Day 12 - Jamie

Day 12 - Jamie (2nd person I approached)
January 12, 2015 - I spotted Jamie standing outside a coffee shop. He was stretching, using one arm to ease the other behind his head, and then switching arms to do the other side. He had an unlit cigarette in his mouth and was reaching for his matches when I approached him. He agreed to chat with me and went to put his cigarette away, saying he would wait until we had finished talking to smoke. As we sat down to chat, I told him to go ahead and smoke - I didn’t want our conversation to be rushed, in order for him to have a cigarette. 


“I was born in right here in Vancouver, one of the rare born and raised Vancouverite's,” he said. His grandfather had built the family home in the Dunbar neighbourhood.

“It was a big house and at the time he built it, the lots were bigger and the house was surrounded by trees,” Jamie said.

“My father bought out his sister and brothers shares in the house, so that he could raise his family there.” Jamie is the youngest of nine children.


His parents separated when Jamie was three years old, and divorced when he was five.

“My mother was an alcoholic, and addicted to barbiturates. It wasn’t as easy back then to get a divorce, and my father hired a private detective to follow my mother. She spent her days drinking down on Hastings Street. She had her prescription pills, and when she ran out of those, she would buy more off the street. I don’t really have many more than six memories of my mother,” he told me. For five years, Jamie’s father raised the kids on his own, before remarrying.


“Have I got a cool story for you about my school. We lived in the house that my father grew up in, right. I’m the youngest of nine. Three of them are stepsisters from my father’s second marriage, but they’re family. My four brothers and four sisters, my father, his two brothers and his sister, we all went to the same school. I saw pictures of my father and aunt and uncles in the hallway at school. I bet that doesn’t happen so much nowadays,” he said, proudly. Jamie liked sports, and was active in rugby and basketball.

“I didn’t like school at all, but I liked playing sports. I wasn’t comfortable hanging out with the jocks, so I hung out with the stoners (kids associated with smoking pot),” he told me.


When he was fifteen, his father had to sell the house.

“He needed the money to keep his business going. I didn’t want to move. I had my first girlfriend, my first love at the time, and I wanted to stay where we were. My sisters told me that no one wanted to move, but that we had to. My Dad sold the house and we moved to Abbotsford,” he said.

“Once we had moved I got okay with it. It was just me and my twin brothers, they were born right before me. The other kids all had their own things going on. It was the first time I had been a new kid in school, and I thought that was pretty cool. I remember being in the Principal’s office with my father. He had looked at my reports from my other school, and didn’t like my attendance record. He told me that if I was late more than ten times, I was out of the school,” said Jamie. He lasted five weeks and decided he was done with school. He had completed Grade nine.


“My father said if I wasn’t going to school, that I had to work, and I went to work for him,” he told me. His father had a couple of businesses that Jamie worked for in those first years after leaving school. A salmon business, and a dogfish processing plant. Jamie also put in a three years working on a fishing boat.

“It was hard work but really good money,” he said, smiling. 


After a particularly good season, Jamie bought a pound of pot, and headed to downtown Vancouver.

“I started selling pot. Then I started selling speed and MDA (an amphetamine). I was drinking, smoking pot, doing drugs and having a good time. I got to know a lot of people in the downtown party and club scene. I’d go around the clubs selling speed and MDA. I worked for a couple of women who were prostitutes; I‘d write down the license plates of the cars they got into. I was making some good money and having a lot of fun,” he said, nostalgically. 


“A buddy of mine, that I had met through dealing drugs, invited me to a house party downtown one night. There were a bunch of his friends there and every one was drinking, smoking pot, doing some speed and other drugs. I started talking with this woman, she was a hooker and she asked me if I want to try shooting cocaine (injecting). I had never done that, I don’t like needles. I said no. She told me I’d like it, that it felt great and that it was really good to have sex while high. She said if shot up with her, we could have sex. How could I say no? That was it. She did the injecting, I wouldn’t have known what to do. About an hour later, when I started to come down, I asked her for another hit. I was hooked,” he said. Jamie spent the next ten years selling and doing drugs.


“I tried a number of times to give it up over the years, but never for very long. I had been working off and on in construction, and painting. I lost a few jobs because of not showing up for work. I started to get tired of the drugs, and the effect it was having on me. I’d say that if someone told me they could rid the world of every single drug that’s available, to please do it. But don’t take away my alcohol. I’m an alcoholic, first and foremost,” he said. Jamie managed to kick his drug habits, but continued drinking. 


I was living in Victoria (on Vancouver Island) with one of my brothers. I was working and drinking heavily. I missed some work and got fired from my job. I had nothing left. I called a good friend that I’d known for close to thirty years. I told him I didn’t know what to do, and he said ‘How about you get sober.’ 


"I packed my stuff, called my sister and borrowed some cash from her, and headed over to Vancouver. I stayed with that friend for a couple of weeks while I waited for a place in treatment to become available,” he said. When Jamie did get into treatment, he spent the better part of a year there. 


“I met a woman in treatment, fell in love and we have a beautiful daughter. Our relationship only lasted four years. I slipped a few times and got drunk. It always seemed to just be weekend events. I’d go out and drink for a weekend and then get sober again. When the fourth weekend drunk happened, she said she didn’t want to be around me anymore. She felt like her sobriety might be jeopardized by my drinking, and that she couldn’t have that in her life,” Jamie told me. 


He started working again and was doing some light carpentry work, and house painting.

“I worked casually, and whenever there was a job going. I was managing to stay sober, but never for more than a year. I did a year once. It’s usually been about a few months,” he said. Last year, Jamie got some work back in construction.

“I hadn’t ben doing very psychical work. Painting isn't the same as construction. My first job back into construction I had to break up concrete for four days. I threw my back out and had to go on worker’s compensation,” he said. Jamie has been off work for four months. 


When I saw Jamie, I noticed that he had shorts on. It wasn’t raining, but it was a bit chilly out. I never really thought anything of it though, because in Vancouver, you see people wearing shorts all year round.

“I’m just coming from physiotherapy,” he told me.

“That’s why I’m wearing the shorts. I’ve got one more day of it, and then hopefully I’ll be good to go back to work.” 


Jamie has moved himself into a second stage recovery house. That’s a house were all the residents have at least thirty days sober, and have completed a treatment program within the last two years.


“I don’t need to be in a treatment program right now. I love alcohol, but I know I can’t drink. I thought the recovery house would be better for me. To live with other people who are in a program and staying sober. They help me, and I help them too. I can be a role model for the younger guys. As soon as I got there, it felt right,” he said. 


Jamie reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone.

“I want to show you something,” he said. He took a minute or so to find what he was looking for. It was a photograph.

“This is my beautiful daughter. I just took this photo of the two of us yesterday.” It was a gorgeous photo of a sweet little girl, and her Daddy, both clearly doting on each other and very happy.  His face lit up and his smile went from ear to ear as he shared this precious moment with me. I told him I could see the love on his face and in his eyes.

“She’s my beautiful gift from God.” #notastranger