Over the past 14 years, Patrick T. Cook has made one bad choice after another. His criminal record includes convictions for theft, drug possession and distribution and forgery. He blames his mistakes on drugs and alcohol.
Now, at 34, Cook says he's ready to take responsibility for his actions and make changes. He has completed an inpatient drug rehabilitation program and has been sober for eight months.
Cook is making his new start at the Friends in Recovery Home in Sykesville, Carroll County's first halfway house for recovering alcoholics and addicts. It opened in May in a vacant house on the grounds of Springfield Hospital Center.
For Cook, it's a haven and a chance to prove he's serious about setting things right.
"I was tired of living my life through addictions," he said. "I've met a lot of supportive people, and I feel this house is the opportunity of a lifetime."
Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns agreed to send Cook to the halfway house as part of his sentence for a felony theft conviction. If Cook fails to stay sober and out of trouble, he could receive a 15-year prison sentence.
"I'm the first one coming here through the courts," Cook said. "I just want to do good."
10 years of effort
The Friends in Recovery Home is the result of nearly 10 years of effort by Richard E. Blevins, 61, the coordinator of after-care services at Shoemaker House, the county's inpatient drug treatment center. He's also the founder of Friends in Recovery, a nonprofit group of recovering substance abusers.
Blevins, who works to place patients in appropriate settings after drug rehabilitation, saw a desperate need for a halfway house in Carroll.
After inpatient treatment, some patients are homeless, and local shelters are inappropriate for recovering addicts and alcoholics because they don't address substance abuse. The nearest after-care halfway houses are in Baltimore and Frederick.
"Some of these people from Carroll County aren't used to dealing with city life," Blevins said. "You put them down in the city, and it eats them up."
The Friends in Recovery Home sits in the shade of towering old trees at the edge of the Springfield center. The steady stream of traffic on Route 32 is the only reminder of the outside world.
Inside, the house is clean and bright. A dining-room shelf holds literature from Twelve Steps recovery programs. Houseplants and bowls of candy and potpourri create a homelike atmosphere.
"It's homey, that's the whole idea," said house manager Mike Dorsey, who oversees the day-to-day operations in exchange for room and board. The house serves men only and eventually will accommodate 10 residents. The weekly room and board charge is $65.
"The guys come from different places and different lifestyles, but while they're here, they're a family," Dorsey said. "That's what we want to get across."
Strict house rules
It's a family atmosphere, but the program has strict house rules. The goal is to provide a structured environment to prepare residents to return to the community.
The men are required to work or look for a job, attend a minimum of five Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings week and participate in the upkeep of the house. Duty-roster chores include cleaning bathrooms, washing the kitchen floor daily, dusting, sweeping outside walks and porches. Housework to be completed by 10 a.m., unless that conflicts with work.
"It won't become a place you just go to flop," Blevins said. "It'll be a working community."
During an afternoon this week, Rod -- a resident who asked that his last name not be used -- was preparing a pepper steak dinner for the five house members.
He came to the Friends of Recovery Home in June, after a stay at a halfway house in Baltimore.
'It's so serene'
"This one is totally different; it's so serene," he said, while chopping meat and vegetables.
Rod, 45, was hospitalized in July 1996 after a suicide attempt related to his alcoholism and mental health problems. He said a halfway house setting has been an important part of his recovery.
"I had to focus on myself, and I couldn't do it in a setting where people would be giving me advice for their own reasons," he said.
Rod said he enjoys the camaraderie among house residents.
"Loneliness is one of the main reasons for relapses," he said.
While Rod tended to dinner, Cook was in the backyard grinding wood chips into mulch for gardening. He works at a roofing job and spends much of his free time doing yardwork and repair jobs around the halfway house.
"I'm going to make a big flower bed in the back yard and along the sidewalk and driveway," Cook said. "I'm taking pride in this house. It means a lot to me, and this is a way I can give something back."
For Blevins, the Friends of Recovery Home has been a "labor of love."
After searching for a suitable site for years, he received state approval in 1996 to locate the halfway house in Cottage No. 11 at Springfield.
Friends in Recovery sponsored dances to raise money for the project. Local businesses donated about $4,000 worth of furnishings and maintenance work toward the halfway house, Blevins said.
Majestic Floors contributed and installed the new kitchen floor and carpeting for the stairs. Painting contractor T. W. Doyle provided paint and labor for the basement, which is used for meetings of Twelve Steps. Finch Services donated a tractor.
The living room suite was provided by Blevins' sister, and his daughter's gift was the living room carpet and a stereo.
"Every time we were just about totally broke, somebody would send us something," said Blevins.
Work still needs to be done. Corroded water pipes have to be replaced, and the house needs a new roof.
Blevins is organizing more fund-raisers, and he's at work on his next project -- looking for a site in the county to start a halfway house for women.
Also, the Friends in Recovery Home has applied to the state to become a licensed treatment facility.
The designation would allow the house to receive third-party insurance payments.
"We're getting people here who need to be here and want to be here," Blevins said.
"If we can accomplish a 50 percent recovery rate, that would be great."
Pub Date: 9/19/97