Jorge grew up in Humboldt Park with three brothers. His family emigrated from Puerto Rico in 1970 when he was a child, and he describes his father as a functioning alcoholic who took care of his family despite his alcoholism for many years. When Jorge was a teenager his father had a heart attack and his family relied on public aid to survive while he recovered.
Jorge enlisted in the army reserve when he was 18. After basic training he returned to Chicago where he met his first long-time girlfriend and got mixed up in drugs and alcohol.
Jorge started drinking and using cocaine and marijuana, running with gangs, and partying hard. His girlfriend struggled with alcoholism. The two lived together for 20 years and had three children while dealing with their substance abuse issues. “It’s like a chain reaction,” says Jorge of the relationship.
Jorge discovered heroin sometime in the mid-80s and “got stuck on it.” “I’ve done everything,” he says, but soon gave up all other drugs as his heroin addiction gradually took over his life. Jorge soon ended up in prison, and has been incarcerated six times in his life, all for drug-related charges.
Despite his addiction and prison terms, Jorge managed to continue working for most of the 20 years that he was an addict, working in manufacturing, at a plastic company, and doing odd jobs for his brother.
His boss at the plastic company took Jorge on as a cause and held his job for him while he fulfilled his prison terms, an act that Jorge is still thankful for to this day. “There was something he saw in me,” Jorge says.
In 2002, after his fourth stint in prison, Jorge came to Inspiration Corporation and completed employment preparation training.
Jorge was immediately impressed by the course. “Through my addiction I wasn’t looking at what I was grateful for, didn’t look at what was beautiful,” he says. He completed his course work and started to see a world beyond his need to satisfy his addiction and keep himself from feeling the symptoms of withdrawal. “It got me to see how many things out there were important. It made each day better.”
Jorge continued his rocky road after graduation, eventually serving two more prison sentences. But the seed for change had been planted and he continued to move himself forward after every setback.
Jorge worked with his career specialist and business services representative at Inspiration Corporation to develop a career plan and work towards it. In 2010 he went back to school through JobStart and began a bachelor’s degree in social services, “I jumped on it right away. I knew that this would help me get to different places.”
In 2010 he also managed to overcome his addiction and leave heroin behind him. Jorge credits a new found faith with his ability to make this important change. “I did all the ‘A’s,” laughs Jorge, talking about Alcoholics Anonymous and other programs, “But it didn’t help me.” He eventually found a support network and guidance through his church community, “I stay around positive people. I read my Bible every day.”
Inspiration Corporation stepped in again to help Jorge stay on the right path by hiring him as a program assistant for the Employment Services program while he continued to work towards his degree. “I learned how to be humble and work with people in a respectful way,” says Jorge of the experience. “People respected me because I respected them.”
Jorge sees many of the staff at The Living Room Cafe, like case manager Caesarei Marsh (read about Caesarei’s story here), as role models of what he can achieve if he continues to stay focused. “They are like my family,” he says of the people and clients. Jorge continues to work at The Living Room Cafe as a milieu manager, and also works part time at a local church getting the experience he’ll need to pursue a career in the social services.
Jorge also runs with Back on my Feet to help him stay focused “mentally and physically”, and his dream is to do the Chicago marathon next year.
Jorge has five children, three who are grown from his first partner and two young children with his current partner. He also has three granddaughters by his older children.
He is highly involved in his children’s lives, walking them to school every morning and doing work for their PTA. “I know that my life has changed dramatically from where I was 3 years ago,” he says. “My kids call more often, tell me they’re proud of me.”
He reflects on how strange it is to be where he is now. “The hardest thing was to get away from the drug,” he says. Now that he has overcome the addiction, things have changed, “I take my kids to school every day right where I used to buy drugs, but I don’t want it at all.”
“The future is looking real bright,” says Jorge. “The sky is the limit.”
UPDATE – 8/30/13: Jorge is still doing very well, and is now working part time as a residential aide at a substance abuse clinic. He hopes that this job will turn full time soon. He’s also still working on getting his degree in social work, with just a few classes left before beginning his internship.
He’s still very involved with his kids, recently starting a parent patrol at school to make sure kids get to school safely. Jorge’s future is still as bright, if not brighter, than when we first talked to him last December.