So, how did I get here?
Well, I met Russell Harrison many years ago, when we lived in the same place — Avenal State Prison. I first heard of Beit T’Shuvah when Russell was making parole plans. He told me he was taking off and I thought, “cool, I’ll see you down the road.” Happily, it proved true.
When I paroled five years ago, I looked Russell up on Facebook (although I really didn’t know how to use Facebook). I saw a guy that looked like him smoking a cigar and playing golf. This did not compute, but the guy with the cigar really was Russell. Later, I saw photos of Russell and his girlfriend Lisa – and she had previously been my counselor in a step-down program for parolees.
After I completed my step-down program and returned to my Huntington Park home, my phone rang, and Russell was on the other end of the line. I kidded him about the cigar, and we got down to business. He asked me if I needed a job, and I came to Beit T’Shuvah as an independent contractor. After several months, I injured my leg and it took many months to heal. And then Russell called me again. I was ready to get back in the saddle and came back to BTS as an employee in the Maintenance Department. I’ve been here ever since, and every day I ride to work with a smile, and every day, I go home with a smile. My job isn’t just work; it’s something that I enjoy doing. Every day it’s something new. No sink, no toilet, no wall, ever gets too old to repair.
It’s been great working here. I feel at home at BTS. It’s my safe haven in Los Angeles. This is a place where I not only work, but I enjoy being here. And some astonishing things have happened to me. I’ve gone to the annual gala twice, one to honor Harriet, and one to honor Rabbi Mark. I never saw myself at such an event.
Being at Beit T’Shuvah makes my heart sing. For example, there was once a bomb scare in the LA Unified School District, and Harriet sent a memo to all of the employees telling us that if we have kids to keep out of school, BTS would help us take care of them. I don’t have any children, but the offer touched me. I thought nobody on the planet would do this for their employees. Here I am at a place where people actually care. It brings to mind Rabbi’s saying, “you matter.”
The longer I work here, the more it sinks in that I do matter. Everybody here matters. It’s real, it’s not window dressing, not empty words. I’ve gone through trials, such as a dear friend diagnosed with cancer, who I thought was going to die. (I am ecstatic to report that she survived.) Just at that painful moment, Rabbi sent out a memo saying that if anyone needs to talk, the doors are open. Just knowing that he was reaching out to all like that made me feel better. It was the perfect time for me to receive that message.
Beit T’Shuvah is amazing. I really look forward to being here every day. I feel unbelievable peace here. As I said, every day I ride to work with a smile, and every day, I go home with a smile.
My mom Vilma? She too is grateful for Beit T’Shuvah.