It was early 2001 when Malcolm Clemens came home to find his belongings piled in the middle of the floor. Everything he owned — clothes, shoes, keepsakes — was there. The only thing missing was his family.
Earlier that day, Clemens made plans to party with his friends. Before leaving, his wife made a promise.
“My wife had told me if I go, when I get back, she wouldn’t be there,” said Clemens.
He said he didn’t take her seriously. She had threatened to leave plenty of times. When he came back home, though, he realized she had finally made good on her promise.
Instead of looking for his family, the Durham native immediately went out to look for drugs and alcohol.
“I thought it was an opportunity to really get down with the drinking and smoking,” said Clemens.
That was his lifestyle.
In the 1980s, Clemens started pursuing a music career with several other musicians. He said he played bass and the keyboards but his main passion was the drums.
A self-taught drummer, he traveled with the band to places like Chicago, Australia and Amsterdam. “You name it, we went there,” said Clemens.
Along with the traveling there came partying. Clemens said it was fun at first but spiraled out of control around 1989 when he became addicted to alcohol, marijuana and crack.
While most of the guys he partied with could stop when they wanted to, Clemens lost control. “The only time I stopped is when I was broke,” said Clemens.
Sometimes he walked all night to find drugs. Sometimes he curled up and cried for God to end his addiction.
But when the liquor store opened, Clemens was at the doors waiting. The money that was supposed to pay his rent and bills went toward his addiction.
At night, he’d wrap up in as many blankets as possible to stay warm because he didn’t pay his heat bill.
“My life had become extremely unmanageable,” said Clemens. A few months after his wife left, he and several guys went on a drug binge in his car. Clemens said it was the “coldest day in 2001.”
They were passing around crack cocaine rocks when his portion fell somewhere in the car. After he spent $300 on drugs, the car ran out of gas.
Though he was able to scrape some money together by begging, the money was spent on more drugs. As a last resort, the group went to a shelter to stay the night.
The group was asked if they wanted to join the shelter’s recovery program when they checked in.
While his friends rejected the offer and left, Clemens stayed.
When he went back to his car the following day, he found the windows were busted. His friends broke into the car to get the crack rock he dropped.
His mind made up, Clemens went back to the shelter to join the recovery program. He said the disease started talking to him again but he stuck through it and graduated in six months.
His troubles weren’t over yet.
From 2001-2011, Clemens worked as a truck driver. When coming back from Greensboro one day, Clemens said he wasn’t paying attention.
The route he was driving took him under a bridge too low for his truck. The bridge took off the top of the truck.
Clemens lost his job.
After an argument with his live-in girlfriend, Clemens moved onto Alston Avenue — an area where drugs were heavy. Clemens said one particular drug dealer stayed across from him.
Around this time, his former band mates began calling him.
The pressure from his friends and his environment made Clemens cave. “I made up my mind to smoke,” said Clemens.
Money in hand, Clemens went across the street only to be turned away.
The drug dealer told Clemens he was out of product, but he would get back to him. Two hours later Clemens heard a ruckus outside of his apartment.
A resident from upstairs was being wheeled out on a gurney.
Apparently, he smoked something that had been laced. The effects were fatal. Clemens said he couldn’t ignore those two warnings.
“I knew it was God,” said Clemens. He packed everything that could fit in his car and went to Urban Ministries, a faith-based agency that assists those in need.
When he joined the Hope-Believe Recovery Program, Clemens gave up his phone and car keys. Since joining the program, Clemens said he has attended the meetings regularly and started thinking seriously about his future.
“To those suffering addicts out there who think there is no hope, there is,” said Clemens.
Recovery Program Manager Leroy Joyner is no stranger to Clemens’ struggle. Joyner is a recovering alcoholic who has 12 years sober.
After completing his recovery, the previous manager asked him to help teach classes. Eventually, he was hired as the new manager.
“The more you use, the more you need,” said Joyner. Joyner said a common misconception is that addicts are lazy when, in truth, the issue is more complicated.
According to Joyner, a chemical addiction is an all-encompassing disease. Every single dime goes to feeding that disease.
The addict may attempt to find a job but factors like not having appropriate clothes, a cell phone or a permanent residence can hinder their progress. Joyner said there’s also the matter of mental disorders.
An addict might use drugs to manage the disorder or a disorder might follow the addiction. “It’s a vicious cycle,” said Joyner.
Joyner likened recovery to the mythical Phoenix.
“When you go through recovery … the recovery is like rising from the ashes.”