Joe Roberts’ parents had no forewarning their son would end up a junkie in his teens.
He came from a perfectly stable, middle class home. His dad worked and his mom was a stay-at-home, caring mom. And yet, at 19, Roberts was a dropout living under the Georgia Street viaduct, peddling for dimes by day, shooting heroin by night.
“There were no warning signs whatsoever that said this guy was going to grow up to be a junkie, a heroin addict,” he told a gym full of high school students recently.
“I’m not a teacher, I’m not social worker, I’m not a police officer. I’m just a guy who shouldn’t be here today with a message of what I did wrong.”
As part of Sardis secondary’s annual Healthy Living Day on April 27, approximately 30 presenters talked to students on topics that covered healthy eating and weight training, mental health, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, healthy relationships, etc..
The purpose of Healthy Living Day was to help students be better informed and prepared to make healthy choices in their lives.
Roberts was the keynote speaker, bringing with him a tale of drugs that was anything but cool.
“I thought I was young and had lots of time to make mistakes,” he said. “For years nothing happened, nobody dropped dead, nobody went to prison, nobody got shot at, nobody got HIV/AIDS. But by the time I was 18, my choices were catching up to me. I had been to five times as many funerals as I had weddings.”
Roberts’ reliance on drugs started when he was nine years old out of self-loathing. He didn’t think he measured up to his peers, and didn’t like the person looking back at him in the mirror. On drugs, his self-image became more acceptable.
“It wasn’t peer pressure, it was self pressure,” he said. “I wanted badly to fit in and when the opportunity presented itself, I did it.”
By 15, he was a runaway; 16, he was getting in trouble with the law; 18, he was living on the streets.
“I wasn’t a bad kid, I was just doing dumb things,” he said. “And in two years, I went from being a street kid on Granville Street bumming for change to a degenerate heroin addict and crack head living under the Georgia Street viaduct.”
By his mid-20s Roberts was able to turn his life around. He went through detox and rehab, went back to school, started college and today he’s a motivational speaker.
“Today my life is a dream,” he said, showing the crowd of teenagers a picture of his family. “But I am an anomaly, an exception to the case. Most of the people I knew who walked that path, who made those same mistakes, they are not even here to tell their stories today. But I am.
“The choices you make today will ultimately determine where you are five to six years from now,” he said. “And often you don’t get second chances.”