There’s No Place Like Roam
34-year-old Roam Madrid spent most of his life on the run—while secretly yearning for a place to call home. Then, while standing before a judge waiting to be sentenced, God spoke five little words to his orphaned heart…changing the course of his life.
“You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so, become yourself
Because the past is just a goodbye
…Teach your children well
Their father’s hell did slowly go by…”
“Teach Your Children Well”- Graham Nash
“Watch your back. Don’t trust anyone. Always make sure you got ‘one up’ on the other guy.” That watch-out-for number-one street ethos is all too familiar to 34-year-old Roam Madrid. He learned it early on…from his mother.
Instead of baking cookies and kissing boo-boos, dear ol’ ma was preparing her son how to win the battle of wits against street predators—be they real or imagined. It’s not exactly how most moms prepare their children to make their way in life. Even the name she had given him—“Roam”—would turn out to be sadly prophetic. It was as though she expected nothing more of her child than for him to become what she had devolved into through her drug addiction: a vagabond who could never stay in one place long enough to find the stability most humans need to thrive—not just survive.
For Roam, it would take more than clicking a pair of ruby slippers twice for him to believe “There’s no place like home.” It would take a God awakening of the gradual kind—one that would begin with him dropping out of school and selling drugs at the age of 16…to problem solving with his fists…to moving here, there and everywhere…to becoming a father…to being put behind bars…to eventually ending up at the Mission where consequences would finally catch up with him and the Truth would set him free.
“Just Don’t Bring the Cops Home”
As an adolescent, going to church in the “cowpoke” New Mexico town where his parents had moved to, was little more than a place to escape his chaotic home life. “Instead of saying ‘Be careful out there’, my mom or dad would warn me, ‘Go outside and play until dark…I don’t care what you do—just don’t bring the cops back to the house!’” says Roam. Roam hung out with a tough crowd so his mother and father’s admonition, if not exactly a shining example of warm and fuzzy parenting, had some basis to it.
When he was older, Roam was once again facing felony assault charges. Clearly, he had not learned the art of conflict resolution. So, he moved to Grants Pass, Oregon, hoping his father who had moved up there, would provide safe harbor. The first thing he noticed was how much his father had changed—for the better. One day, his father invited him to church where he too began regularly attending. While there, Roam got sober.
His sobriety lasted all of five months. In a weak moment while visiting a friend, Roam reverted to his addictions. Eventually it resulted in his not being able to pay the rent on the apartment he was subletting from his father. Within a few weeks, after a fight with his dad, he found himself homeless. Once again, Roam was roaming the streets, using, and selling drugs.
“I Don’t Need Any of That””
Despite his criminal behavior, Roam was still attending church; that is, until the pastor got wind of these activities and told Roam, “Either quit selling and turn over the drugs right now or stop coming here.” Roam responded with, “Yeah, right…I’m going to turn over somebody else’s money. Sorry, I just can’t do that.” He left the church, feeling shamed and betrayed.
“Exiling me from church? “Wow, I thought Jesus said, ‘Come as you are’… not change first, then come to Me. And that was my turning point, if you will. I decided right then and there that I don’t need the church, I don’t need God, I don’t need any of that.”
Believe. Become. Behave
Roam did need God, of course. But it would take a long time for him to separate out the actions of one “letter of the law” pastor (however well-meaning that pastor may have been), from the heart of the Father who loves unconditionally. A loving Father never first puts his prodigal sons and daughters through a litmus test of behavior before they are acceptable to him. It’s Believe. Become. Behave—not the other way around.
Before long, Roam was on the move again—landing in Redding where he couched surf his way around town with occasional stints on the streets. As long as he had a bag of dope in his pocket, he was a “welcome guest.” But his life as a drug seller wasn’t without consequences. “I was arrested seven different times–accumulating 18 different charges, ranging from possession, to selling, to jay walking, “ says Roam. “And the jay walking charge, while comparatively ridiculous, was simply because they didn’t want to do all the required paperwork involved with a drug arrest!”
While on the streets, Roam often went hungry, but he refused to go the Mission for a meal because he felt they would most likely try to push Jesus on him. And from his past experience that meant only one thing: judgment and condemnation. So, he stayed clear. Meanwhile, Roam continued his pattern of selling, using, and getting into fist fights—until in a moment of desperation he cried out, ”God, help me…I just can’t do this anymore!”
What are you doing, stupid?”
Soon after that simple, but desperate prayer, Roam got into a public fight with his girlfriend that ended with her stabbing him. He was immediately arrested. Since he was already on probation, he knew he was looking into a long prison sentence.
As he stood in the courtroom faced with multiple felony charges, he heard God ask him point blank, “What are you doing, stupid?” Surprisingly, the judge gave Roam 3 years felony probation with 5 years 4 months suspended sentence. But still, he would have rather gone to jail than enter a court-mandated drug treatment program.
“It sounds weird for God to call me ‘stupid,” I know, but sometimes it’s just the way God has to talk to me…to get my attention!” exclaims Roam. “And He certainly did that day.” Fortunately, he heeded that Voice and agreed to enter a drug treatment program.
“Hey Madrid, roll up your stuff!”
While waiting in his cell, Roam never had the customary pre-drug treatment program interview, so it was literally a case of the guard shouting, “Hey Madrid, roll up your stuff!” He didn’t even know where he was being released until after a guy from New Life Recovery showed up and took him to the Good News Rescue Mission…the very place he had been avoiding like the plague.
At the time, he had no idea that one of those treatment programs he had been considering—New Life Recovery—was connected to the Mission.
“Until I came there, I was clueless that there was a drug treatment program there. I just thought it was just a place to shower, eat and sleep…that’s it. I didn’t even want to go there for a meal; in fact, I would take the long way round just to avoid the place. And there I was suddenly plopped right in the middle of it.”
Be Careful What You Don’t Wish For
That bit of geographic maneuvering reveals God’s ironic sense of humor. In Roam’s case, instead of “Be careful what you wish for, it was ‘Be careful what you don’t wish for’ … because you may just get it!”
Roam had only been at the Mission for a day when he, would discover a surprise fellow guest: his mother. It wasn’t exactly a happy mother and child reunion. After all, all he had ever learned about survival was from his mother. She had no other aspirations for her son beyond not being arrested…or worse, killed. But there was one bright spot in that School of Street Survival—while in that New Mexico cowpoke town, his mother would take him to church and drop him off. They were both using the church as a babysitter, but nonetheless the seeds of salvation were sown.
Rough, but Not Ready
Once he landed at the Mission, it took approximately eight weeks before Roam could enter the Program. Until then, he was in what is known as pre-Program. The New Life Recovery selection process is straightforward. Roam describes the different phases:
“First, they want to see how serious you are—how badly you want it. Then the Program staff gathers in a prayer circle and after praying and discussing it, including determining if a pre-Programmer has proven themselves, then you will get ‘pulled upstairs’ [into the Program]. And that’s how it happened for me.”
In the beginning, Program wasn’t exactly a cake walk for Roam. He experienced serious culture shock. “I wasn’t used to living in a dorm setting—especially with a bunch of guys I didn’t even know,” he says. “And there were personality clashes. I was a roughneck, and I had a serious attitude. I thought of myself as ‘bigger and badder’ than everyone else, but I quickly learned that wasn’t going to fly in the Program.”
Chutes and Ladders
For conflict resolution, the Program relies heavily on what is known as Peer Council. Most conflicts are resolved in that way, and only if tensions escalate to overly heated exchanges or outright violence does the staff intervene. For Roam, it took a long time for him to “get with the Program”—literally. It became a game of Chutes and Ladders—a game at which, as he describes it, “I always chose the chute.”
Eventually, Roam did make it through. One of the main motivations for “staying the course” were his children. During the time he was in program, he learned that his child had been taken away from Roam’s ex-girlfriend and placed in a foster home by social services because she had gotten heavily into drugs. While grateful that his son was at least safe, Roam was forced to do some serious introspection on what kind of father he wanted to be.
“My dad was never there for me, and I didn’t want it to be that way with my son.” And I knew if I ended up back in jail, like some of the guys who had left the program, I would likely end up in prison, not just jail. And I would never be there for my son. So, about that time, God spoke to me again [this time leaving out the word ‘stupid’]. And he told me, ‘Son, you know that prayer you prayed about ‘not wanting to do this anymore?’ Well, I answered that prayer. I answered it when I plucked you up and put you into this Program.’”
The Ghost of Christmas Past
Besides spiritual formation and the critical life skills he learned while in New Life, Roam learned a great deal just from volunteering at the Mission, not the least of which was gaining a much-needed sense of perspective. He recalls one particularly sobering moment around Christmas time.
“I was working in the kitchen watching all these people come in for a turkey dinner. I immediately recognized them as either “customers” I had sold drugs to, or people I had done drugs with. Often they were one and the same. And here they were, 11 years later, and they were still stuck in their addictions—living on the street, and obviously going nowhere. The whole experience felt like I was being visited by the ‘ghost of Christmas past.’”
“Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.”
Today, Roam is doing well. He’s stayed sober, is working for a pest control company, and has a spiritual mentor. He also has 50% custody of all three of his children—giving him the opportunity to be there for his kids in a way his parents never were, or, for that matter, he never was. Instead of a “watch your back and don’t bring the cops home,” kind of parenting philosophy, he’s imparting a very different sort of ethos than his parents employed with him. As he sees it, most of that “teach your children well” comes from his living out his Christianity before them.
As far what he has learned during his time at the Mission, Roam shares his top three takeaways: “First and foremost, I developed a close walk with the Lord. Second, I learned that it’s okay to be vulnerable—to dispense with that tough guy image, and three, [he says laughing] to not be stupid! “If I were to sum it all up, I’d say simply, “The Mission didn’t just save my life…they gave me life.” – jenni keast