“They came out and said, ‘Can we help you?’ I said, ‘No, I just need Jesus.’ I’m just crying, saying, ‘I need Jesus.'”
My name is Diane Stevenson. I am a long-term recovered addict. Alcohol, pills, weed, everything. I’m sixty-five years old. I am from a family of ten; I’m the third from the top. I had a job, and I fell through the cracks, and went from Birmingham to Atlanta. Atlanta, where my job transferred me. Later they relocated to Syracuse, New York.
There I was in Atlanta, didn’t know anyone. I tried to seek employment, and I went to the food stamp office, and there I met some people which were hustlers. After I tried to get a job and couldn’t get a job, and the food stamps really didn’t work because I had an apartment, I had to pay my rent. I made a bad decision and that decision was to start hustling for monies because I dared not go back home. My mother had nine other children. With the decision I made, there was consequences, and that’s where the drugs got involved. There I was on heroin and cocaine, and I was intravenously using it. That is, shooting the dope. I got caught up on the drugs and the merry-go-round was just spiraling, I’m spiraling downward.
“I made a bad decision and that decision was to start hustling for monies because I dared not go back home. My mother had nine other children. With the decision I made, there was consequences, and that’s where the drugs got involved.”
Here I am in Atlanta, got a habit. The lady I had met at the food stamp office, we teamed up. She was my partner in crime and we were going all into grocery stores getting people’s purses and using credit cards and all their monies and just doing whatever we needed to do to get a fix. Going into department stores like I was invisible, big black bags to dispose of leaves for cleaning a yard, and I’m piling it up [with] any kind of commodity or clothes, meat, food, whatever that I could sell. I would just bag it up and walk out the store like I was invisible, because I was addicted. I was on drugs really bad. Because we know that drugs is a mind-altering thing and my mind was tore up.
From there, I was on the drugs, then I left Atlanta. We made a big sting and left Atlanta and drove to Detroit, Michigan. Went to Detroit, Michigan. On our way there we stopped at all of the rest stops and shot up; we had about a half ounce of heroin and an ounce of cocaine, and shot all that up. Went to Detroit and was sick as a dog when we got there. We had no drugs. We were thinking about how we going to get our fix now. I’m in Detroit. I don’t know nobody. I have a car, and the guy, I’ll call him Cool, he knew Detroit and went with his family, stayed at his apartment with his mother and sisters, there.
I thought about a scam that I could do with my car. I sold the car to this old guy and I got a duplicate of the key. So when the man paid me $700 for the car and got the key thinking it was his car, that night I used the duplicate and took this car back. God had to forgive me for that.
While I was in Detroit, we would go into the grocery stores and we would spot elderly people that would leave their purses in the buggy. We get their purses and their credit cards or whatever. Okay, now of course I went to jail several times, but I still was strung out. In my mind I still had that, I had a disease, I now found out.
From there I go to my spiritual awakening, which stopped me in my tracks. I had come back from Detroit after twelve years of being up there strung out on heroin and cocaine. I came back to Birmingham. When I got to Birmingham I still stayed on the drugs. I didn’t have anywhere to stay. I was homeless. My mother wouldn’t let me stay there because I was stealing and doing all damnable things to my family. Now and then I’d go hustling and make about $400, $500. I’m on Graymont Avenue in Birmingham and I’m between two churches, church on the right, church on the left. I couldn’t move forward, I couldn’t move backward.
“I’m between two churches, church on the right, church on the left. I couldn’t move forward, I couldn’t move backward.”
It’s early in the morning, maybe about four or five in the morning. This lady and her baby are sitting there at the bus stop, and I asked her, “Ma’am, would you please tell me who the pastor of this church is?” She said that it’s on the billboard. I looked so bad I went around the back of that church and got up under the air conditioning vent, and got close to the wall of that church. Because I know I needed Jesus and know church is the only [thing] that I could have done to get close to… I felt that way, I could be close to God.
I’m up under there crying, and I’m crying so hard. Couldn’t catch my breath. I’m crying. I don’t know how long I had been there but I looked around to my right or left, whatever. There’s a man standing up in the back ally like, because it’s in the back of the houses. He’s back there, with a hole in his hand, and today I say it was an angel.
He called the church and told them somebody is behind the church under the air conditioning vent. They came out and said, “Can we help you?” I said, “No, I just need Jesus.” I’m just crying, saying, “I need Jesus.” She said, “Come on and get something to eat”. I said, “I don’t need food or coffee or anything. I just need Jesus.”
They took me in, and about ten minutes later they had called the police, and this was the first time I wasn’t fearful of the police. Because when you’re doing wrong you don’t want to see no police. The police came and they said, What’s wrong with you? I said, I’ve just been getting high for eighteen years and I’m tired now and I’m tired, I’m just tired. I know I need Jesus. I tried everything else, I need Jesus.
“The police came and they said, What’s wrong with you? I said, I’ve just been getting high for eighteen years and I’m tired now.”
They called the crisis center. I’ll never forget the lady’s name. She came, and she was from the crisis center. I gave her [what] I know now was my testimony and how tired I was because she said, “Praise the Lord.” When the lady said that, I had never heard that before, and something went all through me. She gave me tracts, so now I’m hitting the tracts. I would read them and read them. She took me to the Salvation Army. There I stayed at the Salvation Army some weeks. I was just reading because I was tired of being sick and tired. I had made up my mind and God was working with me, because I came here up on that truck with a contrite spirit and a broken heart and repentant.
I was going to make a turn and change my lifestyle. From the Salvation Army… I stayed there about a month or so and they took me to Bread and Roses Shelter in Birmingham for women. I stayed there some months, still reading my scripture, Psalms 27, over and over and over. One day a lady came, and she had beautiful suits, dress suits. She was a rich lady. Low and behold, nobody could wear them but me. God was getting me ready for church.
From there… My family was coming, they was bringing me food, because they still didn’t want me to stay in their homes because you had to build up their trust. Later on I went to Tallahassee to a recovery house. Because I relapsed again in Birmingham. My brother took me to Tallahassee. I went to Tallahassee, a recovery house there. I still stayed there, and I backslid there in the recovery and got back on the, trying to sneak and smoke crack in the recovery house. I got kicked out.
“I had one bag of clothes when I got there, but I was determined to get connected to the divine, and I did just that.”
Then my brother brought me to Montgomery, where I live today. A young lady came through and she was saying, Anybody want to do to church? I said, “Yes, I do.” I put my hands in God’s hand that day and road back and forth to church. I did not have any clothes, I had one bag of clothes when I got there, but I was determined to get connected to the divine, and I did just that.
Today I’m saved. I’m an Evangelist, and I’ve been clean and sober without relapsing for ten years now. I truly thank God for saving me. Through my drug use, I contracted HIV and I have been positive, undetectable now for thirty-six years. Thirty-six years, and I give God the glory and the praise. That is my story. I’m so grateful. I’m so grateful. I am so grateful. I want anybody to know that’s on drugs or alcohol there is hope. God is hope worth hoping for.
We were counseled on substance abuse, and I’m going into the city and county jails talking to the ladies and men on substance abuse and how devastating it is and how it can affect your life in such a drastic terribly way. Not just only you but your family, your friends, and your health and your emotions and your brains. It burns out your brain cells somewhat.
I am just so grateful to God Almighty that I took that road, that I held on to his hand and did just what he said he would do. He is Jehovah Rapha. He has provided for me. He is Jehovah-jireh, provider. He is Jehovah Rapha, a healer, and I thank God for that. That is my story.
Photographs taken at the Council on Substance Abuse in Montgomery, Alabama.