Being a survivor means more than just living through a traumatic event. It means standing tall when the strong winds of life are trying everything in their power to push you into the dirt. Surviving is not about walking through the fire and not getting burnt; it is about tending to your healing wounds and accepting your scars. One of our most skilled and beloved Program Facilitators, Shannon, knows intimately what it means to survive and, today, he’s sharing his story of endurance with us.
Growing up, Shannon bounced around the Venice/West LA area in the foster care system. “I was just a number. Just another kid on the caseload of an exhausted social worker, tired, worn out, stretched thin. My needs weren’t met…but that’s okay.” But it wasn’t. After aging out of the system, he was accepted into an independent living program that helped give him the tools he needed to start his life on the right path. That “right path” went straight into a dead end, when his time in the program ended and he was tossed out to live on the streets.
“It was fun in the beginning, but then the streets became scary.” So, Shannon, determined to turn his life around, got a job…and then another job…and then another job… “I always tried my best to stay out of trouble. I got off the streets by working.” He started volunteering for a non-profit which eventually led to a job and sparked his love for giving back.
Despite finding a passion for the non-profit world, Shannon has always been a talented musician with the dream of making it big. Around the age of 20, he met a group of successful music executives who, at first, seemed to have his best interest in mind. The truth of it all was that he was being groomed by a cult.
For years, it was impossible for him to tell that anything nefarious was going on. They were all kind to him. They all helped him in his music career. They even disguised the cult as a non-profit, further intriguing Shannon. On the outside, it was a helpful program for young black men…but soon he realized he was becoming dependent on them for his basic needs. With that power over him, they played psychological games, stunted his growth, and engaged him in spiritual warfare. They tried to convince their followers that the only true path was based on what their spiritual guidelines suggested. Shannon remembers that secretly, he never fully bought into that part of it all and always held his own beliefs. That didn’t stop them from trying. They even draped their rooms with African artifacts and tapestries, using African spirituality to prey on young black men who were in their most vulnerable state. Through all of this, all Shannon really wanted was that record deal and the dream they promised him, but that came at a heavy price. He was stalked, he was forced into isolation, and because of the conditioning, it all felt comfortable…for a time.
Eventually, the whole group started to feel off. He looked at the trajectory of his life and noticed that he was doing much better, was happier, and healthier before he met them. In the six years he spent with them, he had lost all of the good jobs he had and was stuck on a never-ending wave of couch surfing…and it was time to get off the board. After finding out that they were burning candles under a photo of him with voodoo-like twig formations all around it, he knew he had to escape their grasp. “I made the decision to hit the streets to get away from these people.”
Within no time, Shannon grew his life back. He dove deeper into his work with non-profits…ACTUAL non-profits this time. After 17 years of non-profit work, he ended up working at a rehab in Culver City. He’d pass by Beit T’Shuvah every day, having no idea what it was. Until one day, one of his friends told him about it…an online job search later and he was working in our med-room. Upon getting to BTS, he learned a lot about our recovery style, our spirituality, and our culture. “ As someone who didn’t grow up Jewish, in the media, there are a lot of Jewish inside jokes that I always felt like I was on the outside of. I thought they were funny, but I didn’t really get them before now.” What greater gift is there than to let someone into an inside joke?
Shannon worked in the med-room for many months before transitioning into his current role as a PF. Being a PF is something that he has always loved. It is familiar to him and he can see every day how he gives back. As someone who didn’t go through the program, his love for BTS grows stronger every day…and it shows. “I believe it is a Godsend, it is a safe space and is needed. My anxiety starts back up the minute I leave here, but I feel safe when I’m here.”
Anyone who knows Shannon knows him as a kindhearted man with nothing but the best intentions for every person he comes in contact with. Based on everything you just read, he could have easily let the lashes of life turn him into a cold, calloused man who continues the cycle of abuse. He is anything but. By any conceivable definition, Shannon has survived, endured, and triumphed. He has seen the rainbow and the end of the storm and on a daily basis helps guide our residents to that same fate. Where once he was entrapped in a community that had nothing but ill intentions, today he is a thriving member of a community that revels in watching him grow. Today, he has a place to call home.