Richard was smart and always positioned himself for success. He also liked to party and eventually reached a point where drugs and alcohol tore his life apart. After 30 years of battling a substance use disorder and homelessness, an opportunity at redemption granted Richard serenity.
Richard Preston’s recovery story started with his first drink at 6 years old.
His parents were having a holiday party, and he was drawn to one of the many discarded alcoholic beverages in his home.
“I was smelling the booze, and I was liking the way it smelled,” Richard told DrugRehab.com. “So I took a sip of it, and it was game on right then.”
Even at age 6, Richard noticed that the drink made him feel good and took away his inhibitions.
“It was an instant love affair,” he wrote in his book “Serenity Granted,” which tells the story of how he overcame a 30-year battle with addiction.
Richard was born in Jacksonville, Florida, to a middle-class family. His father was a mailman and a World War II veteran. His mother managed the household. As the second youngest of seven brothers, he was known as the “knee baby.”
Richard was never short of love or care. His parents raised him with good values and manners. He enjoyed playing sports and valued his education.
But by age 10, Richard was sneaking beers every Sunday at family visits to his grandparents’ house in the rural area of Jacksonville. He and his brother would steal drinks from the family cooler while the adults were not watching.
“It was easier to do it out there in the rural section rather than in the city,” said Richard. “I started looking forward to going there because I could get my drink on.”
His drinking progressed when he got to junior high school.
“In junior high school, there was a store around the corner from me where the guy would actually sell us beer,” he said.
Richard and his friends would buy beers in the morning and drink them at the bus stop so they could go to school with a buzz. They also started smoking joints at the bus stop while they drank their malt liquor.
In high school, he drank and smoked more often. He even did cocaine from time to time. He never saw a reason to slow down his drinking and drug use because he was successful in every aspect of his life.
“With more freedom, my usage picked up,” said Richard. “The one thing that kept me from stopping was that I was excelling in school.”
Richard was voted most likely to succeed by his classmates. He was the star of the basketball team and the president of senior men at his high school. He graduated in the top 10 percent of his class and earned a full mathematics scholarship to Jacksonville University.
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College was a different ball game for Richard. What came easily in high school was suddenly proving to be a challenge.
“In high school, I never had to study for anything,” Richard said. “It just came naturally to me. But in college, I needed to apply some things, but I didn’t.”
During his first semester, Richard took a trigonometry exam that he did not study for. He decided to do a few lines of cocaine before the test to stay alert.
“It was wearing off during the test, so I ran to the bathroom like Superman, took a few more hits and came back,” said Richard. “I aced the test.”
He figured he could do the same thing with every test. He stopped studying completely and relied solely on cocaine on exam days.
By his second semester, he lost his scholarship and flunked out of college.
After leaving school, Richard went to work. To his father’s dismay, he became a manager at McDonald’s and started spending time with older co-workers. They drank excessively, and Richard started drinking more to fit in with them.
“I was drinking very heavily, and then a couple of guys I was running with at State Farm were doing cocaine.”
“We were drinking on our shifts at McDonald’s,” said Richard. “We had beers and liquor in the ice chest — right where I’d get ice for your nice root beer. We had bottles of liquor and beer sitting there cooling down for the end-of-the-night party.”
Richard worked five days a week, and he partied every night with his co-workers after they closed the restaurant. He partied on his days off too, and he continued to smoke weed and use cocaine.
While working at McDonald’s, Richard reconnected with a girl he’d known in high school whose mom worked at State Farm. Through this girl, Richard was able to land a job with the insurance company.
But his drinking never stopped.
“I was drinking very heavily, and then a couple of guys I was running with at State Farm were doing cocaine,” said Richard.
He was making a lot more money, but he was also drinking at lunch and joining co-workers in the bathroom to snort cocaine.
Richard lasted about six years at State Farm before his drinking became uncontrollable. He was now drinking in the mornings, and it was causing him to miss work and affecting his job performance.
“It progressively started getting worse while I was at State Farm, and I ended up being terminated for drinking.”
His friends began to notice substance abuse was ruining his life. A dear friend warned him countless times about cocaine. He now wishes he had listened.
While unemployed, Richard had a daughter and moved in with her mom. He was working temp jobs to make money and was performing well.
After working a temp position at Unison Industries, a leading manufacturer of ignition systems for aircrafts, he landed a permanent position in the engineering department.
But the job required Richard to pass a drug test.
“Even though I knew I was going to have to take a drug test to get this job, I never stopped partying,” he said. “So I got this job in the engineering department where I went from making $20,000 to $60,000, and I flunked the drug test.”
The owner of the company told Richard he would overlook his positive drug test because of the great work he had done in the temp position. The stipulation was that he would get sober and be drug tested once a month.
He never took another drug test while working there.
Everything was great in the new job at first. Richard was excelling in the position, but he was also starting to lose control of his cocaine use.
“I was killing the new job and killing the cocaine,” said Richard.
It wasn’t long before a new drug took over his life. When one day Richard couldn’t find any cocaine, a dealer offered him crack as an alternative. Although he knew about the addiction risks associated with crack, Richard thought he was stronger than the drug.
He remembers telling himself that he could handle it. He’d heard that everybody gets addicted to the drug, but he thought he was different. He was too smart for that. He’d been doing cocaine for 20 years, and, he claimed, he wasn’t addicted.
Richard said it took only one hit of crack for him to become completely hooked.
“The first hit, the world sort of just stops,” said Richard. “It’s got this sweet taste to it. It’s very hard to describe, but the world stops, and it’s like you’re in suspended animation.”
Crack took over his life quickly. He was spending all his money on the drug and neglecting his well-being. He often did not eat because he would spend his entire paycheck on crack. Being hungry and addicted drove him to desperation.
One Friday, Richard had spent all his money getting high and had nothing to eat. He was desperate for food. He had the highest security clearance possible at his job because he worked in the engineering department. This gave him access to every other department in the office.
He went into the office after hours to raid the refrigerators for a leftover lunch or forgotten TV dinner. While he was searching for food, he had the idea to go through his co-workers’ desks for loose change or dollar bills to spend on crack. What he found ultimately led to his dismissal.
Earlier that day, the company had passed around an envelope to collect money for the funeral of a co-worker’s child who had died suddenly.
“This was total desperation to get high,” said Richard. “I found the desk that had the interoffice envelope with that money for that child, and I stole that.”
On Monday morning, multiple people came forward saying that someone had gone through their desks and taken money. The co-worker who had passed around the envelope reported that the money was gone as well.
“The owner said, ‘Richard, if you had not been such a model employee and done the things for my company that you did, you would be going out of here in handcuffs.”
Management used the electronic key-access system to trace the thefts back to Richard. When the owner confronted him about the money, Richard admitted to taking it to buy drugs. He was terminated immediately.
“The owner said, ‘Richard, if you had not been such a model employee and done the things for my company that you did, you would be going out of here in handcuffs,’” he said.
Richard felt horrible for letting his employer down, for letting his daughter and her mom down, for letting his parents down. They all knew he had a substance use disorder at that point, but still, Richard wasn’t ready to give up crack.
After being fired, Richard left with about $15,000 to $20,000 in checks from his 401(k), severance, Christmas bonus and last paycheck.
“I went on a crack binge,” he said. “I went through that money in about a week.”
By this time, his daughter’s mother had had enough of Richard’s antics and threw him out of the house. With no job and no money, he was now homeless and walking the streets of Jacksonville.
He began scamming and writing bad checks to get money to buy crack, booze and food.
It was not long before Richard found himself in trouble with the law. He was arrested 27 times, usually for small misdemeanors, such as urinating in public or public intoxication.
The first time he went to jail was horrible, but he learned to work the system. He would serve a couple days at a time here and there.
His longest stay came from a grand theft auto charge after he stole a rental car in Daytona Beach, Florida, to try to get to Orlando. Law enforcement caught up with him in Seminole County, about half an hour outside of Orlando. He was sentenced to six months in jail in Daytona Beach.
The sentence was not enough to make Richard try to get sober. Once he got out of jail, he spent the better part of the next decade living in the woods and working day-labor jobs to get by.
“I was in the bottom then,” said Richard. “I was like any other crackhead you see in the streets: unshaven, haven’t bathed in weeks. Just to get a bath was something good.”
Lucky for Richard, his mother cared about him and always welcomed him back into her home. He stayed with his mom as often as he could.
“She would always let me back in to take a shower, feed me,” said Richard.
His mother was slipping into dementia at this point, and Richard used this to his advantage. He would talk her into writing checks for him and steal money from her accounts. Unbeknownst to Richard, his older brother James had his mother’s power of attorney.
On Richard’s 42nd birthday, James came over to evict him from their mother’s house knowing that Richard was scamming her.
“My brother came over on my birthday and was like, ‘You got to leave,’ said Richard. “And I said, ‘I don’t have to leave nothing. I get my mail here. It’s got my address on it. That means I live here. Ain’t shit you can do. Go kick rocks.’”
James called the police. When they arrived, Richard told them the same thing he told James.
The police calmly explained to Richard that his brother had their mother’s power of attorney and that he had to leave. When he refused, the police arrested him, dragged him out of his mother’s house and took him to jail.
The next morning, Richard was set to appear in court at 9 a.m. After watching a few people appear in front of the judge, Richard felt good about his chances of getting off without being charged.
“This judge is up there and he’s letting everybody go,” said Richard. “There’s guys up there getting caught in prostitution stings with weed and pistols, and he’s letting them go.”
The judge was Emmett F. Ferguson III. Richard did not know it at the time, but Judge Ferguson would become a very important person in his life.
Richard was giddy, thinking he was going to get off easy. He even started planning out the rest of the day and when he could get high.
The court invited relatives to speak on behalf of the offenders. Richard didn’t see his brother sitting in the back of the court room. When they called Richard’s name and asked if anyone was there to speak for him, James came forward.
“The judge says, ‘Do you want to speak on Mr. Preston’s behalf?’” said Richard. “My brother says, ‘No, your honor, just the opposite.’”
“It is a myth that people addicted to this stuff want to stay on it.”
Upon hearing this, the judge decided to postpone Richard’s case until the end of the day. Richard watched every offender go in front of the judge until there was no one left in the court room but him, James, the state attorney and the prosecutor.
“My brother starts telling them, ‘You know, your honor, I don’t know who he is anymore. He’s not my brother,’” said Richard. “’We were not raised that way.’”
Richard began crying upon hearing his brother speak. He told the judge, “Your honor, it is a myth and misnomer that people addicted to this stuff want to stay on it. I want to be off this stuff as bad as you and my brother want me off of it, times 10.”
The judge took Richard’s word to heart and decided to give him a chance to turn his life around. He sentenced Richard to a year of probation and in-house rehabilitation. He gave him four days to find a residential treatment center.
Richard thanked the judge for having hope for the hopeless. He told him he would never regret what he’d just done. He did not know if he meant those words at the time, but he stayed true to them.
He struggled at first to find an opening at a treatment center, but he was lucky to find one that someone else had given up. He got a call the morning of Jan. 31, 2006, telling him that the spot was his if he could get to the treatment center by 4 p.m.
After the call, Richard took a couple hits of crack with his neighbor from across the street and hopped on the city bus. He got off two miles before the treatment center and stole malt liquor from a convenience store. He drank it on his walk to the facility.
It was the last drink he ever had.
While in treatment, Richard had a lot of spare time to adjust to life in sobriety. He decided to approach treatment the right way, instead of trying to outsmart or manipulate people to get what he wanted.
He started taking suggestions on how to remain sober for the long term from others who had more experience living in sobriety.
“I wanted to do this right,” he said. “I started adopting daily devotions. I started a journal and have journaled every day to this morning. I started prayer.”
He even wrote his judge and thanked him for giving him a chance to find sobriety. Judge Ferguson wrote back about two weeks later, and the two became pen pals while Richard was in rehab.
Richard was receptive to treatment and learned healthy habits to prevent relapse. Graduating from the program was a proud milestone for him. Judge Ferguson came to show his support. He and Richard remain great friends to this day.
“He told me, ‘Richard, you have renewed my faith in mankind,’” said Richard.
After treatment, Richard slowly began to rebuild the promising life he had lost to addiction. He got a sales job at Mattress Firm after Judge Ferguson provided a gleaming reference.
He became the top salesperson in the region and won trips to the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas five years in a row for his impressive performance. He was eventually promoted to manager of the region and oversaw six locations responsible for more than $7 million of business in the area.
He also met a special woman named Desiree at a friend’s holiday dinner party. Richard and Desiree started dating shortly after they met, thanks in part to Richard’s stubborn persistence. He said Desiree was unsure of her future with him at first until he took her to a 12-step meeting and she heard his story.
After the meeting, she decided he was the man she wanted spend her life with. The two were married on March 6, 2010, by Judge Ferguson on the Carnival Fascination cruise ship.
He repaired his relationship with his daughter Courtney, who is now a captain with the department of corrections in Crestview, Florida.
Richard also made amends with his family members and other people he cared about. He is particularly thankful that he was sober for the last years of his mother’s life.
“The last five years of her life, I treated her like the queen she was,” said Richard. “I took her wherever she wanted. I couldn’t repay back all the hurt I caused, but for five years she got her son back, the old Richard I was as a child.”
After he found recovery, Richard joined a church in Jacksonville run by Dr. Gary L. Williams, a friend from high school. They would periodically have lunch together, and Richard would share stories of his past. Gary was always awestruck by the stories.
“He would say, ‘Richard, these are miracles,’ and I’d say, ‘Yeah, you have a point,’” said Richard.
Gary asked Richard to share his story with the congregation at his church, which had about 5,000 members.
Gary, who has written five books and recognized that Richard motivated and inspired people, encouraged Richard to write a book about his life and recovery. He put Richard in touch with his publicist to help him start the process. Richard had never thought of himself as a writer, but he decided to give it a try.
“The next thing you know, after a couple of years I had a book,” said Richard. “It was natural to write.”
His book “Serenity Granted” was released in September 2016 and has received positive reviews and testimonials from readers. Richard hopes that his story will truly help someone. He thinks it could save someone from a lifetime of mistakes.
“The main message is we make choices. We cannot choose consequences.”
“The main message is we make choices. We cannot choose consequences,” said Richard. “The overlying theme of the book is that there is hope for the hopeless.”
He just finished his second book, “Absence of Serenity,” which deals with the effects of substance use disorders on loved ones. The book is currently slated to launch in October 2017.
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