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FINDING HOPE: Ex-offender mentors homeless Idahoans struggling with addiction in new shelter program

Posted: 3:46 PM, Nov 04, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-05 12:50:59-05

BOISE, Idaho — A man who received a life sentence got his second chance. Now, he’s helping others in the valley get theirs.

A free long-term residential treatment program for addicts experiencing homelessness is now underway at Interfaith Sanctuary.

"If it wasn't for them, I'd be drinking every day again," said Michael Williams, a program participant and recovering addict.

But when it comes to second chances, it is not just the program participants staff are now investing in, because if there's one person who knows what it's like to face complete despair, but then to find new hope again, it's Michael Perry, a program coordinator at Project Recovery.

Now at the helm of Project Recovery's peer support, and now 16 years sober himself, Perry is all too familiar with what it means to fight for a brighter future.

"Every day would be frustrating, but I would say, 'Okay, make it to the pillow at night. Make it to the pillow,'" said Perry.

Perry got out of prison this year after more than 26 years behind bars for a slew of armed robberies fueled by childhood trauma and heroin addiction.

"Stealing, lying, violence-- you end up doing whatever it takes to feed your addiction," said Perry.

Added strikes while in prison for possession of a substance and assault on an inmate resulted in Perry receiving a life sentence.

"I was a lifer. And in 2003, I turned it around, and I haven't been in trouble since. I ended up learning how to educate myself. I got a GED, Associate's degree, and Bachelor's degree... went through numerous self-help groups."

Perry said he got clean, and helped other inmates get clean too. For this good behavior, a California judge ordered an overturn of his life sentence.

"On April 30, I walked out of prison after 26 and a half years. My wife lives in Idaho, so because I was discharged, I was able to come here and start a new life," said Perry.

But a new life-- or at least a new job-- didn't happen seamlessly. Since he had to check the box saying he's an ex-felon, local employers, he said, didn't even give him the time of day. That is-- until he applied at Interfaith Sanctuary.

"He said 'Would you give me a chance? Would you let me come and work for you for free and I can show you what my character is?'" said Jodi Peterson-Stigers, executive director, Interfaith Sanctuary. "Sometimes, survival makes you the best possible version of yourself," she added.

Peterson-Stigers hired him, promoted him, and encouraged him to earn a Peer Support Specialist Certification. Perry recently graduated Idaho Health & Welfare’s Peer Support program with a 96% on his exit exam, according to Perry.

This only validates his work helping the homeless find their second chance-- helping them with daily affirmations, like this: "Let's find something else to do that can build up your self-esteem. Let's find something else to do to help you get to the pillow tonight," said Perry.

And for Williams, it seems to be working.

"He gives me that advice that I need," said Williams.

In a peer support meeting, Williams told Perry about how he is doing. "I was tempted to go out and drink again, but I didn't. I stayed sober all week," said Williams, to Perry. "Amen," said Perry. "That's good."

Now, Perry is giving back-- something he says he's been dreaming to do with the rest of his life.

"I'm at home now," said Perry. "This is where I'm at. And I'm grateful."

Call Interfaith Sanctuary at (208) 345-5815 or click here to learn more about Project Well-being and Project Recovery, a program we first told you about in August.