Ricardo Sanchez: “My heart’s on fire”


by Major Glen DossDeep sadness clouds the furrowed face of Ricardo Sanchez, 40. Tattoos prominent from biceps to wrists, the strong man leans sharply forward. He focuses intensely now as he talks–his voice heavy with conviction. “A few of my friends overdosed and died after I presented them with the drugs. This ties in to the way in which I am working Step 8 of Narcotics Anonymous–making amends.

“My method,” he elaborates thoughtfully, “is ‘a hundred to one.’ By that I mean if I can help out a hundred men for each one that I lost, then I’m making my amends. I know that I can’t undo the past, but I can help someone today.”

This, then, is the reason–the San Bernardino ARC graduate explains–“I volunteer on weekends to drive the men out to meetings. In fact, after four years of sobriety, I run my own NA meetings. If they need someone to talk to, I am always there for them. These men don’t know how very much I care.”

As Ricardo reflects over his difficult past, an image emerges of a self-described “very angry and stubborn, self-willed” young man. His story is one of a deeply troubled youth. Struck by a hit-and-run driver at age seven, “I was thrown as high as the streetlight and came down on my head–this put me into a coma, hospitalized for several weeks.”

Over the ensuing years, Ricardo, the oldest of four children from a single-parent household, chronically was in trouble with the courts and his school. “I was repeatedly suspended for fighting.” After assaulting his principal at age 12, he began the first of several court-ordered institutional stays–“boy’s homes, youth facilities, and the like.”

By age 13, he was drinking alcohol and “experimenting” with several drugs–“pills such as Cross Tops, Pink Cards, Christmas Trees, Black Beauties. I hit home base–my drug of choice–when introduced to methamphetamines.”

Attracted consistently to “the wrong crowd,” he began running with street gangs and was arrested several times for “possession, sales, and being under the influence–I insisted on working things my way, but my way just never worked.” Altogether, Ricardo recalls, he was incarcerated “for a total of at least seven years.”

Court-referred to the Salvation Army program in March, 1997, following a year-and-a-half jail sentence, Ricardo remembers checking in “full of resentment. I didn’t want to be there. My attitude was: ‘What? More time?'”

However, an amazing event which he had never counted on occurred in the ARC chapel one Sunday morning halfway through his six-month stay. Ricardo tells the story: “I had never been to any kind of church before–religious instruction was all new to me–but I was beginning to like what I was hearing. This particular Sunday I accepted the Lord, and a very warm and peaceful feeling passed through me. All of a sudden–everything started to kick in!”

Over the following weeks, “things changed–the way I dressed, the way I talked. I learned how to love myself and be honest. For the first time in my life, I began to really listen to other people. I began praying daily, ‘Lord, I’m yours.’ For the first time–I stopped trying to live my life my way, and I let God show me how to do it his way.

“I had ventured through to the dark side and somehow survived. Today my heart’s on fire, and I’m feeling and enjoying every minute. I thank God for lifting the scales from my eyes so that now I can see what I am doing.

“As I make my amends, it feels so good. Everything is all new–I am like a sponge absorbing, absorbing. However, one thing I do know is that in order to keep what I have–my sobriety and peace–I have to give it away, and doing that is such joy.”

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