2005 brought extraordinary sorrow to Huntington. Prom night left four teenagers slain in an apparent drug-related homicide and an as yet unresolved murder investigation that still haunts its citizens. The final words of a young girl, begging for her life — “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” — are as vivid now as they were then.
Public outcry was extreme, most of it aimed at the miscreants, at the drug trade, at addicts, at police, at anyone and anything that might prove target for our collective sadness. Yet, like the murderers, no answers could be found or employed.
Yet, there were a handful of people looking in a different direction. Looking for a longer-term solution and not merely vengeance for the terror and tragedy we had seen. For healing and not hatred.
The state Legislature was to begin its session in mid-January that year and I was gearing up for the annual foray when I got the call from Bob Hansen.
There would be a meeting of concerned individuals at the old Douglass High School on Thursday the first week of session to discuss the drug problem now so vividly at our doorstep. Could I attend?
It was snowing very hard that night and, as I recall, there were only seven of us in attendance and two “guests.”
After brief introductions the two young men, both black, began to speak of a Louisville, Kentucky-based organization called the “Healing Place,” a recovery center for men that was growing in its influence even at a time when recovery was not a subject very high on anyone’s priority list.
As the snow pelted the windows in our meeting room, they spoke eloquently of something called peer-directed recovery (again, a largely alien concept to many in those early, unlearned days). Their words were instructional, revelatory and delivered with a conviction I had only seldom seen. They spoke of brotherhood, of sadness and struggle, of scarred spirits and uplifted souls. It was a remarkable and memorable discussion that ended with a surprise. They were both graduates of the Healing Place.
Seven people left that room with a sense that there WAS something we could do. That the drug epidemic, while still growing savagely, must not always end with lethal consequence. That most importantly, hope was there and real. That there was a bridge that could be built between hell and healing.
From that oh-so-humble beginning, the first Healing Place facility for men became a reality in Huntington some years later. Still later it morphed into Recovery Point with a number of locations in West Virginia for both men and women. Hundreds have now graduated and are leading happy and productive lives — lives that otherwise may have ended in decay and ultimately death. Families have been reunited, children have their parents back, their brothers and sisters back, their lives … back.
The struggle continues today, but a struggle without hope is forlorn and doomed, is only “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” From that frigid, snowy night so many years ago, that sound and fury became light.