Sam Turk: Street Smarts Making a Difference

An imposing 6 ft. 4 frame, a tough street smart attitude, a long record of convictions and hard time—it was the kind of “currency” that commanded respect among fellow prison inmates. Sam Turk had it all. He also had a 25-year addiction to heroin and enough hustlers and players waiting back on the streets to keep the cycle going.

It would take some potent intervention to turn this life around; that and the one last close call with police that left Sam shaken for days.

Sam was the eldest of seven children in a family that had been shuffled around from one housing project to another until he was thirteen years old.

His parents had done their best raising the family, with his father insisting that they get the education he never had. Sam wasn’t buying it. Except for sports, school was no match for hanging out with friends on the street and in pool halls, pushing the limits of the law and eventually, at age nineteen, getting arrested for robbery.

When he emerged from the correctional institute eighteen months later, he finally felt his life had some direction. He had learned a more sophisticated rule of street ethics: how to play the system, how to traffic in drugs, and all the finer points necessary for starting the life of a career criminal. And, so it began.

It was the mid 60s, back when drug dealing was still somewhat limited to pot and pills. Before long, he had more money than he’d ever had before and the rush he felt, this new sense of purpose, gave him what he believed to be “self esteem.”

But when Sam was introduced to heroin, the stakes were suddenly raised. It was no longer enough to just deal—now it required acts of violence in order to support his own addiction.

His arrests and convictions led to nine stretches in prison, and while none of the convictions were serious enough to keep him from eventual parole, they still robbed him of a total of twelve years of his life.

“It didn’t matter if I was in prison or out,” Sam recalls. “I was ‘somebody,’ I had power. I was respected inside and on the streets. I’d get out and then step right back into the same game, the same habits. I didn’t realize that the lifestyle itself, the power and control, had become as much of an addiction as the drugs.”

Over the years, Sam participated in several drug rehabilitation treatment programs. It was never a committed relationship. Nothing took. “Spin dries,” he calls them. “No life altering counseling. No follow up mentoring. You’re in, you get clean, you’re out. Spin dries.”

The turning point came in July of ’91. As he pulled his car into the driveway, he saw police cars and officers in the process of a bust. They weren’t there looking for him, in fact they waved for him to get out of their way. Sam’s car was filled with drugs and paraphernalia, a gun, and enough cash to have landed him in a Federal prison indefinitely. Miraculously, nobody even thought to check his car before he sped away.

“The experience knocked me so off balance,” Sam said, “my body went into some kind of shock. I couldn’t stop shaking for days afterwards. I knew then that things were out of control in my life. It was time to get some real help.”

Several months later, while once again in jail, an intake coordinator and counselor from the [agency name] entered Sam’s life and he was admitted into their treatment center.

After completing the intense program, Sam enrolled in a community college and earned an Associates degree in Alcohol and Drug Counseling. He was a model student, on the honor roll and the dean’s list. He did his internship at [agency name] and on December 23, 1996, he was hired as a full time Certified Addiction Counselor.

Sam is finally living a fulfilling life. He has been a respected counselor at the center for the past six years. He handles a caseload of eight clients and co-teaches the relapse prevention group.

“This is where I am supposed to be,” Sam said, “helping these men and giving back all the support, training and encouragement I received.