Former Addicts Are Valuable Counselors At Bed-Stuy Drug Treatment Center
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A successful drug treatment program in the heart of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn uses former substance abusers from the neighborhood as counselors, and their approach is having a powerful on the community. NY1's Cheryl Wills filed the following report.
For the last 90 days, Linda Watts, a grandmother in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn who is known on the streets as "Miss Watts," has been a drug counselor at the Paul J. Cooper Center for Human Services. But 20 years ago on the same streets, she was a hardcore addict.
"Everything I did, I was a heroin user, smoked crack, drunk alcohol," says Watts.
She started using drugs at 13 and it almost killed her. She was stabbed numerous times, and a scar on her neck bears witness to a near-fatal wound. Once someone plunged a knife into her chest just inches away from her heart.
Now Watts is an inspiration to people who are dealing with those same demons. In her counseling sessions with current addicts, she unabashedly shares her personal horror stories to help people clean up their own acts.
She's not the only one in the center. Willa Radford Outlaw, a recovered addict from the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant, is now a counselor.
“I didn’t want my grandchild to grow up having an alcoholic for a grandmother. Children can be very cruel. So I wanted her to be proud of me," Outlaw said.
Officials with the drug treatment center encourage former users to share their personal testimonies.
"They can relate. They know the games that people play," says Wayne Wiltshire, the executive director at the Paul J. Cooper Center.
"It's almost like watching your child grow up. You see them go from crawling to a toddler and now they walk and now they are able to run," says Mary Joyner, a member of the board of directors at the Paul J. Cooper Center.
"It's amazing. It's being used for something good, which I never thought I'd see," says substance abuse counselor Barbara Hamilton.
Now Watts, who has been clean for nearly 18 years, has her own office, her own car and she is a minister in a local church.
She prays that one day she will be reunited with a son who was born prematurely during the height of her addiction and quickly put up for adoption. Until then, she pretty much adopts every addict in her program and treats them like her own.
"You can come from the pits of hell and make it through,” Watts says.