Former drug dealer seeks redemption by treating substance abuse
NEW YORK- Alfred Saunders, 58, was about to complete his 20-years sentence for dealing heroin when he was sent to the solitary confinement cell for 18 months.
It was during this time of complete seclusion, he said, that he realized he needed redemption.
“Going to ‘the box’ forced me to quit heroin because it was hard to get the drugs there,” he said. “The isolation makes you look at your own life, it gives you clarity.”
After leaving prison and becoming a substance abuse counselor, Sanders founded Redemption Point, a center that provides health care and other services to the people who live in the Gowanus housing projects, the place where Saunders dealt.
Saunders originally opened the center in Atlantic Avenue but moved to Hoyt Street about eight months ago.
“On Atlantic I wasn’t close enough to the community I damaged at one point in my life,” he said. “Now I am right in front of the houses.”
Redemption Point does substance abuse prevention, but Saunders needs a license from the state to do treatment, he said.
He went to a board meeting on Sept. 23 to ask for a recommendation letter that is required as part of the application for the permit, he said. Although the board members agreed to support him, Sanders has not received the envelope.
District manager Craig Hammerman said the letter is being crafted but didn’t specify when will it be ready.
In spite of the inactivity of the board, Saunders hopes to have the program running by January 2016, he said. Once he gets the letter, he will send the paperwork to the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services in Albany, NY, which will take about six weeks to revise the request, the office said.
He added he already has the facilities and the staff he needs. In fact, William Figueroa, a certified substance abuse coach, joined the center on Oct.5.
Figueroa said individual interviews and group counseling sessions will be part of the treatment program. Other strategies will include relapse recovery and family communication therapy, he said.
Redemption Point client James Becton, 40, said he thinks the program is needed in this part of Brooklyn to get users, especially young ones, reintegrated into society.
“In a lot of neighborhoods that house projects there is a lot of epidemics of drug use,” said Becton, who grew up in the area. “Plus there are a lot of homeless people up and down Hoyt Street. They are so far up on drugs that they can’t think right.”
Saunders hopes to open centers in all five boroughs in the next few years, he said. However, he will first need to convince the state to give him financial support, he added. In fact, even though it is registered as a for-profit, Redemption Point gets most of its funding from donations.
According to Elizabeth Perez, an attorney at Lawyers Alliance for New York, a group that offers legal advice to local non-profit organizations, this dynamic is unusual because there is no benefit for the donor.
“It is not illegal, but it doesn’t make logical sense,” she said.