“A lot of them guys see me—they don’t know my name—but they know I’m alright. They know I’m alright.”
My name is Willie Dumas. I was born in Albany, Alabama. I came from a pretty nice family, a working family. I had a God-fearing mother. Now my daddy, he was a great daddy. He did stuff for the community, but he also hustled too. He worked for Auburn University, he did construction work plus he was a barber, and he made moonshine. That’s what I mean by hustling. He took care of his family, and then whatever family was lacking in the community, he took care of them too.
My mother was a spiritual woman, and she had three boys. I’m the youngest. She made sure we stayed in church. I strayed away from church myself, but I was raised in the church. See, like on Saturday, my father, he is still working me and my brothers. We work on Saturday until about one o’clock, then we maybe can go play with friends, but a lot of times my mother had the old forty-five spiritual album like that. She made me go take a bath, and we listen to gospel music until we go to bed Saturday night. Then you go to church all Sunday. So I came from a spiritual background, but I became a teenager. That’s when I started making mistakes.
“I came from a spiritual background, but I became a teenager. That’s when I started making mistakes.”
I started smoking marijuana as a teenager. Once I finished school I left here and went to New Jersey, New York. I ran into crank and cocaine. I went in the military then. They had drug tests, wasn’t that bad when I first went in. Then I went overseas. I started dipping and dabbing in different types of drugs then. I didn’t get kicked out now, I got my honorable discharge. I stayed in the military nine years, two months. Then every time I went overseas I just forgot about my family and that’s where I made my mistakes. I could of came home every year, I wouldn’t even come home. I stayed in Germany three years, I wouldn’t even come home. I go to Copenhagen, Amsterdam where cocaine was better at, that where I went. I sold drugs while I was in the military—hash and heroin. I thank God I didn’t get caught doing that. When I came back on my last tour I went to Fort Knox, Kentucky. That’s what made me really want to get out of the military. I don’t like stateside military.
My mother worried about me. I stopped in Atlanta, Georgia. I had a pocketful of money. I bought cocaine, started selling cocaine in Atlanta. Cooking up cocaine into crack, selling crack. I didn’t know nothing about crack, that’s where I learned it at, when I got to Atlanta. That’s what I started using. That was the worst mistake I made—don’t start using your product. I started snorting cocaine, smoking primo. I was snorting and doing primo, drinking. The only reason I’m down here [is] the Red Dogs of Atlanta. I was getting ready to get some serious time up there, so I came here to my relatives. They ain’t no too worried about crack cocaine. I started buying cocaine here. Got some of my cousins and all, then we start a big operation here in Auburn, but I start using more.
“I not only destroyed my life, I destroyed other peoples’ lives and didn’t care. Only thing I cared about is staying high and money.”
I start not caring about nobody, not even caring about myself. I made a lot of enemies. I’ve been shot before. I not only destroyed my life, I destroyed other peoples’ lives and didn’t care. Only thing I cared about is staying high and money. Just forgot about God, and I wasn’t raised like that. Well in the end that’s what saved me. Just like Lucious, I’ve been in the program with him, that’s how I know him. I’ve been in a government program three times. The VA program didn’t do me good—not a thing. What worked for you in your recovery might not work for me. All them programs, you know why I went? To keep from going to jail. That’s the only reason I went. I ain’t had no intention of stopping. I quit for about ninety days, a hundred twenty days, then the VA helped put money in my pocket. I get right out and go back to an old friend, which is my cousin. See, I came from a family that deals drugs. Most of my brothers deal drugs, some in prison now, some getting out of prison now, some still out there doing it. That’s where I always went back to.
I stayed clean for a little while, I went down there where Lucious was from—Montgomery. VA helped me, got me a nice middle-class job, making good money. Then I said, “That ain’t enough money.” I started going back home to Albany, getting cocaine, started using cocaine again. I really didn’t need money. I was making enough money on that job. I got greedy. Destroyed my life. I had a nice fiancé. The only thing she asked me to do was come back home—I couldn’t even do that. Instead of me destroying her life with mine, I left her. I came back to Albany and I got worse. I got worse. Now I started snorting more of them. When I used, I usually [used] over a thousand dollars worth of drugs a day, because I had it like that. My family’s selling it, you see what I’m saying? So I was worse off.
“I almost got twelve years in prison. I got a distribution charge—a serious charge selling dope.”
The only thing that saved me, I almost got twelve years in prison. I got a distribution charge—a serious charge selling dope. Me and my cousin, we used to bring dope right here, right here on 280 or that Walgreens over there by the B1. We used to bring four pounds of weed, two ounces of cocaine. We’d be out there twice a week where we’d be [selling] for a guy in Coloma. We used to distribute cocaine in Montgomery, Phenix City, Coloma, Albany and all that. God bless me, we went a lotta years before I even got in trouble. They used to get on me, you know, try and make me snitch. I wouldn’t snitch, but I messed up. I sold some to a U.S. Marshall—that I got in trouble for twice—and so I went to jail. They kept me in there about four or five months. They try to get me to flip on my cousin and I ain’t, Lord, wasn’t going to flip. I’d rather pay the price.
They still gave me a chance. They gave me a plea bargain, and so I had to get a probation officer. That’s how I ended up over in the House of Restoration, but when I went into Cook it was about fifteen of them went to Cook. That jailer was sending everybody to prison. By the grace of God where I stayed, I went back to my roots, born and raised in the church. I read my Bible through about two times the whole time I was in jail, and then we went to a Bible study in jail. Then the east cell block, we started Bible study in our cell block. I stayed and prayed up while everybody’s in there fighting every day. Every day you fight, I wake up and look at them, laugh, I go back to my Bible, and I prayed, and God answered my prayer. Now all this twelve-step and stuff like that, ain’t do me nothing. The only reason I went through it was to keep from going to jail, and I get back out there and do the same thing.
Then I lied to my probation officer. I told her that when I got out, I supposed to come over here on that day, that Friday, I told her I had to go home and take care of business. I lied. The only [thing I] had on my mind: going out there and get high, selling dope. I went home that [Thursday] night. I got up that Friday morning and went and got dope. I started selling it, using it. Then this voice in the back of my head, “Oh, Devil will keep you hooked.” See that’s that Devil, wants you, makes you do stuff like that. Jesus kept talking in my mind, “Don’t do this.” I went out there, I had a pill bottle full of dope.
“Now all this twelve-step and stuff like that, ain’t do me nothing. The only reason I went through it was to keep from going to jail, and I get back out there and do the same thing.”
I called Miss Springlow that Monday, and she said, “Yeah, they still got a bed. Can you make it here now?” I said, “I’m on my way.” I got my sister-in-law to bring me to Tuskegee. Probation officer is the one took me, he gave me a ride. Usually the probation officer ain’t helping you if you got a charge like me. He was helping me out. Then he gave me a cell phone so I won’t have to pay no probation charge. He gave me that, helped me out. I said, “I don’t know nobody over here. Man, I think I’m going to something like a VA here.” We started coming back in these woods, and, “Man, I ain’t staying here.” To be honest with you I had no intentions staying here.
See God put people around you, put people in your life to help you get through things. Turner, I’ll call him Turner, I didn’t see Turner until for three days later at Bible study. I mean I knew, it had been about four, five years, [I said], “I know that man.” I said, “That’s Turner.” I talked to him and he told me how Pastor was, and anything like that. Then Hughley, now me and Hughley running back in the day. He was bringing hot stuff to me I’d take it, but I didn’t keep it. I’d sell it, and that’s what kept going on. I said, “Man, Hughley. I said, “I’m getting right back on the bus and going. I’m going back.” I said, “I’m going on a run again,” because I had ran from the police three years. I had a warrant on me three years. I had to quit my job because they come on the job try to catch me and all that and stuff.
I started listening to a class they usually give, and the way you’d preach on Sunday. You didn’t have so many restraints like the VA did. [They] usually let you go anywhere every day. VA didn’t give you like no choice like that. Then you ain’t given no drug test, so you ain’t put all the pressure on them. You did stuff, [they] take us to like baseball games, stuff like that. I said, “Dang.” Then I started praying more and I tried to stay in church more. I said, “Dang, this is different.” I said, “This is the best program I’ve been in.” I’ve been in three at the VA and I failed, but this worked out for me. Then I ran into some people here. You got to leave those old friends behind, and you got to make new friends, and that’s what I did. The only time I went home was like I had a relative’s funeral. I stayed clear of that for about two or three years.
I still pray to God every night to thank him for keeping me from going that way again, because if I continued on that there… I used to be in prison, I did. That’s just the bottom line. I’m recovered, I’ve been recovered about six years now, and I finally got off them cigarettes, been off cigarettes about a year. I’m finally off them. Now I go out, I go on Broadway like on Friday night. I can’t stand all that cigarette smoke down in there though. I can’t stand that. They be drinking. I just go, I just enjoy. This is the best feeling in my life I have by myself in a lot of years.
I’m at peace now, because just like God looked out for me, gave me that plea bargain not to go and do that twelve years. That’s why I ended up over here. He brought me over here, and that helped me. People been great here, and I don’t have no regrets at all. Jesus is my higher power. I stay prayed up. I didn’t do it myself. By the grace of God what got me off drugs, and staying around the right people. You try to recover and you’re still going around those same people you hanging with, you’re going to bounce back that same way—that’s what happened to me every time.
“Every time you look around somebody you know dying…Guys my age—friends—they look like the walking dead. I was walking dead when I came over here. I hate to see somebody like that.”
I just got off probation March this year. I ain’t been in trouble since. Since I’m out, I’m not getting in any trouble. I don’t run in that crowd no more. I used to run around with [that] crowd. I go get me some exercise. I walk. If I see somebody that God put in my heart… he’s a tall dude I see over here in Coloma. I called him 6-9, I don’t know his name, I said, “6-9.” He’s a good man. He don’t ask nobody for nothing. If I got two or three dollars, he’s going to get half of it because I see him going in them garbage cans. I served time. I ain’t had no compassion and heart like that. For a whole lot of years I didn’t care about nobody’s self but myself, now it makes me feel good. Just like this stuff on the news, all this stuff happening.
Every time you look around somebody you know dying. Then these young people today, they’re hauling drugs to me, and they are these pain pills. Now crack’s bad enough, but they out there doing these pain pills. I’m serious, I ain’t seen nothing like it. They worse than my generation. I just see it, and then I look at it. I go home now. They try to get me to come along for a drive, I don’t want to go along and look at it. Guys my age—friends—they look like the walking dead. I was walking dead when I came over here. I hate to see somebody like that, and I hate to see a woman out there like that—especially a woman. I looked out my window last night, a little young white girl, it was late about ten-thirty or so, I went outside because I had to cool off, use the phone.
I’m glad they got rid of that crack house right across the street. I’m glad it’s gone. I looked out there, she walking the street, and know these streets around here are dark. I said, “Man, why she go out this time of night? It’s about eleven o’clock, by herself.” There’s so much happening, like last year when the young girl get missing, her cousin went and did it. There’s so much happening—every week somebody dying. Every week. When you’re an addict, you don’t even pay that no attention. I didn’t pay that no attention. “So he’s dead,”—that’s how I used to look at it.
I didn’t have no feelings, no compassion for nobody, and I know I wasn’t raised that way. Now wherever my momma is today, she’s happy for me because she brought it on. She made us go to church all day. You think you going to play? You’re going to church all day long. You’re going to Sunday school and you’re going to both services, and then Saturday you’ll listen to them forty-fives a half hour. When you get through working at twelve you’re going to take a bath and you’re going to listen to those forty-fives albums. A young boy, I used to hate going to church. I ain’t going to sit and lie. I ain’t want to go to church. I wanted to play. I had a good minister, he was from Mobile in Coloma, Reverend Dubou. I used to have a feeling I couldn’t explain as a young boy—felt good. That’s when I joined church, but I strayed away.
“I know people that have been in recovery ten, eleven years and went back. You got to keep God with you because you quit acknowledging God, you’re going to fail.”
Living down here and getting up there around New York, with that wild crowd, I strayed away. I didn’t go to church never a time when I was in the military. Then when I was at the VA…they don’t make them go to church in them programs. They’ve got a chapel and very few go on Sunday. You got to have God in your life if you want to beat this off. If not with God you’re going to fail every time. I know people that have been in recovery ten, eleven years and went back. You got to keep God with you because you quit acknowledging God, you’re going to fail. I’m a firm believer in that. You believe in God? Keep him first. That’s what’s going to help to pull you through. Don’t count on these twelve steps. Don’t count on that. Count on that higher being up there. I been through all that—aftercare—all that. I did it just to get that piece of paper that said I finished, and I went back three times.
Now I keep God in my life. Like everyone I slip and I don’t go to church, but I’m going to try to [go to] church every Sunday. Old Devil was this morning, “He ain’t got to church. Don’t go to church. You don’t feel like going to church. Stay it out and watch TV.” I turned on Bobby Jones Gospel TV and get me motivated, and just like we got a good prayer to you here, that makes my day. I’m serious, go. If I had stayed out there, if I had of got on that bus and went back I doubt very seriously I’d be alive right now because I left some enemies out there that want to kill me.
Always keep God first. I can’t quote what scriptures, [but] there’s a whole lot of Bible I know about because I done read it through. I did a couple times since I’ve been over here. Now, like I said, I feel good every day. I get up and go for a walk, I go down there and sit down on the river walk. Stuff I usually wouldn’t pay attention to, I watch them ducks and geese, I watch them squirrels, they come right up there by you, and be at peace. I listen at the water and I pray. I feel good. Feel good.
Then I look at these guys out here. It’s sad. I used to didn’t look at it that way, but now I’ve cleaned up my act I look at it, I feel for them. I help them if I can. It’s like [that] young girl. She was down there. I seen her sitting on that wall. At first old Devil made me walk by. I could tell she was hungry. I turn around, I said, “Ma’am?” I said, “Look, I’m sorry I walked by you like that.” I said, “It is in my spirit to give you something,” and I gave it to her, and she didn’t do nothing. She gathered it and went right on in that store. I do that all the time. I don’t got nothing. I got my own fixed income, but if I see someone needs something and I got it I’m going to do it. I do whatever I can, and then I’m going to try to tell them to have faith in God, too.
A lot of them guys see me—they don’t know my name—but they know I’m alright. They know I’m alright.
Photographs taken at Higher Power Outreach Church in Phenix City, Alabama.