Paul: Hello, my name is Paul Toriello and I am a team member of the Empowering Youth and Families Program. North Carolina’s 4-h Empowering Youth and Families Program or EYFP is designed to empower families and communities to prevent opioid misuse. Funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also known as SAMHSA, EYFP has local programs throughout North Carolina.
Each community is unique. In each of these communities, Cooperative Extension has created and joined coalitions of private and public agencies that are also engaged in the work of prevention and along the spectrum of prevention intervention recovery. In keeping with SAMHSA’s faith-based and community initiatives model EYFP invites and encourages relationships within our communities with faith-based partners. This webinar gives a glimpse into one such partner From the Pit to the Palace in Carteret County and coastal North Carolina. While these organizations extend a natural partnership network across North Carolina, EYFP does not endorse nor promote any faith, religion, or particular denomination. Our interest as an organization is in the development and cultivation of highly engaged, informed, and impactful individuals and organizations.
To learn more about SAMHSA’s faith-based and community initiatives please check out the links at the end of this webinar. Finally all statistics and data given during this webinar represent research done by From the Pit to the Palace and is information that was found during and previous to the filming in 2019. For an opportunity to find current statistics and data also follow the links at the end of this webinar.
And now without further ado I introduce lee styles of From the Pit to the Palace
P: So Lee, thank you for coming up. You’ve traveled a long way.
Lee: Thank you for having me
P: Pleasure to have you for part of this project Empowering Youth and Families Program. Let’s start with where you are these days. What are you, what are you doing? Tell us about your ministry, tell us about your mission, tell us about the work you’re doing in regards to substance use and substance abuse.
L: I’m the CEO of From the Pit to the Palace. We’re an anti-substance abuse ministry. God kind of birthed that ministry within me in late 2017 I would say, yeah October 2017 to be exact. He told me to start an event that would highlight people who have been addicted in the past but they gave their life to God and God miraculously transformed them, and now they’re clean, sober, and they’re productive citizens in society. And me and my ministry partner Mary Sherwood, we went forth with putting that program together. We did it in December. It was absolutely like a landmark program in that area in Carteret County Over 250 people came out and attended. We had it at Jocelyn Hall right on the Carter Community College campus and there was different media there, law enforcement, different people in ministry, and we had seven people get up and give their testimony of how they went from a life of drugs into a life of sobriety. And that’s where we got the name from “From the Pit to the Palace” God taking a person from a life of a drugs, a life in the pit, a life of despair and placing them into a life of sobriety, a life of freedom, life worth living, and we call that the palace. We say that we’re living in the Palace now because we’re living free, we’re living saved, we’re living clean, and we’re living for God.
P: What’s the opioid crisis? How has it reared itself in Carteret County? Give us a snapshot to the best of your ability of the opioid crisis and how it’s impacting your county.
L: Oh it’s devastating yeah. Our numbers from overdose overdose rate, we’re above average for the state of North Carolina. Suicide we’re above average for the state of North Carolina. As far as drug overdoses you have even, it’s an astronomical number and our law enforcement has been using Narcan which is a tool they use to where a person if they overdosed on drugs, they’re able to bring the person back to life, a person that’s dying, and our law enforcement, it’s been so bad that man, they’re doing everything they can but they’re just losing a grip on everything because it’s become so bad. Heroin has plagued our county so bad and so severely in the past couple of years. It’s pathetic, heroin and fentanyl. You got parents burying their children every day because they’re dying from using these substances and fentanyl has been so potent, they say that only just a small amount, a minuscule amount can kill you and that’s what people are lacing with the heroin, the fentanyl. So it’s been killing people left and right. The body count is absolutely just ridiculous, so that’s why me and my ministry, we want to kind of try to combat this problem and bring change. Well you can lock up a million drug dealers and there’ll still be a problem because if there is the demand, somebody’s going to supply. Somebody’ll come from Virginia, somebody’ll come from New York to supply. The mission to us From the Pit of the Palace is to get the drug addict clean. Once you get a drug addict clean, you take away the demand, then once you take away the demand nobody can supply. The drug dealer can’t sell it to himself
P: So that was about two years ago when you first started your initial event?
L: Yes, that’s correct.
P: And what are some of the regular events or regular services or programs? How, what does the operation look like these days? What’s all involved these days?
L: We’re doing revival services. Yeah, we have different evangelistic services where we do outreach, where we want to hold services, and sometimes these services take place beyond the walls of a church because we want to reach out to the people in the Community, that lost person who may never go to a church. They may not feel comfortable going into a church, they may feel judged by church, so we want to reach out to them and go to them and tell them, “look there is a hope.”
P: So while the primary mission is faith-based, christian-based (yes it is) the message is, if people aren’t necessarily interested in that part of the message, there’s you can still offer a message of recovery and a substance free lifestyle.
L: Yeah things like that, yeah we refer we got contacts, we have resources, and we refer people to different detox centers. There’s a men’s rehabilitation center in Carteret County called Loaves and Fishes. There’s another men’s rehabilitation facility called Hope Mission. There’s a women’s facility down there called the MirIAM and we work closely with the founder of that program.
And so right now we are in our embryonic stages right now of our ministry but we do partner with and we link ourselves with other ministries to point people to where they need to go. Addiction kind of affects everybody because if you’re not using drugs yourself, if you’re not addicted yourself, you got a family member or you got a friend or you heard about a person down the street who overdosed on heroin or meth. It’s in your neighborhood, it’s in our communities, and that’s why God placed this in my spirit to start this ministry because around 2017 I just looked around and i kept hearing about these different people overdosing, dying from heroin and fentanyl, then I just heard about people like committing suicide because they were coming down off of the drugs, and mental health and drug addiction kind of goes hand in hand. They correlate with one another, and my best friend committed suicide in December 2013 and he had got addicted to heroin and prescription pills, and he was coming down off of it and started having suicide thoughts. So that situation, it affected me deeply and it kind of sparked something in my spirit to say, “hey, I want to kind of help with this problem.”
P: Personal question: when did you get into recovery? When did you last, when did you put down the substances? How long ago has that been?
L: It’s been since May 2011. Yeah
P: So we’re about eight years into your recovery, again on a day-to-day basis, yeah you started in ministry a couple years ago, things are going well. I imagine when you were growing up, when you were younger, you didn’t think to yourself, “I want to be a professional substance user.” (Yeah) It wasn’t your dream. So let’s go back in time, middle school years, sixth/seventh/eighth grade tell us about Lee Stiles then. What were you like back then?
L: Principal list honor roll student, yep clean cut, went to school, excelled in school, clean cut. Yeah, teachers liked you well-mannered, actually my aunt was a teacher, yeah she taught mathematics at West Carteret high school for 30 years, and she was the one that pushed education. She stressed the importance of education in my life, so from early on I was classified as academically gifted. Every test I took I blew out the water. They wanted to skip me a grade. So here you’re looking at a young man who has such a promising future from the onset
P: Then something happened or you made some decisions. Let’s get to that crossroad. Tell us about that, paint that picture for us.
L: I was 16 okay and coming out of middle school. You didn’t hear about kids using drugs in junior high school back then. Yeah, everybody was kind of like into sports and things like that. But we get into high school and I want to say it was probably like my sophomore, my junior year, and a couple guys that I was friends with started using marijuana and they started smoking pot and everything, and I kind of got sunk into that because I got influenced by the peer pressure, and I started smoking pot with them but I didn’t really get anything out of it. I didn’t see what the craze was over it or whatnot but I’d seen it was a demand for it, and since it was a demand I felt like, “hey I can supply. I can make some money off of this.” And me and a friend of mine we started selling the marijuana as well.
P: I’m going to ask you to speculate just guess, between middle school and high school, what do you think could have helped you not go down the path of smoking the weed, then selling the weed, and then however long of that relationship with drugs? If you could wave a magic wand and change things, what would have helped you not pick up or go down that path? What could have prevented you from having that relationship, in those years of relationship with drugs and alcohol?
L: If I could have been involved more directly with some type of program in our community that was positive that I could immerse myself into, just throw myself into the program, and just really kind of, I want to say something that I enjoy like a hobby or something. Get into some type of program centered around that, getting involved in that and just throw myself into it where I didn’t have this idle time. And, I tell people all the time that’s the first thing that gets people is the idle time. They don’t have nothing to do. We come from a county where it’s limited resources for young people, and we used to have a bowling alley down there, we used to have a skating rink. They took all of that away so when they took all of that away, the kids, the teenage kids they’re rolling around town like “hey what do I get into?” and we got a beach down there, beautiful beach, but you only could do so much with that. Like during the summer time, during the summer part of the year, just during the summer season, so winter time you’re just spiraling around and you’re like “hey what can I do?” and so you end up just getting into some mischief that, uh yeah you’re not even supposed to get into.
P: Your parents or who, your caregivers at that time. What could they have done differently? What, let me be more specific, what would you advise parents these days? In terms of communication in terms of whatever you think would be beneficial, as they’re raising their children to prevent them from building relationships with drugs and alcohol?
L: Number one: be actively involved in your child’s life. My dad worked so much. He worked two jobs for 35 years, where it came to a point where I only saw my dad at night time. When he came home from work, he would attend my sporting events, my basketball games and things like that when he could, but he worked so much I very rarely got one-on-one time with him. So I’m seeking my dad’s attention and I’m yearning for this relationship with my father, and he’s unable to give it to me because he’s working these two jobs. He’s trying to put food on the table. I understand his plight, but at the same time I’m like “Dad, I need you. Here’s your son.” Like I’m seeking a one-on-one relationship with you, I’m seeking a more intimate relationship with you, and I feel like I can’t get that.
So if I can’t get a relationship with my father where you think I’m gonna turn to? My mom was there. She was very nurturing, she was a homemaker, but it’s some things that a young man growing up needs to learn from another man. He needs to learn from his father, so my father was working so much I went to the streets and confide in the streets for that type of guidance and leadership.
P: What did you learn from your parents or your caregivers about substances before you got involved with marijuana, before you went to the streets?
L: Absolutely nothing. Yeah, they didn’t never sit down and talk to me about the pitfalls about drugs or alcohol or anything like that. The only thing that I remember as a child where somebody brought up the issue of drugs and how harmful they were was we had a D.A.R.E. class in fifth grade and that didn’t really do anything. I think that young people today they need more than just a simple D.A.R.E. class.
Yeah, this thing needs to be driven in home like severely because it’s an ongoing issue, it’s impacting families and communities and I think parents don’t talk about it enough with their children. They don’t sit their children down and say “hey this is out there. I don’t want you to get involved in this. I love you too much. you’re better than this” and I just wish that my parents would have done that for me. I guess they assume that you should know better, yeah, but with a young child like no, no you can’t just assume that they should know better. No, you need to sit this child down, tell them about the dangers out there in the communities and also create boundaries as well.
P: Yeah and even though you were successful academically, blowing the grades out of the water, you know setting the curve on the test…
L: It made it worse.
P: How so?
L: Because I made good grades so automatically my mom, my dad, my grandmother, my aunt, these instrumental figures in my life, they felt like “oh no, my nephew, my son, my grandson, he’s not going to get up in, he’s not going to get into that stuff. There’s no way in the world he’s going to get into drugs. Look at his report card. He makes straight A’s. He makes A’s and B’s. He makes honor roll. There’s no way in the world he’s going to get involved in this, so I don’t need to sit down and hold a conversation with him because he’s doing fine in school” but it’s the ones that are doing fine in school are the ones that you really gotta watch out for because the ones in high school that I remember smoking the most pot, doing the most drugs were the academically gifted students, the ones that you least expect.
So you can’t automatically think that oh my child is exempt because my child comes from a good family or that’s another thing too, people feel like “oh I got money, so yeah we’re wealthy. It’s not going to happen to us.” No, this thing doesn’t discriminate. This thing affects rich, it affects poor, it doesn’t discriminate by race, it’s in African American homes, Caucasian homes, it doesn’t matter.
P: What’s your vision? You mentioned your ministry From the Pit to the Palace is in its embryo stage. What are the next phases of its growth? What’s your vision for what you want to do for your community?
L: We got this grand vision and right now we know that yeah, just like you said, we are in the embryonic stages. We’ve been doing services and we’ve been porting people to detox centers and other resources, but we want to become that one hub, that one stop hub for a person who’s addicted to drugs and alcohol. We want to in the future, we want to plan to have our own detox center so that way somebody coming in off the street saying “hey I want help tonight. I need to go to detox tonight because if I don’t I’m going to go right back into addiction, but I’m ready to change right now” because that’s the first step. The person has to want to change. They have to want to change so just say a person comes to us and they say “hey we’re ready to change” that night and they’ve been addicted to crystal meth for the past year. Okay, let’s get you into our detox facility. You do that for a week, you come out of detox, then we’re going to get you in our rehabilitation program, and that’s another thing. We want to start our full-fledged rehabilitation program, and then even after the rehabilitation program, we want to continue to do classes.
We’re going to continue to do counseling vocational rehab, vocational rehabilitation, and we also want to be able to provide different resources like vocational rehabilitation, getting them jobs, and getting them transportation and getting them houses. There’s four basic resources that a person coming out of addiction needs, and that’s housing, that’s transportation, that’s employment, and that’s rehabilitation. So From the Pit to the Palace, we want to become, we want to become a hub for all four of those resources