Deciding to Change

My name is Shadley.  I grew up in the beautiful Santa Cruz mountains.  I was born into a good loving family, my parents are still married after 46 years, and still living in the same house I grew up in.  They are very decent and loving people who made sure I was raised right.  They both worked very hard to ensure that my brother and I had everything we ever needed, and did everything they could to teach us to be productive members of society.  I am truly blessed to have them in my life.  I had a normal childhood.  School, soccer, little league, and church every Sunday.

In my sophomore year in high school, I started my first job as a part-time busboy.  It was right around that same time that I discovered cigarettes, beer, and smoking pot recreationally.  This was where my thinking and behaviors began to gradually veer off course.  I began to dislike going to school, so often times I would choose to skip class and work instead.  After a while I found myself skipping both school and work so that I could get stoned, drink, and chase girls.  I dropped out of school halfway through my senior year, and moved out of my parent’s house, couch surfing at random friend’s places.

Meanwhile, I worked my way up the restaurant ladder, and found myself working as a cook, introducing me to a constant party atmosphere.  I was ordering unlimited drinks from the bar years before I was even 21, and every night after closing the restaurant, we would stay and drink into all hours of the night.  This was when I was first introduced to cocaine, which inevitably lead me to methamphetamines.

Fast forward a few years, I really began to feel the effects of the restaurant lifestyle.  I was constantly drunk or hungover, and found myself dreading going to work every day.  I stuck with it for over a decade, because it was the only thing I knew how to do, but I eventually made the decision to quit cooking, and pursue the passion I had in my artwork.  I put up a craigslist ad and started doing graphic design on my own, making enough money to survive, but I still had a very fierce drug addiction.  After a very toxic relationship, and a brutal break-up, I found myself all alone with nowhere to go.

I felt like I had nothing left, so I moved to the streets of Santa Cruz.  Sleeping in parks, and doing whatever necessary to support my habit.  I was lost, broken, and dependent on substance.  I stopped caring about myself or anyone else for that matter.  Days turned into months, and months turned into years.  I got myself stuck in a vicious cycle of homelessness, incarceration, probation, and drug addiction.  I began selling drugs to support my habit, and every time I was arrested, the amount of time got longer and longer.

Every time I was released from jail, I had nowhere to go except right back to where I left off.  Living on the streets took away all the trust I ever had in people, and desensitized me to other people’s feelings.  I was sick and tired of living like this, and wanted nothing more than to be clean and sober, but I had no idea what to do about it.

Upon my last incarceration, I decided I was going to go to New Life drug treatment center on my own.  Darrie came into the jail and gave a presentation on the Homeless Garden Project, and the many opportunities we provide to people experiencing homelessness, so I came to work here while rehabilitating myself at New Life.

I showed up on time every day, and didn’t miss a single day.  I took on various responsibilities, and accepted extra hours whenever possible.  HGP recognized me as a leader amongst my peers.  They graduated me from the program after four months, and promoted me to the position of field crew lead here at the farm.

I am truly blessed to get to work on this beautiful farm every day.  Learning how to grow organic produce, and eating fresh cooked meals daily from what we grow right here on the farm.  I get to watch these plants grow from seed, while I grow alongside them as a human being. Caring and nurturing for these plants is re-teaching me how to care and nurture for myself.

Shadley and some of our team at the Supper

Everyone here at HGP welcomed me with open arms, knowing my background and my struggles.  Not once was I judged or treated poorly.  I was quickly accepted into this unconditionally loving family, no questions asked.  They have helped me not only figure out my goals, but they support me in accomplishing them as well.  They are supporting me in my sobriety, and giving me a healthy atmosphere in which to grow.

I am now working here at HGP, and I graduate New Life on Monday.  I am working the steps with my sponsor, and I start my graphic design classes at Cabrillo on Tuesday.  I am no longer homeless, and I’ve learned how to live my life without drugs.  I wish to thank everyone here at HGP from the bottom of my heart for another chance at life, and for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself.

I thank Darrie for the honor of sharing my story here with all of you tonight, and I thank you all for being here to support this wonderful program.  Thank you kindly for your generous donations, and your valuable time.  I’m excited to be a part of the Pogonip project, and what you donate here tonight gives someone like me a great amount of hope.

Shadley Stephens spoke about his experience in our program at our June 15, 2019 Sustain Supper.

Shadley started in HGP’s program in January. Since that day, he has never missed a day, and he has given his all to his work here.  Shadley says, “I like to do everything to the fullest. I never skimp on effort.” 

He’s extremely positive and upbeat, and also very practical and goal–oriented. When asked what he hopes will come from his talk, he answered, “I want to do what’s needed for HGP to succeed.”