact now during a conversation. It is hard not to notice the flecks in his brown eyes. A year ago when he talked to someone his eyes were always moving, seeing what was not there.”
Bobby sat down and spoke with the Daily American several times over the past six weeks. About a week ago he received some sad news: someone close to him had died.
[At the funeral, he] saw many of the old crowd he used to hang out with when he was using.
“Just seeing they are still in the same shoes and the same spot. They still think the same. They are never going to be more than what they are. I hate to say it, but most of them aren’t going to make it out of where they are. That is sad.
“I have so much more now. The other night I needed razors, so we went to Wal-Mart and bought razors for $35. I couldn’t have done that when I was on drugs. If I wanted razors, I’d have to keep telling myself I’d get them next week, but next week never comes. I just like the fact I have what I have. I never had money in my pocket, a bank account, bills paid every month. I have my son and a beautiful woman I lay beside at night. I enjoy my job.
“Sometimes it is hard to try to steer away from my old crowd, but in a sense it is not because they are never going to get anywhere. Eventually, they are going to get caught or die.
“I mean, they’d be lucky if they get caught.
“And that sucks.
For a video of Bobby Boyer describing his struggle with addition, please click here:
Judy Ellich, a staff writer for the Daily American in Somerset County, Pa., is a 2016 John Jay/Tow Juvenile Justice Reporting Fellow. This story was written as part of her fellowship project. A complete version of Judy’s project, and links to related videos and stories is available here. She welcomes comments from readers.