An abusive household and a lack of confidence led Michael Torres to begin selling drugs at the age of 13.
By the time Torres was 15, he said, he couldn’t bear to live at home anymore. He moved in with his aunt — a single parent — crammed into a New York City apartment with six other people. Two years later he was completely on his own.
“My mom, telling me I could never play sports or do well, put me down and gave me no hope for myself,” he said.
Now 30, he lives at Here’s Help in Opa-Locka, a residential and outpatient program for adolescents and adults dealing with substance abuse. The program’s motto is “Recovery Through Education.”
Torres is nearly at the end of his four-month program at the facility and will be moving to a sober home in Hialeah in December. Though he will continue to have support, the home requires him to increasingly support himself financially.
Steve Williams is Torres’ case manager at Here’s Help and nominated him for Wish Book. Williams said the Walmart gift cards Torres is seeking will get him the food, clothing and other necessities that will help him on the next step of his journey.
It’s been a long road. By the time he was 21, Torres had been charged in 23 criminal cases stemming from drug possession and theft. It wasn’t long after that point that he knew something had to change.
“I couldn’t take it anymore. Either I was going to end up back in jail or end up dead,” Torres said.
(This story first appeared in the Miami Herald.)
When he turned 24, Torres decided to leave New York and move to Miami, thinking the change could help him turn his life around. But at 29, he was arrested for drug possession and landed in Miami-Dade County jail. After Torres had served 11 months, his lawyer told him about Here’s Help, which led him to Williams.
During his time in the program, Torres managed to turn his life around, said his mentor. He was nominated as a peer supporter, an honor given by the program’s staff based on a history of responsible behavior and respect. Williams said Torres is also thriving in his classes and recovering from his past with the guidance of his therapist.
“Michael always tries to reach out and help others with his story,” Williams said. “He is listened to by his peers as someone who has been there and shows them ‘We can do something different than what we’ve done.’”
Williams said that the organization offers patients a range of classes, healthy activities and the opportunity to learn who you can be.
“When you arrive as a patient in the program, the first thing you get is a space to call your own, which a lot of these guys never had,” he said.
Torres is learning culinary arts and photography and said the Walmart cards could help him get a camera, which in turn could help him develop a business.
“I love capturing moments,” he said. “I want to show a whole story through a picture.”
Williams said he knows that Torres is ready for the next chapter.
“It does our hearts good to have someone like Mike come through the program, because it gives us hope that what we’re doing is not falling on deaf ears,” he said. “With Mike, we know he gets it.”
After such a rough start, Torres said he thought of giving up so many times, but didn’t. He used to think second chances weren’t possible, but now all he wants is to share with people that you can start over.
“Doing better than I’ve done before is what keeps me going inside,” he said. “I’m always grateful for my life because it could be worse. Any support I get is meaningful to me.”