You cannot rise if you have not fallen.
To rise above and beyond the bottomless pit requires a dream team. Metaphorically, my dream team is equivalent to what the Los Angeles Lakers had in 2004. It takes a strong support group to rise above and beyond addiction, brokenness, and depression.
My descent into the bottomless pit came about the age of 13 when I was introduced to crack cocaine. Between the age of 13 and 14, I began gradually getting involved in crime. The first time I stole a car, I remember being scared and full of adrenalin. Because I didn’t get caught, I did it again and again. Finally, at the age of 14, I got caught and was taken to a juvenile facility. My stay there was short term. Once I got out, it was not long before I went back out to the streets.
By the age of 16, I was committing robberies and landed back inside juvenile hall with a longer term. After one year I was released. It wasn’t long before I ended up with another robbery charge, but this time I was charged as an adult. Convicted of first-degree robbery, I was sentenced to four years with a mandatory of 85 percent to serve. At 17 years old, I was on my way to the California State Correctional Penitentiary. At 17, I was surrounded by killers and real gang members who became my teachers. I had graduated from juvenile hall to the big house. I had arrived.
At this particular time, I did not know that drugs would become pervasive in my live. While serving my time, I did some experimenting with heroin. The best way to describe that feeling — intimacy. Now that I think about that, I see clearly that I was trying to mentally escape from my present reality. Heroin numbs your soul to the point of death. I clearly remember an inmate who shot up and overdosed. What I remember most vividly was someone being carried out of the prison in a body bag. Society looks at a prison like a huge dumpster. Looking back at that incident, it’s like Uncle Sam was walking out to dump the garbage.
I truly believe that prisons are not designed to help me rehabilitate; they are designed to build up hate. They are not designed to help me stay free; they are more designed for a crime spree. It takes a stronger support group to help a convict not reoffend and end up back in prison. Statistically speaking, 67 percent to 75 percent of those who have been incarcerated reoffend. It’s obvious that for many years I lacked that support.
It was not until I came across the RISE program that I met the face of RISE — Maridee Duggar. Looking back at when I met her, I could never have envisioned the significant role that she would play in my life. I had no clue that one day she would no longer be Maridee Duggar but Mama D to me.
Through RISE I have had a few opportunities to speak to various groups. Those opportunities have enabled me to cross paths with various members of the community. One in particular is a retired teacher who I call G-mom. Another is the man I work for today, whom I am blessed to call my boss and my friend. If I am being honest, I have to say that he’s hard on me, but I feel in my heart that he wants me to succeed. I cannot leave out Pastor Stasia Fine, for she is the one who informed me that Mama D was looking for me. She has continued to support me in so many ways.
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So if you were to ask me, “Ricardo, what did it take for you to rise?” my answer is as follows. What it took for me to RISE was to fall down deep in a pit. What it took for me to RISE was to lose my mother and brother while incarcerated. What it took for me to RISE was to end up homeless, strung out on dope, and panhandling. What it took for me to RISE was to be cold, hungry, and tired to the point that I turned myself in to the custody of the Linn County Jail. What it took for me to RISE was to be snorting meth while in custody and end up with a new charge. What it took for me to RISE was to surrender to a power greater than myself that could restore me to sanity. What it took for me to RISE was to realize that I have two little boys who need their father.
My name is Ricardo, and I am a recovering addict. I give all the glory to my savior Jesus Christ. I have been sober for 2½ years. I could not continue to do it without the dream team He has given me. Still I RISE!
• Ricardo Larios works in Cedar Rapids, attends classes for his GED and continues substance abuse programs. He volunteers at Fresh Start/RISE and is active in sharing his experiences with groups around the city.