“In your addiction there is a connection with the people you get high with and then there is a connection with those in recovery. “
Robert Brown is a solemn man with meditative eyes and a palpable sense of calm. A former teacher whose career succumbed to crack cocaine addiction, he is now a recovery professional and a graduate of SRO Housing Veterans Transitional Program, VTP, for homeless veterans in Los Angeles “Skid Row.” Brown, in recovery for 18 years, guides others through a court referral recovery program.
“I will always have a job. There is always going to be a drunk or a drug addict.”
Brown served 4 years in the Air Force, then earned a BA in FINE ARTS and taught high school in Compton for 10 years. He became addicted to crack cocaine, and got high “with all professional people. It took years for me to get focused enough to want to quit.
“I don’t think you have to hit bottom to want to recover. I never stole, I never hit bottom. I was a functioning addict”
Brown now works in L.A. Cada’s court appointed substance abuse treatment and behavioral recovery program, providing “A Path to Recovery and Healthy Living.” He also facilitates a weekly Project Fatherhood Group for Men in Relationships. Brown takes deep satisfaction in his work, and offers patience and insight to his clients. He is sparing, though, with the time he invests in court-appointed program participants who are just going through the motions. He quotes Ecclesiastes, There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity. “And it is not everybody’s time. I tell them, If it is not our time don’t waste mine. You enter recovery or you don’t. I don’t play with these guys. I tell them, come when you are ready. The door is always open”
The door to recovery opened to Brown when he was referred to the Veterans Transitional Program at SRO Housing by a homeless services provider on Skid Row. “I went to Union Rescue Mission Residential Program. I think it was Duffy from Volunteers of America or Weingart Vets program that helped me find SRO Vets program. I’ve kept the connection with SRO Housing. Jeff and I got on really well and I stayed connected over 4 years.” Brown keeps in touch with program staff who helped him just as he does with the clients he serves, “I want to continue the relationship. I just want them to call or come by.
“Success is coming to work every day. In this work, you to see things in individuals they don’t see in themselves. You see the potential, and sometimes it is discouraging. To get a client to complete the program – start to finish– that’s a challenge. When it works, it is rewarding. I get a lot out of it. “
Brown was raised in Long Island, New York in the Hamptons. The family home was an airy 8-bedroom house on an acre of land, a short walk to the beach. “When I grew up, there were only a handful of black people. Now PDiddy discovered it. It’s a different place.” He was born and spent his early years in Mississippi but the family fled north after two cousins were lynched. Still, he yearns to return, “They don’t lynch people there anymore,” but his second wife is not yet convinced. “She’s from El Salvador. She wants to purchase a home there.” For now, Brown and his wife, who works with children on the Autism Spectrum, divide their attention between meaningful work and joy in family. Brown is the proud stepfather to three children and has one grandson, Daniel. “I am proud of my wife and kids.” His wife, he says, can’t fathom me being an addict. Then she sees old friends and she sees the difference.”
Happily married for the second time, Brown reflects on one nagging regret, “My mother never got to see me well. She died at 49 and never saw me clean and sober.”