Blood, Sweat & Fears
How Jim Martin is saving souls—one house at a time.
(page 3 of 9)
Construction work eventually took a toll on Martin’s body. When a back injury led to a dependence on highly addictive Oxycontin, Martin gave up his company to become an insurance salesman. In 2007, counting on the $4,000 a year he earned as a commissioner and the health insurance it provided his family, he ran for re-election. He suspects his constituents sensed he was “a little shaky” from drugs and alcohol. He lost the election by seven votes.
“I figured, if I spent some time in public service, I’d make friends who want to buy insurance. It doesn’t work that way.”
The constant stress of self-employment, the responsibilities of family and the demands of the office wore him down. The drinking, which he hid from his wife, clouded his judgment, and her trust in him diminished. They separated in February 2008.
Martin took an apartment and struggled along in the insurance biz. He made sales, but not enough. While visiting a friend in Manhattan in September 2008, he spent all but his last $100. He went home, told his landlord he couldn’t make the rent, shook his hand, and walked away. Unwilling—too proud—to ask anyone for help, he filled a fanny pack with a few possessions, then left.
“You just get tired of being a knucklehead,” he says. “You get to the point where you don’t want to live anymore. I just wanted to get away from the crap.”
Martin knew all about the Ministry of Caring’s House of Joseph emergency shelter—as a young seminarian at Villanova, before he left the pre-noviate program, he’d volunteered there—so he headed for Wilmington. It seemed like a safer place to be out on the street than Philadelphia. But standing on the corner of Third and Connell, dressed in good trousers and an oxford shirt, Martin felt like a target. With no bed available at House of Joseph, he headed for the U.S. 13-40 split, where, in the woods behind the Wilton Walmart, he curled up on the ground and went to sleep.
Martin stayed two nights. He thought about his children. On the third day, a bed opened up at the shelter. For 30 days, he roomed with several other men. And he contemplated his life.
"Suddenly it hit me: You could be a spectacular human being,” he says. “There was nowhere to go but up from there.”
Martin reached the house’s stay limit before he found work, so he moved to another shelter. While living at Casa San Francisco in Milton, he landed a job clerking at an insurance agency in Dagsboro. With paying work and several weeks of sobriety, he found Oxford House, a national network of 1,500 homes where working men and women who were committed to recovery could get back on their feet. In finding Oxford House, Martin also found a mission.
continues on page 4...