Salem soldier ends years of addiction, is now in college

RICHARD AND VERNA MATTOS in their Salvation Army apartment. Verna is an adherent at the Salem Corps.


He was 8 years old when he started using drugs.

It was barbiturates at first. Then, over the years, alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamine and cocaine. By that time, he was a long way from his California home where his mother, an emergency room nurse and high-functioning drug addict, had introduced him to barbiturates and his father, a bank manager, had taught him alcohol was fun.

Richard Mattos, age 47, now lives with his third wife, Verna, in a Salvation Army house apartment. The road to being a senior soldier, shelter advocate and Bible teacher at the corps in Salem, Ore., was filled with addictions to power, violence, money, drugs and alcohol.

Although a smart student, Richard landed in a California state alternative school at age 16 after barbiturates were found in his school locker. By 1970 he was living in Oregon. Eventually, drinking and fighting led to jail, including the Oregon State Penitentiary for manufacturing and using drugs and receiving stolen property.

“It was in the isolation unit that I began reading the Bible,” says Richard. “I got the seed of hope planted and the word of God slowly taking root, but I needed to water the seed more.”

Years passed. In 1994 he married Verna. When their landlord needed his house, they became homeless. For four years they moved their illegal camp from one place to another. Then in 1999, The Salvation Army became their home.

Captain Darren Norton, corps officer, says he sees in them what The Salvation Army is all about — building a bridge between the social and the spiritual. “That’s why I’m an officer,” he says, “to take someone like Richard and Verna from living in a tent and being drug users to bringing them into our church and helping them give back to the community — by the grace of God and his spirit in our hearts.”

With two internships behind him, Richard begins his third year at Chemeketa Community College, graduating in June 2003. Clean and sober for nearly three years, he plans on being a drug and alcohol counselor so he can help others find hope and turn their lives around, too.

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