Lawrence Johnson Cropped

“My childhood was fun, my middle age was darkness and I’m back to enjoying life,” says Lawrence, a resident of Pathlight HOME’s Maxwell Terrace Apartments. A stroke, heart attack and diabetes survivor living on Social Security, he’s proud and grateful to be “clean from drugs for more than 10 years.”

Hailing from the Bronx, New York, Lawrence reminisces about his early years, during which he traveled with his parents and got into mischief with his brother. He says they were “bad kids, but not enough to get arrested.” When his dad moved out, his mother struggled to take care of them, as he and his brother went “from good to worse.”

His mother made it through those trying times by worrying about what she had to do to support them. Lawrence’s pride in her accomplishments comes through loud and clear. “She became very successful, retiring from three successive [management] jobs” in government, hospital and prison administration. Their close relationship “keeps him pushing” to this day, especially when she tells him, “You’ve always got to think positive.”

Lawrence’s father also had an effect on his life, in a different way. Accompanying his dad to unsavory places to “look out for him” as he abused heroin, Lawrence vowed he’d “never do it.” Yet, he started smoking weed with his brother and “got into stronger stuff” through peer pressure, in particular the use of crack cocaine. He smoked crack on and off for years: in both New York and Florida, when single or married; while bringing up children, and throughout most of his fulltime and labor pool jobs.

Having been in serious relationships with women who did not partake in drugs, he slowed down his consumption when he was with them. For example, when married with children and working for the City of New York, he lived the suburban life in a house in New Jersey. Though his wife ignored the drug use, eventually, “On [December] 27th she told me I had to leave…and she went back to her old boyfriend. I remember that date, the 27th.”

He was devastated; and the drug use got worse. He continuously fell asleep on the job and threatened his supervisor, leading to a stint in an inpatient clinic. “I dried out, but I didn’t dry out. I wasn’t ready.” After bunking in with his mom for a while, he moved to Florida and found a stable job at an assisted living facility. He got off drugs, though the friend with whom he lived was a heavy user. “Things were going good,” and he decided to move into his own place.

That was 25 years ago and, ironically, the place was Maxwell Terrace Apartments. “I found Maxwell Terrace Apartments over 20 years ago, when [founder] Rev. Maxwell was still alive.”

Unfortunately, Lawrence’s addiction reared its ugly head again and he lost his job, worked instead through staffing agencies, and moved on to other places to live. His “rock bottom” happened when, while carrying drugs, he was stopped and arrested by police.

“They took me to jail. I went into a program for six months; I wasn’t ready, so I stayed there for a year,” he says. “I felt so free; I thanked God. He told me it was time [to get off drugs].” That was in 2001.

Lawrence began working long hours for a transportation company. “I was a workaholic,” he recalls. That took its toll eight years ago, when he suffered a stroke. The resulting hospital stay, a turbulent relationship, and his arrest for violating a restraining order when they broke up led him to “get hooked on energy drinks.”

That monster drink addiction resulted in diabetes; and adding insult to injury, Lawrence recently suffered a heart attack. His health conditions have left him unable to work, dependent on SSI and food stamps, and grateful for donated food items from his church.

Four months ago, Lawrence moved back into affordable housing at Maxwell Terrace. “I made a complete circle,” he says as he muses about why he came back. “I feel good; I can do things that I always wanted to do. I’m enjoying myself, because I’m [now] living here clean.”

No matter his rocky past, Lawrence knows he’s fortunate to have survived and to have had his mother’s lifelong help and encouragement. “The great thing is I’m still here. It feels good to be clean. My mom is very proud of me.”

He, too, is proud of himself as well as his oldest daughter. “I love my daughter. She just finished college. Her graduation is in April,” an event he and his mother are proudly attending together.

Lawrence’s experience is testament to the fact that, through determination and a supportive environment, changed lives are possible. His bottom line? “You’ve always got to think positive!”