“I was born and raised in Baltimore, the youngest of three boys, by loving parents who raised me with good values,” says Brian Degrafenreid. But as a teenager, he got caught up in the street life using and selling drugs. For the next 25-30 years, Brian would be in and out of jail on lesser charges. He tried treatment, acupuncture and drug court but could not kick his habit with methamphetamine.
Then he moved to Arizona to start over. He quickly discovered that he had “brought myself with me when I came” and that after a short time he was selling cocaine and landed in prison. That was 2012.
In 2016, he was ready for parole when he met Tom Litwicki and Deirdra McMahon while they were visiting the prison. He had been trying to find a “halfway house” that would accept him without any money and a disability. While incarcerated, Brian had contracted valley fever which moved to his spine, rendering him unable to work. No one would take him. But Tom and Deirdra invited him to apply and he was accepted immediately.
When Brian arrived, he was surprised by excellent support and quality of the housing. “It was like a home – there was even a pool. Everything he needed to get started including food, clothing and support. He was nervous but was encouraged by his peers and the staff. He kept himself open to suggestions and started working a plan with his case manager.
He moved from parole to intense probation and, finally probation, completing all three. He will tell you, “I felt that for the staff, it was all about helping the clients.” He found self-forgiveness and learned how to live again, to give in to the help of others.
“At the end of the day, I had been locked up in the system physically and mentally, now I am Free. I work every day to be an example for others and still lean on support. I don’t live in shame – I don’t live in the things I did in the past, I live in the things I am doing today.
Today, Brian is a Navigator for OPCS Supportive Housing Program, and on track to become a Recovery Coach. He went home to Baltimore after 10 years, clean and successful. The whole family was proud to see how he was doing. “I am proud to be an example to my 23 year old son.” The key, he says, is “I have found that I must stay humble and grounded to stay clean and sober. I have come full circle, back to the values that I was raised with – unselfishness, helping others succeed and being available to others.” And that he does!