Train in Vain: Jerry’s Garcia’s Story

March 15, 2022
Photo by: Jenni Keast

Train in Vain:  Jerry Was Ridin’ that Midnight Train to Nowhere … Facing the End of the Line. Until a Judge Had Mercy, and A Savior Showed Him Grace.

I can’t be happy
Without you around
So alone I keep the wolves at bay
And there is only one thing that I can say,
You didn’t stand by me
No, not at all
You didn’t stand by me
No way.
– Train in Vain, The Clash

Jerry Garcia is grateful not to be dead. Unlike his namesake, the Jerry Garcia, the 45-year-old Garcia from Anderson, CA is right on track to finding that happy ending in life. He won’t have slowly ended it, as the Grateful Dead’s musical genius Jerry Garcia sadly did (however unintentionally) at the age of 53 in a rehab facility —  leaving behind a string of broken relationships, a ravaged body, and a misspent life of fleeting fame.

Not long ago, Jerry was headed for the same depot of despondency … trapped on a runaway train as he struggled with his identity, his relationships, and once into his teens, a pervasive drug addiction that fueled all kinds of aberrant behavior.

At the age of 17, he ended up in jail on an attempted murder conviction.

How he got there is an all too familiar story.  A father abandons his family. A single mom struggles to make ends meets, trying to be both father and mother to a young boy. Result: A little boy lost.  Rejection begets anger and drugs become the fuel for a rage-filled adolescence.  You can suppress it, but it’s hard to hide the hurt.

The Monster Inside

The difficult truth is that it’s challenging to become a man if you have no man around to show you the way. If only our society would get that memo. Then maybe fathers wouldn’t leave. And Jerry’s dad would have stuck around. But he didn’t. So, the boy looking to fill that fatherless hole found a way. Meth was all too happy to oblige, and the monster under the bed became the monster inside.

Once in prison, Jerry kept to himself — he had to, to survive. But then being a loner was something Jerry was used to. Nobody could tell him what to do, how to live, or where to go — except for the  judge who sentenced him to live his teenage years behind bars. There he became hyper vigilant — caught in “a cat and mouse game between inmates and guards.”

“In prison, you have to watch your back 24/7 — you can never let your guard down. And I never got involved with anyone’s mess or chaos. Because prison is just a playground for adults who don’t know how to get their stuff together. But it’s a dangerous playground—one where you see and hear all kinds of stuff: beatings, stabbings, rape…and even murder. Yeah, it’s all there.”

The Wolf at the Door

Not surprisingly, Jerry’s personal life suffered as well. Upon his release, Jerry tried to get on the straight and narrow — eventually settling down with a girl with whom he had two children. He stayed sober for a while, until once again the wolf came huffing and puffing to blow his house down.

“The problem was, I didn’t know how to live life. “I didn’t know what family was all about — that give and take — because I had always been by myself. And this pain, this deep pain, was always there. The drugs just took that away … at least for a while.”

Jerry’s addiction derailed his marriage and his attempt to live a “normal life.” Although he claims the accusation was false, Jerry ended up in prison again — this time, for spousal abuse. Once released, he entered an addiction recovery program in San Jose where he reconnected with the God he had come to know in prison when he was a teen.  But still, that nagging feeling of rejection and abandonment dogged him. “I had a lot of trust issues—especially with male authority figures, and that made it hard for me to ask for help, even in church,” says Jerry.

In 2010, Jerry moved up to Redding with his mom. By that time, he had been clean and sober for four years. To try and remain that way, he joined Celebrate Recovery where for the first time in his life he faced his demons. He went through the steps and soon became a Celebrate Recovery leader. He also got married.

Nothing to Celebrate

But the pain that never quite left him gained the upper hand and he slipped back into his addiction — the day after he had collected his 5-year chip. The celebration was over.

As to why he relapsed, Jerry could only say, “I think it was my inability to manage life on life’s terms … my not having a strong enough grasp on reality. So, pretty much when things got hard, I tended to run. And the drugs were an easy escape.”

Within days of relapsing, Jerry ended up back in the county jail on a possession charge. “I was looking at a really long jail sentence because they were trying to use my old case against me — the attempted murder charge,” says Jerry. So, I prayed, and put myself in the judge’s hands.”

Jerry needed a miracle and he got one.  Instead of a long prison sentence, he was released after three hours of being sent back to his jail cell. That was his wake-up call. He knew he couldn’t go back to life as usual. Thankfully, the Bible studies he had been attending while in prison helped bolster his faith. He finally recognized that he could no longer live life on his own terms.

A Passionate Pronouncement

It was during that time, in his jail cell, that Jerry had a life altering “come to Jesus” moment.

“I was in my cell. And I had what you would call an ‘awakening.’ I asked myself, do I want to continue to keep living my life like this? Or do I want to make something of my life … to become a better person? And right then and there, I knew I had to change my way of thinking … to surrender everything to Him. When I did that, an indescribable feeling of  joy came over me. And I knew right then and there that when I got released, I was going to check into the Mission.”

It’s easy to bask in the glory of such spiritual highs and make passionate pronunciations about changing a habit, or a way of life. But it’s far less common to carry them out — at least for most addicts.  But Jerry was determined.  Based on the recommendation of a social worker in the public defender’s office, he applied, and was accepted, into the New Life Recovery Program. The social worker even drove him there.

It was a long, tough journey. Jerry didn’t like structure and he had a problem with authority — especially male authority. He credits New Life — including the Genesis discipleship program — with giving him the needed structure, and the unconditional love and acceptance he so desperately craved. It also gave him that core sense of belonging,  and the feeling of strength and comfort one finds within a tight, committed community.

Hold on Tight

That cavernous hole in his heart was finally being filled. “For most of my life I tried to numb the pain of not having a father in my life…to love, guide and direct me,” says Jerry. But I know now that the only father I really need in my life is my Heavenly Father. And that’s what Jesus came to reveal. He was trying to tell me that for years and years, but I just didn’t listen. I had a hard time fully trusting Him.”

The transition from program to the outside world wasn’t exactly a smooth one for Jerry.  He made the mistake that some men and women make in program and that’s getting involved in a “rehab romance.”*  At the time his wife was still caught in her own addictions, and he just couldn’t see the marriage lasting.  But as he was contemplating divorcing his wife, the Lord spoke to him, telling him to “hold on tight.”

It was against his fleshy inclinations to listen to that “still, small voice” and at first, he didn’t.

It wasn’t until he was kicked out of the program and went back to being a guest at the Mission, that Jerry came to his senses. He hung in there, becoming a model guest as he continued to volunteer in the kitchen and work on his issues. While he never graduated from the program, the lessons he learned there stuck.  He reconciled with his wife and today they have a little boy whom he dotes on.


The Father’s Favor

Today, life is good for the couple.  They are both sober and clean and Jerry has a great job working in the kitchen at Shasta Regional Hospital.  Despite his arrest record, including his three-year stint in prison for having committed a violent crime, God’s favor was upon Jerry.

“I’ve been on the job now for five years. This is a miracle in and of itself since before I went to the Mission, I couldn’t hold a job for longer than five months!  I just didn’t have the strength of character to sustain anything.”

Jerry’s gone through a lot in life, including dealing with a recent death in the family and at the Mission. But through it all, Jerry is determined to stay the course, to be the man he always wanted to become — despite not having the father he thought he needed to help make him one. He may not have an earthly father to stand by him, but as he’s finally come to know, his Heavenly Father always does … without fail.

Photo by: Jenni Keast

Googling Garcia

If you Google Jerry Garcia, you won’t find any search results for a Jerry Garcia of Anderson, CA. If you did, that Jerry Garcia wouldn’t be named as one of the “100 great guitarists of all time” or have millions of adoring fans. And he wouldn’t have an ice cream flavor named after him.

In the algorithm of life, he would have no ranking at all.

What he would — and does — have is of far greater importance: he has his name written in the Book of Life — celebrated by a heavenly fan club as a humble member of the Grateful to be Alive Forevermore group, with an audience of One.

In the end, there is only one fan we need and that’s the One who will share His glory with no other. He’s the one we want to please. “For the Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (I Sam. 16:7).

From His perspective, Jerry Garcia’s heart—and life—is doing very well.

-Jenni Keast


About the Author: Jenni Keast is our marketing content coordinator and a lover of jean jackets, the Great Outdoors, photography and all things mid-century.  Her favorite authors are Holy Spirit (the Bible) G.K. Chesterson, C.S. Lewis, Leif Enger and Walter Isaacson, to name just a few.

On March 31, 2022, Jenni was in a near-fatal auto accident. Miraculously , she survived and is finally back to doing what God has called her to do and what she loves best: storytelling…especially writing stories of transformation of people who were once stuck in cycles of homelessness and addiction but are now living free from the shame and bondages of the past. “So if the Son sets you free from sin, then become a true son and be unquestionably free” (John 8:36)!