BUILDING A NETWORK OF HOPE FOR ADDICTS
TWELVE STEP ADDS BILLERICA HOUSE
   
  Author: By Jerry Taylor, Globe Staff
Date: 02/14/1999
Page: 1 Section: Northwest Weekly
   
  BILLERICA -- For Billy, the sober house at 317 Boston Road has made all the difference. ``Without this program, I'd be on the street,'' Billy, 21, said last week in the dining room of this former nursing home, the newest recovery residence in a fast-growing network opened by Twelve Step Education Program of New England. His face and hands are scarred from burns suffered at 15 when he lit a cigarette while sniffing gasoline. ``I was staying with my father,'' added Billy, who grew up in Burlington. ``Things weren't going right. I went to friends' houses. I was kind of lost, drinking and drugging since age 13. Phil [Malonson, Twelve Step's founder] took me to the thrift store and got me clothes. Now I have a car I'm saving money to put it on the street and I have a full-time job down the street at Cumberland Farms.''

Billy and 29 other recovering addicts share the three-story house. The former site of the Simmons Nursing Home, with peeling white paint and black shutters, it was vacant when Twelve Step rented the building in October. Malonson's network, launched in Woburn in November 1992 with a five-bed sober house on Lake Avenue, now has 250 beds in 14 locations in Woburn, Billerica, Lowell, Saugus, Salem, Quincy, and Attleboro. Along the way, houses in Medford and Leominster have been closed by Twelve Step.

Malonson and his staff, all in recovery themselves, also opened a thrift shop at 135 Main St. in Woburn, staffed by house residents and community volunteers.

As Malonson, 44, told 60 inmates in a drug program at the Middlesex County House of Correction in Billerica on Tuesday, ``I'm hoping it will have some effect on society.''

Many residents of sober houses are former inmates from the Middlesex and Suffolk county jails, while others are on parole from state correctional facilities in Walpole, Shirley, and Gardner. ``We've sent several dozen inmates from here to the sober houses,'' said Charles Kenney, coordinator of the Billerica jail's 90-day intensive drug program. ``Phil's a big plus for us. A lot of people who finish their sentences have nowhere to go. Probably 85 percent of the inmate population is here because of alcohol or other drugs.''

All sober houses have the same rules -- no drinking, no drugs, prompt payment of rent ($100 per week, including two hot meals a day), performance of chores and attendance at three Alcoholics Anonymous and one house meeting per week. Referrals are provided for counseling or jobs. ``We don't take anyone with a history of sex offenses,'' said Malonson, who lives in Burlington with his wife, Doreen, and their 3-year-old daughter, Malana. ``We try to appease the community.''
Not everyone has changed to the degree Billy has. Every week, some residents throughout the Twelve Step network have relapses, returning to alcohol or other drugs. Residents are expelled if a urine test detects controlled substances or a saliva test is positive for alcohol. Anyone expelled can apply for readmission in a week. ``We have 41 residents,'' said Don Cochran, manager of the sober house on Old Cambridge Road in Woburn, also a former nursing home. ``Seventy-five percent have jobs [and are] off welfare and Social Security. I have 15 or 20 guys with a year of sobriety. Something's working. People learn teamwork. You can't do it alone.''

Cochran, like Paul Brown, manager of the 44-bed Billerica house, and David Parkhurst, manager of the 24-bed house in Quincy, are themselves former residents of sober houses. ``At least 10 of our guys are working full-time,'' Parkhurst said. ``My win list is real good. One of my original residents, Phil, was picked out of a detox center. He went back to being a chef at a swanky restaurant in Boston. Now he's manager of a Stop & Shop and he'll be moving out in a few weeks. Another guy's working at a Jiffy Lube days and taking computer courses nights. A third resident, here most of 1998, a former crack user, is working security in a Boston hotel and running a livery business.''

Doreen Malonson, yet another Twelve Step manager in recovery, oversees the two women's sober houses, both in Woburn, with 10 residents in all. Her attempts to groom female residents as house managers have been unsuccessful so far. ``These big locations Phil is opening, women would never stand,'' she said. ``Women do better in small groups. Women are different. I don't know if they come into recovery with more baggage than men or have been abused more than men. I've been in this business for five years, and I don't know. We've just had more success with men.''

Like other parts of the network, the thrift shop, in a basement beneath a karate studio in Woburn, is barely breaking even. But the manager, Mike Matheson, and two volunteers in recovery at the shop one day this week, were all upbeat. ``I believe in dropping my anonymity because of the stigma people attach to alcoholism and drug addiction,'' said Matheson, now living in Billerica with his girlfriend and their 2-year-old daughter. ``I'd be dead today if it weren't for Phil. He treated me like a brother, helped me get my self-respect back. I'm a fanatic about the program. We should have a sober house in every neighborhood. We have a crack house in every neighborhood.''

Allen, a 1977 graduate of Norwood High School and one of the volunteers, seemed relaxed and confident, boasting of no longer needing medications to stabilize his manic depression. ``I'm here 40 hours a week,'' he said. ``I'm sleeping good, eating good. I do chores at the house. I go to three or four meetings a week. Sundays from 2 to 4 I help the cook prepare supper.''

According to Brown, 17 of the 30 residents at the Billerica sober house hold outside jobs and two more are attending trade school. ``I was living in shelters in Boston for five years,'' Brown said. ``I used to drink behind dumpsters. I've been sober now for 18 months.''

One of Brown's residents, John, 52, is the house chef. On the day a reporter visited, he cooked a lunch of macaroni, hot dogs and clam chowder, and was poised to turn five steaks into ``shepherd's pie Argentine'' for supper. ``Guys come in pretty messed up,'' he said, noting his own previous attempts at suicide. ``But they go to meetings, help each other out, and opportunities open up. My lady friend just stopped by. She works down the street. By June I'll have enough money saved to get a place of my own. I know I don't have to drink.''

Malonson said he expects a May 7 fund-raiser -- a kickboxing match he and three partners in Revolution Productions are sponsoring at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell -- will yield a significant contribution to the Twelve Step network.

``We'd like to buy one or more of the buildings we're renting,'' Malonson said. ``And we'd like to hire a nurse and a mental health counselor to rotate among our locations.''

© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company