Sobriety brings stability for shelter manager

  • By Dorothy Chomicz
  • Sunday, December 7, 2014 10:31pm
  • News

FAIRBANKS (AP) — Allan Lamprey is a happy man. He may not be rich or live in a mansion, but he has a tidy little apartment and a steady and fulfilling job as the men’s shelter manager at the Fairbanks Rescue Mission. This may not seem like much to many people but it means a lot to Lamprey, because it wasn’t long ago that he was was one of the many homeless men who call the shelter their temporary home.

Lamprey, an earnest and quiet man in his mid-50s, recently sat down in his office at the busy shelter and talked about his journey from homeless alcoholic to sober and productive member of society. Born and raised in Arlington, Virginia, Lamprey started drinking when he was 13 and started doing hard drugs at 17. He left home at 18 and made his way by Greyhound bus to California, where he worked a variety of jobs and went from one failed relationship to another.

“The woman I was living with threw me out, so I packed up and left. I worked in warehouses, cooked in restaurants, was a lot attendant at used car dealership,” Lamprey said. “I’d get in a good relationship, the drugs and alcohol would take over and I’d once again become homeless.”

Lamprey traveled all over the Lower 48 but mostly stayed in California. He would sometimes go back home and live with his mother, but when she sold her house, he had no where left to go. That’s when a friend who had moved to Fairbanks told him to “come on up,” Lamprey said.

“I came here in 2008, and my drinking and drugging followed me. I came here thinking, ‘no one drinks in Alaska,’” Lamprey said, shaking his head and laughing uproariously at the thought. “Next thing you know, I’m homeless in Alaska in the wintertime. Out in the cold, nowhere to go. I would stay sometimes in an abandoned building over off the Johansen. I just thought that this is where I came to die.”

Lamprey’s mother would send him a little money now and then, and he would drink whatever he could get his hands on — beer, if he could afford it, but often mouthwash or cough medicine. Finally, desperate and afraid, he called the number for a 12-step program.

“They literally came out into the woods and got me. I had a 12-pack in my hand and they said, “No, no,” and they took me to a 12-step meeting. I was in a semi-blackout. Then they got me over to detox, but when I got out I went right back to where I was, drinking again,” Lamprey said.

This went on throughout that winter, Lamprey said, until one day the head nurse at the detox center asked him if he would like to get sober.

“I said, ‘If it were only that easy.’ And she said, ‘No, I can get you off the street. I can get you a place and get you off the street,’ She literally put me in the van and drove me to the Ralph Purdue Center. I was just a mess. I was so strung out.”

The Ralph Perdue Center is an alcohol and drug rehab center that offers residential and outpatient treatment. The average residential stay is 45 days, with an eight-week outpatient program.

Lamprey stayed at the Ralph Perdue Center for 30 days and attended 12-step meetings regularly. He once again met up with the man who had first come to get him in the woods, and asked him to be his sponsor. Lamprey moved to the rescue mission after leaving the treatment center, and it was there that he learned about the Genesis Program. After a short waiting period, he was admitted to the faith-based recovery program, which he credits with finally allowing him to achieve sobriety.

“The steps are different and it’s way more in-depth. More writing,” Lamprey said, pulling out his Genesis Program workbook and leafing through it. “It was very difficult at first for me, and I then began to get into it. I knew it was working when I was talking with another person in the program, and we were laughing and talking and I wasn’t cursing,” Lamprey said.

The Genesis Program takes eight months to two years to complete, and focuses on the mental, social, emotional, spiritual and physical needs of a person to help them to sobriety.

Though his work with the Genesis Program is finished, Lamprey attends other 12-step program meetings regularly, which is something he said he will do “forever.” He was 49 when he got sober, and with his sobriety came a feeling he hadn’t had in years.

“I’ll never forget it. I’ve never been so happy in my life — I was 50 years old, five months sober, and at a 12-step meeting. And I was happy. I was here at the mission and I didn’t have two nickels to rub together, but I was safe,” Lamprey said.

Sobriety brought other things, such as the need to find a job and a place to live. Lamprey found work moving furniture and was hired as a cook at the rescue mission. The Alano Club hired him to take care of its building on Sixth Avenue, a position which came with a small room to live in. He had lived and worked at the Alano Club for three and a half years when the rescue mission’s men’s shelter manager job came open.

“Rodney (Gaskins, the executive director of the rescue mission) asked me, ‘What special thing do you have for this position?’ I said, ‘Rodney, I am one of those guys,’ Lamprey said, gesturing at the rescue mission clients. “I love my job, I’m very proud of my job. The thing I like about it the most is helping people, seeing them get back on their feet, get back with their families or their loved ones.”

Lamprey describes himself as “happily single and independent.”

“For 25 years, I didn’t have my own bed — I slept on cardboard boxes, on roofs, in cars, on people’s couches and had to get up and leave when they did,” he said. “I got this job and I saved up enough money, and I now have my own apartment. I have a checking account. I went out and bought a $2,000 bed and mattress, and $3,000 worth of furniture. I spent a ton, and everybody said, ‘It’s a little apartment. Why are you spending so much on furniture?’ I said, ‘I’m getting me some nice furniture, because now I have a home to put it in,’” Lamprey said.

Lamprey said a day doesn’t go by that he isn’t thankful for the help he has received along the way.

“The rescue mission, the 12-step program and the Genesis Program saved my life,” Lamprey said.

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