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A Drifter Finds Christ

“It’s fantastic when you turn your life over to Christ and stop running on self–will and rely on God’s will,” says Stanley Jackson, a drug and alcohol abuse counselor for the last 22 years at the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) in Wilkes–Barre, Pa.


Stanley Jackson (r) singing with Elsbeary Hobbs’ Drifters.

A gifted singer, for the last 19 years Jackson has spent many weekends singing baritone lead with the latest version of the Drifters, the famous group known for hits such as “Up on the Roof,” “Under the Boardwalk,” and “This Magic Moment.”

“I have sung with a lot of the original members, including Charles Thomas and Elsbeary Hobbs,” he says. “We carry on the legacy of the Drifters.”

Jackson’s office is adorned with photos from his days with the Drifters and with another group called “The Intrigues.”

“Every day I wake up to help somebody else,” he says. “That’s my goal. Whether it’s a hug, a conversation, a cup of coffee, I do something for somebody else. That’s my goal—every day.”

Once upon a time, however, Jackson started his days thinking about a life of crime.

When he shares his dramatic testimony, he has a tendency to rattle off numbers—25 rehabs, 15 detoxes, and 10 years in state prison.

“I’ve been shot and stabbed and I overdosed five times,” Jackson says. “I’ve slept in abandoned buildings and eaten out of garbage cans. My mother and father were both drug addicts and alcoholics. I made my first detox at birth; I was born addicted to heroin.”

Those are some of Jackson’s bad numbers. On the good side, “I’m going on 24 years of sobriety,” he says, now 63.

Born in Harlem, N.Y., Stanley was an only child who quit school in 8th grade.

“My grandmother pretty much raised me, but I spent a lot of my life in the streets with the drunks, the pimps, the hustlers, and the prostitutes,” he says. “I was introduced to church, but I strayed as I got older.”

Wild living

What followed was a harrowing life of crime and drugs. Stanley says he probably shot heroin into his arm every day for 25 years and he needed money to support the habit.

“I was stealing cars and selling drugs,” Stanley recalls. “I’d stay in the same clothes four and five months at a time without washing them. I was all right with that. I was comfortable with the chaos and the drama. It allowed me to continue to be the insane person I was.”

His violence struck close to home when Stanley took part in the armed robbery of a supermarket. His job was to corral the customers into a back room using a sawed–off, 12–gauge shotgun, but he was in for a big surprise.

“Unbeknownst to me, my grandmother was one of the customers in the supermarket and that’s the last time I was in her  presence,” Stanley says. “She didn’t die from what I did, but I was still doing my thing and that’s the last image that she had of me.”

Stanley and his gang got away with the robbery that day.

An imprisoned heart

“But I went to prison—here,” Jackson says, pointing emotionally to his heart. “I had a lot of guilt, shame, and things going on in my head.”

Eventually, Jackson went to state prison, serving several terms, each for about three years, before his final period, which was for seven years.

“I was an institutionalized individual, so going to jail and going to rehab—I had no problem with that,” he says. “I knew how to function inside of an institution. But I didn’t know how to function outside of one.”

The system finally released Jackson, but not much changed in his chaotic life.

“I still continued my drug addiction,” he says. “I was in and out of relationships and I was homeless.”

Then one day, the “high” was gone.

Jackson explained, “You buy dope and you shoot dope but you don’t get high. You drink but you don’t get drunk. I couldn’t get high anymore. I thought, something is wrong.”

His ‘magic moment’

Finally exhausted from the streets and from his lifestyle, Jackson heard about The Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“I just made a decision,” Jackson recalls. “I was so beat and tired. I just got sick and tired of being tired and sick. I didn’t know anywhere else to go.

“The Salvation Army accepted me for who I was. I relapsed five times. They never gave up on me.”

Feeling he had to leave New York for a clean break, Jackson went to the Wilkes–Barre, Pa., ARC.

“I said, ‘I don’t care what they ask me to do. If they ask me to sweep the snow off the roof or whatever, I am not taking my will back. I’m going to do what I need to do, according to God’s Word.’

“I wanted to get my daughter out of foster care. I wanted to step up and be the man that I was supposed to be and be a father to my children.”

“You can’t help the unwilling. I tell them, ‘If you’re willing, we can help you. If you’re not willing, the only thing we can do is plant a seed.’ We cannot do it alone. You need other people and you need Christ. Every time I tried to do it on my own, it never worked out. I tried everything under the sun and nothing worked, until Christ.” —Stanley Jackson
Then one night, soon after Jackson had arrived in Wilkes-Barre, his turning point came. As he worked the midnight shift at the ARC’s front desk, and wrote about his children, he says the Holy Spirit paid a visit.

“It’s hard to explain when the Spirit comes over you. I just knew that something came over me. And it was a good thing because it put me in a position to say, ‘OK. This is it. Now is actually the time to do the work.’ ”

New life in Christ

Jackson officially graduated from the ARC program in Wilkes-Barre.

“I haven’t picked up a drink or drug since,” he says. “Now, my biggest addiction is bacon and pork chops!”

Today, Jackson counsels many of the men who come into the ARC and he is straightforward in his presentation.

“I share my experience, strength, and hope with them,” he says. “I guide them the best way I can. I give them suggestions. I try to point out things that they can’t see themselves.

“You can’t help the unwilling. I tell them, ‘If you’re willing, we can help you. If you’re not willing, the only thing we can do is plant a seed.’ We cannot do it alone. You need other people and you need Christ. Every time I tried to do it on my own, it never worked out. I tried everything under the sun and nothing worked until Christ.”

Jackson says the men he deals with are “beat, dead, and spiritually bankrupt,” as he once was. He shows them there is “life after death.”

“When you’re caught up in the grips of addiction, you may be physically alive, but you’re spiritually and emotionally dead,” Jackson says. “To get to the point where you don’t have to suffer and live the life of a nomad, you must be brought back to life and have a relationship with Christ. He lets you know that there is life after death, and that’s beautiful.”

‘I’m a miracle’

Looking back, Jackson says he would often pray “foxhole prayers” to God to get him out of his latest scrape, but “there was no sincerity.” However, even then, he believes God was drawing near.

“I believe that each time I fell and I struggled, God planted a seed,” he says. “Each and every time I fell, that got me closer to allow those seeds to grow and blossom.

“That’s what we do here at the ARC. We plant seeds. Sometimes seeds take a couple of months or a couple of years, but when they’re ready to take root, God is there to water them. I believe seeds were planted all throughout my life through everything I did for a reason.”

Stanley said he thanks God every day for the grace he has received in his life.

Here ‘on purpose’

“I believe I’m here for a purpose,” he says. “Based on how I lived, I should have died. But I believe in God’s grace and mercy. I am a child of God. I’m a miracle.

“I believe God works through people and I believe I’m alive today so he could put me a position to minister to other people.”

Jackson says he still works every day with a sponsor and on his recovery.

“Knowing where I came from, I’m scared to go back there again,” he says. “I know what happens when I use. I become a dangerous person. That scares me. And I want to hold on to God’s blessings.”

During his darkest days, Jackson’s children were placed in foster care, but he has since reconciled with them all and relishes his new life in Christ.

“When I came to Wilkes-Barre, I fully accepted Jesus Christ,” Jackson says. “Everything that is me is Him. That keeps me going each and every day.”

by Robert Mitchell

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