Alcohol, violence and blood shaped Jerry's earliest memories. His father and much of his extended family were “heavy” alcoholics, and when they all got together, bloody fights usually ended the gatherings.
But Jerry's father reserved his most intense rage for those closest to him. “My dad took his anger out on my mom and me. Whenever he wanted to hit something, he came looking for us. Whenever he asked me a question about my schoolwork, if I didn't get the answer right, he'd hit my head so hard my face would slam into the table. Then he'd call me stupid and worthless.”
The trauma Jerry experienced was so severe, he never learned to read and write, and he never finished highschool. He turned to alcohol instead. “I couldn't change my father,” he says, “but I could change how I felt. Drinking helped me forget the pain and abuse.”
Alcohol then steered the rest of Jerry's life. He left home and travelled from state to state, job to job, never settling down, drinking more and more. A loner, he never let anyone get too close to him. “I built a lot of walls around me. Vodka was my friend,” he explains. “It never talked back, never argued with me, never hit me.”
In December 2014, however, he'd had enough. He came to the Milwaukee Rescue Mission. “I asked God to change my heart,” Jerry says. “One of the first things I had to do was forgive my late father. Then the people here started to teach me how to live a more godly life. But I think the most important thing was the relationships I made with the staff and other guys here. We talk and pray together. We open our hearts and support each other. God is using them to change me.”
The change is so profound, Jerry is also overcoming his lifelong fear of learning to read and write. He's well on his way to earning his GED. “My goal is to become an X-ray technician,” he says. “I'm not afraid anymore. I can do it.
I'm at peace.”