Sam runs the halfway house that the men in this story live in. It’s a two bedroom, one bath house that has been modified to hold ten adult men, who sleep in bunk beds, crowd around the solid, wooden table in the dining room, run out of food by the end of the month. Only half of them pay him any money. He leases the house, has trouble making the payments. “I walk the line between going broke and keeping it open,” he says. He doesn’t kick them out for being broke or falling off the wagon. “Society has thrown these people away. They have no place to go.”
Sam was raped by a fourteen-year-old girl when he was ten. He ran into her a few years ago. She cried, said she was sorry. He forgave her. “I carried that with me for all those years. Maybe it’s what started the fall,” he says. “But, when I was thirteen my dad called a meeting, said that he and mom were getting a divorce. That’s when I started drinking.”
His mom was a professional ice skater, traveled all over the country. He and his brother were skaters. Hockey players. His brother was on the US Olympic team.
Sam went to prison. Drugs, alcohol, divorce. Children left behind. Prison, the first time, for a DUI with a negligent homicide. He got out, went to college, became a surgical tech. Then someone beat up one of his friends. Sam took his hockey stick to the gas station where the beater had locked himself. Broke the windows, chased the man down.
“I was called to minister, to be a pastor, to take care of people. I don’t call people to God because of what he will do for them; I call them by telling them what he has done for them, already. How he’s brought them to this point and will take them the rest of the way. We are all seekers. We are always searching. I’m trying to allow that to happen in these men. To give them a place and respite to find their way.”
He uses a plastic cream holder to illustrate his point. “This is the spirit in you.” He places it under a cup. “Sometimes we hide it from ourselves and we spend our lives looking for it.”
He has rules: no alcohol, no women, no gambling, no drugs. But they’re not hard and fast. People have a difficult time. He’s had to ask some of them to leave. He hates to do it but sometimes he has no choice, particularly when they shut the other guys out.
“The problem is that one guy drinks, then another, then another. I can’t let my leniency become what they perceive as a weakness.” He’s had to draw the line. The more rules, the more you shut out experiences, people. Rules keep people out. His church won’t give money to his program because he doesn’t follow their rules. “There wasn’t a problem until God set the rules,” he says. “Until then, everybody did what they wanted. Once the rules were made, people knew it was wrong. That’s when Satan gained the power. You can interpret the Bible about any way you want. The guys who wrote it had time to reflect, you can tell by the way it’s written. It’s like a history book, written by people who survived. They all perceived things in different ways, through different eyes.”
The Mission makes rules. I love the Mission but it’s like the Army. In the Army they try to empty you out and then remake you. In the Army they teach you a skill, teach you how to kill people, send you to war. But when you’re out on the street, you don’t know how to act, don’t know what to do because no one tells you. People look at you like you’re weird. You don’t fit in. I’m trying to give people the time and the opportunity to feel comfortable. I don’t tell them what to do. But they don’t hang around me because I’m the guy who keeps track of them.”
“God is a grain of wheat in us. I don’t think you can make it without God. If we don’t let it grow then it stays a kernel and we never flower with God’s love.” He says some of the guys want to find God’s love, want to nourish the kernel of wheat. So he doesn’t kick them out when they break the rules
“I wouldn’t change a thing of what I done,” he says. “If I hadn’t done those things, I wouldn’t be who I am, doing the things I am. I regret what I did to people. But I’ve forgiven myself and because of that I have a tool to work with, to help people. I try to turn my regrets into tools.”
“I think Legacy is what we do every day, not how many notches are on our gun belts, but what we give people every day.”
Bill Siemer grew up on a farm in Lassen County, played basketball at Shasta JC, went to Vietnam, became a newspaper reporter and then a lawyer and now considers himself a champion of the story that needs to be told. He lives on the bank of the river and takes pictures.