by Vinnie DiPasquale with Bonnie Compton Hanson
“Aw, Come on fellows,” I begged. “After all, it was my dough!”
The other guys—their arms pocked with needle marks—shook their heads. “Naw, Vin,” they protested dreamily, “you don’t wanta get hooked.”
They’d been broke and hurting for the stuff when they ran into me that night. Just out of jail for the second time, I was lonesome for pals. We made a deal. I’d pawn my radio—stolen in the first place—and slip over to New York City with them to find a dope pusher.
Now I looked around the dingy little washroom where these two had just “main-lined” diluted heroin into their veins. Almost immediately a glow had spread over their sickly yellow faces. They were “high” and—to all appearances—supremely happy. I’d been looking for happiness all my life. If a sniff of white powder was all that was keeping me from it—
“Well, okay, kid, like you say, it’s your money.”
I’d been around addicts for a long time; I learned all about dope that second hitch in the clink. Even tried sniffing cleaning fluid myself when othere prisoners went on binges. But I’d never touched real dope until now.
Eagerly grabbing a pinch, I stuck it up my nose and sniffed. Nothing happened.
Disappointed, I started back downstairs. Then it hit me. I can’t explain it exactly, but I was all wobbly and warm and woozy. Most important, I forgot all my problems: my troubles with my father; my tired, loving mother who had time only for work; my own life without aim, hope, or meaning. I decided then and there that dope was for me.
I didn’t know it then, but I was the dope. I guess I’d always been.
The first thing I can remember in life is stealing. I was still small and didn’t have any toys—and I stole a sled. I got a beating for it, but I kept on stealing: money from Mother’s purse, candy and stuff from stores. The more I stole, the more I was beaten, and the more I ran away from home.
There were six of us kids, and Father and Mother didn’t have time for me. There just seemed to be a hole in my life, a big hole that I was always trying to fill.
By the time I was ten, I had my first taste of a correctional institution. After that I was always ending up behind bars. I hardly ever darkened a school door; I was just promoted on paper because of my age. At one of these places two boys and I were so homesick we broke out, stole a car, and made a getaway.
Shot at by police, the other boys gave up, but I made it home. There Mother begged me to give myself up. I did, and at 16 was serving my first sentence.
They called it a reformatory, but they should’ve called it a corrupt-atory. Thrown in with older boys, I quickly learned about drinking, wild girls, safecracking, gang fighting, and all the rest.
By the time I got out 13 months later, I was a confirmed hood–lounging on street corners by day, carousing and fighting by night. A gang leader, I swaggered in the adoration of the fellows and our girl gang. Boy did I think I was something!
But I stole a car and jumped parole, and at 20 was back in jail. That’s when I learned about dope. I’d tried everything to fill that big hole in my life. Maybe, I figured, this would do it. After all, I could always stop.
Famous last words. First I was “snorting” two or three times a week, then every day, stealing everything I could to pay for it. Finally my new friends and I decided to become pushers ourselves to afford the demands of our wracked bodies. Things became easier then. We’d sell the stuff for as high as $300 an ounce, and soon we were zipping around the country stealing, selling, hitting the high spots—and staying high ourselves. I was even able to buy 40 suits for myself.
Then our supplier got eight years in the pen.
Our means of income was gone—but not our cravings. I hocked all my suits, stole all I could, broke into safes, and still couldn’t meet my nerves’ demands.
One night after I’d been desparately kicking the habit for a week, I found out that five of the guys in my old gang were going on a free trip to Colorado. Boy, did that sound good! I found out who had invited them—Harv Oostdyk—and asked him if I could go, too. When he said yes, I was more excited than I’d been in years.
All the way out there we guys lived it up—stealing and all, the way we’d always done. I could tell it worried this guy Harv, and I couldn’t figure him out. He was so different from the guys we’d known.
As soon as our car pulled into this big ranch, about 50 or 60 kids surrounded us and greeted us. I could see that they were different too. Suddenly I knew that—hopeless junkie though I was—there might still be hope for me at this place.
What I didn’t realize was that this Frontier Ranch was a religious outfit, sponsored by an organization called Young Life. I didn’t even know that the fellow who’d brought us out there free was the New Jersey director of Young Life. To me Harv Oostdyk was just a swell young fellow who for some reason got a kick out of doing something for guys like me and my buddies.
But I did know I was going with him all the way. And I did. I went to every single meeting and encouraged the other guys to go, too. I was 22 then—older than the other guys—but for the first time I was hearing how Jesus Christ loved me—me—and had died for me on the Cross and was alive and able to help me today. Through faith in Him I could become a new creature with the Spirit of God living right in my heart. And I could see that these other people really believed and experienced this.
Before the week was over, I—and two of the fellows I came with—had believed in Christ and experienced salvation for ourselves.
Back home, though, where I didn’t know any other Christians, the going was hard. I didn’t know anything about the Bible or separation or anything like that. Harv tried to help me, but I was in Newark and he in Morristown, New Jersey, and he had many other obligations. After a couple of months—much as I hated it—I found myself falling back into my old ways. And I kept falling back into them for three years.
Then one night, thrown in jail, I really started thinking. I’d said once that He was the Answer. He had made me a new creature. Was I acting like one? What had gone wrong? Why had I messed up the one wonderful thing that had ever happened in my life?
Almost miraculously I was able to get in touch with Harv again a couple of days later. He took me into his home, got me a job, and began helping me grow in the Lord.
By June 1960 I was able to start a work with some other Christian fellows, helping guys who were down where I once was.
The following February the Lord gave me the desire to go back to school—me who couldn’t multiply or divide and hadn’t cracked a book for twenty-seven years! It was tough going, but the Lord was with me and as this was written I expected to graduate from high school with top marks! College, God willing, is next.
I look back now on my life and see that it was shattered and completely without hope for me. Jesus Christ has reached down to the depths and has done things in my life that I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams. Only He could have filled the cavity that burdened me for twenty-two wasted years.
My plans after college are not definite, but I know that each day from now on I must fall on my knees and shout, “How great Thou art!”
[Vinne DiPasquale graduated from Newark Prep in August 1964, and is now attending evening classes at Jersey City State College. Now married and the father of two daughters, he is a member of the Young Life staff and works with Young Life clubs in Jersey City and West Harlem.]
from Teen With a Future and Other Stories of God’s Power for Teenagers
© Baker Book House, 1965
I learned today as I was typing this post that my father graduated high school the month I was born—August, 1964. He was 30 years old.
Thank you to my sister Connie for embarking on a geneology quest, and reconnecting us with a forgotten part of our heritage, as well many relatives with whom we’d lost touch.
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