NJ DISCOVER EXCLUSIVE: My Day at Damon House, New Brunswick: Since 1974, a long term Residential Rehab for Individuals with Addictions. A MUST Read. By Calvin Schwartz June 15, 2018
Many of my articles, interviews, discoveries, begin far (geographic or intent) from the source. My day at Damon House a perfect example. Six weeks ago, I was at the Stress Factory in New Brunswick to see the showing of a John Hulme film, ‘Blood Sweat & Tears: A Basketball Exorcism.’ Several of the New Brunswick High School basketball team from 1987, from Hulme’s documentary, were there including James Jackson. Just after a group picture, James and I talked. He is an Outreach Liaison at Damon House. I’m a journalist for NJ Discover. Done deal.
In the weeks before, I researched like a model journalist. Damon House in New Brunswick has been around since 1974, serving people with addictions. The building itself, an old armory, built in 1914, is owned by the city of New Brunswick and leased to Damon House. What moved me to want to do this interview is the fact that no person has ever been turned away because of their financial status or inability to pay. That is a wow. Funny thing, I’m around New Brunswick often and I never knew about Damon House. Indeed, an inadvertent best kept secret. I’m a journalist, promulgator. That’s why this article. Hope is that when this is read, some fires are lit. Help. Support. Recognition. All needed.
James brought me into the conference room in the next-door building. I met the administrative team. Ileen Bradley, Executive Director. James Johansen, Director of Program Services. Paul Hoffer, Clinical Director. Tim Miller, Clinical Supervisor. (also, a former executive at NBC-Universal) And we talked for hours. I’m overwhelmed with information and exuberance.
Every journey begins with a first step. I asked about the building; constantly being refurbished. Way back, unions helped doing work pro-bono. Damon House maintains 64 clients (patients, residents) and are a long-term facility doing counseling supported by a therapeutic milieu. Including cognitive therapy, behavior modification, motivational counseling, psychotherapy and guided group principles. Teaching individuals coping skills and dealing with peer pressure under the guidance of credentialed staff with extensive life experience. They teach many practical skills ranging from cooking, budgeting because addicted people lived on the outer fringes and need life lessons. A renowned poet, Glenis Redmond, even came to read poetry and conduct three workshops for the residents; some wrote their own poetry as a result. Ages of residents range from 18 to 60.
And the clients, residents. It was explained that some started using drugs at 11 or 12 and are dealing now with maturation issues. Translated, it could mean at 40 years old, their thought process could be like a 15-year-old. Issues of re-parenting extant. James Johansen added, “When they leave us, we want them to be completely ready for the outside…. When here, they’re pretty broken…. If they can make it at Damon, they can make it anywhere.”
I was curious where the name Damon came from. Ileen Bradley smiled and asked if I knew about Damon and Pythias. I smiled back. “Just the other day, researching, I discovered their story. Two friends, so loyal, they would give their lives for each other.” Ileen added, “If we ever open up another facility, it would be called Pythias House.”
Most clients come from the criminal justice system; demonstrative that nobody wants them. I asked about what really mattered to me; funding. Ileen spoke. “There is funding from the Federal government which goes to the states, and Department of Health, Division of Mental Health, Addiction Services…. Through the drug courts…. Mutual Agreement Program…. State Parole Board…. Then also if a client is eligible, Medicaid….”
Their food bill is over $100,000 a year. They have a relationship with the Community Food Bank in Hillside. I spouted the haunting statistic that in 1980 there were 40 food bank/pantries in the USA. Today there are 40,000. Shop Rite and BJ’s Club in Flemington helps on Fridays. They also get product donations.
Additionally, they have a wonderful working relationship with the Salvation Army just across the street who were instrumental as community partners in getting everything on client’s kids toy wish list at holiday time. Damon House also works with the Hub Teen Center which includes indoor recreation and movies for clients on Friday mornings. With Rutgers nearby, there is a high level of community involvement, right down to working on Rutgers Big Chill and helping with a race, soap box derby. To continue to help prepare and develop client’s lives.
James Jackson also works with Outreach Marketing. “We work with Vinnie Brand from the Stress Factory in New Brunswick who has helped with fund raising. The first event brought over 200 people.”
Paul Hoffer, Clinical Director described their High Intensity Residential Status. “We stress nutrition, meditation with a Monk, Yoga, and a complete holistic approach.”
Damon House and Rutgers University have collaborated on various projects. Third year medical students come for five-week rotations where they have an opportunity to learn about addiction. Damon House developed a 4th year medical student elective with other programs and the Psychiatry department where these students spend time in several levels of care in working with addiction. They work with the MSW/ACT program providing one-year internships for students interested in working with individuals suffering from addiction. There are several other programs that they continue to work together with graduate level students to assist in professional development.
Ileen added, “We are client centered, so we even deal with vision, eyeglasses, dentists and have a legal department to help…. We are full service…. With a family therapist here…. Covering the whole state of New Jersey…. Fitness, food, nutrition, exercise part of our program.” Mind and body is stressed so clients feel good about themselves without drugs or alcohol.
I asked about the percent of clients who finish the six-month program. Once the clients transition from orientation those individuals tend to complete the program and it is very high. Those that complete the program have done everything to move to the next phase. Damon House is a place where they can put life back in order for no cost. How precious, rare and special that is. There was palpable genuine energy and caring sitting around the conference table. I find the transference of particulates of energy fascinating. Tim Miller, Clinical Supervisor, looked at me and I at him. It had to be simultaneous. He asked if I’d like to speak to the clients on things that I do well; networking, reinventing, selling, communicating and spirituality. My answer immediate and enthusiastic. “I’d love to.” So down the yellow brick road, I’ll have more to write about. My experiences with the resident clients.
Next up, with James Jackson, was a complete tour of the facility. From the dorm style rooms, to laundry (individually washed), new showers, barber chair, kitchen, dining room, lounge, gardens outside and new flag flying, waiting for the Fire Department to paint the pole. Indeed, thorough.
Final stop was Tim’s office to view promo films. Then he asked if I’d like to talk to a special resident, recently released from jail to Damon. “Absolutely.” For me a highlight of the day to interact and talk with a client. I was thrilled.
Enter Joe V. At intake in jail, he was told by an inmate how bad Damon was. “He told me they make you work, sit in corners. So, I didn’t want to come here. Thinking about it, kept me up at night. I was in county for four months. I pleaded with the judge for 45 minutes. And it was all based on hearsay. The judge asked me where I was getting my information. People who were there, I answered. The judge told me I was listening to the wrong people. I told the judge to give me my prison bed. He got really angry. My lawyer from drug court said things may be better at Damon. Counselors tried to talk me into. My family and fiancé checked things out on the computer. They researched other drug rehabs and told me that Damon House had a great program, it’s tough but changes lives. So, I came here. And I am so happy that I did. It’s the first meaningful program.”
I was so blown away by Joe’s eloquence, sensitivity and insight. I told him so. What a special person. I said my goodbyes to James and the staff. Curious, walking down the red cement steps, I felt just a bit elevated, like six inches higher. I’d been to a place of something of value. Then a thought popped into my head how I’d end this article. Pete Seeger, the great folksinger, on stage in a concert, was introducing the song, ‘We Shall Overcome,’ one of my all-time favorites. Pete said, (and I remember his words exactly) “If you want to get out of a pessimistic mood, go out and help someone (down in Birmingham, Alabama)” In small steps, I think my day was all about that. Now here’s the website link. Enough said.
DAMON HOUSE http://www.damonhouse.org/
Calvin Schwartz 6-14-18