Photo: Paul Nickerson
When he was a kid, Ernest used to hang out at Bankers Quarters – known as the most luxurious Burger King in the country. It was on the corner of Dorrance and Westminster Streets, where Dress Barn just closed down, and had a chandelier, a fireplace, expensive rugs, and “fur-lined seats. We used to all hang out here, talk to the girls.”
He grew up in East Providence, and moved to Providence when he was 13. While he was in high school, his mom moved with him down to Atlanta, GA, which is where his troubles began.
“I used to play a lot of sports when I was younger. I played for Central High in Providence, I was on one of the best teams Central ever had, they won the championship two years in a row. That was in 1986 and 1987. I was the number two guard.
“Then my mother moved me to Atlanta just when I was being sought after by Providence College and others, to play sports for them. So I started drinking a little here, smoking a little there, and the next thing you know, you can only go higher and higher so I did the next drug after that, which was cocaine.
“I was full of resentments as a child. It was a self-medication type of thing, because I had a pain in my mind that was bothering me, and I was oblivious to what was going on, I just knew that I needed to medicate, and what seemed to be fun was partying, drinking and getting high. A relationship came about, and then it fell apart, and that’s when I really felt the brunt of the resentment and the pain, and I would take anything at this point to medicate.
“I continued getting high, but slowly I packed my bags, told my mother I was going to Boston, I got on the bus to Springfield, Mass. When I got there, I slept outside. I wanted to be clean so bad, I was running away. I slept on the ground for two days in Springfield, and then I got into a really good shelter in Westfield, and the ball started rolling.
“That’s what happened. It’s all a part of growing up and I am a direct example of every decision I made.”
Now he’s a resident at MAP on the West Side, one of the city’s leading drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, where he also works as the activities coordinator, helping out with community projects.
“MAP is a different kind of treatment facility. They allow you to work on your behaviors – the symptoms that brought us there are not the main issue, a lot of times it’s the behaviors and the things we do. I don’t have to go back to the old things I used to do. It gives me a new avenue.
“I’ll be there until they say I can go, because I have to let my will go. If I take my will back, I’ll be doing the old things. I have to allow somebody else to drive my ship.
“I feel really really good, I think it’s the best thing I ever done for myself. It’s all about admitting you have a problem, and getting into the right place for that, and I think that MAP is the bomb.
“I wish I could take people on my journey, they would see that recovery is a process, and the process starts with you accepting the fact that you’re powerless.
“I feel really good today. One thing I did get from playing basketball all these years is how to start something and and how to finish it. It’s like going to practice, in pre-season you gotta do all this stuff to prepare for the games.
“And I still play. I’m in the 30-and-over league with those same guys from Central High. Life today is beautiful. I’ve seen the dark side and I’m not ignorant to it, so I don’t have fear. When I see somebody who’s struggling, I know how to deal with it, or not deal with it. That’s what helps me to be aware and keeps me from using again.”