ANDERSON, S.C. (AP) — It is not many times that Libby Winkler, director of Habitat for Humanity in Anderson County, has stepped out on faith and posted someone’s bond so they could get out of jail.
But she did it for Samuel Robinson.
“I had a connection with Sammy,” Libby said. “I saw that he was good. I thought if he were saved from the drugs that he would have a bright future.”
It was not an easy journey with Sammy. The first time Libby helped him, the push for him to come clean didn’t take. In fact, Sammy will tell you that he has been in and out of rehabilitation facilities for years. He has been through several programs, some of them Christian-based, but was never able to “stay clean” for more than 40 days.
As a teenager, Robinson learned how to work what he calls “the system” to his benefit.
But more than three years ago, Sammy said God and the never-wavering faith of his friends, like Ms. Libby, pulled him out of a lifetime of addiction.
“Drugs caught me up for 30 years,” Sammy said.
Like all of his answers, Sammy did not flinch when he was asked what kind of drugs he was addicted to.
“I did most all of it, ma’am — except the needle,” he said. “I never did the needle.”
It started when Robinson was about 13 or 14 years old, he said.
Robinson grew up in Abbeville. He had four sisters and two parents who loved him. But he turned to smoking marijuana when he discovered that he liked the feeling of being high. It helped him cope with the pain he felt when his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and the ridicule he endured from his classmates about his weight.
He had dropped out of school by the time he reached the 11th grade at Abbeville County High School.
Now, he does not lay the blame on those two issues. He is quick to say that the decision to smoke that first joint was his — not the fault of his family.
“It wasn’t nothing that came from my family,” Sammy said. “It was my decision. The marijuana made me feel good about myself.”
For about 10 years, marijuana, alcohol and the occasional dose of speed were his addictions.
Then came the 1980s, and a whole new drug for Sammy: crack cocaine.
“Crack cocaine was my downfall,” he said. “It was higher. It was about that high. You are looking for that high, because you are trying to escape from reality. The high was how I dealt with life.”
It is also what led him into trouble, drained all of his finances and landed him in a hotel room when he was 50 years old, with nothing to show for his life except an empty bank account and a spirit that was broken.
His mother died in 1990, his father in 1987 and his relationship with his sisters was strained — at best.
He had never owned a home. Plus, the years of drug use have helped him build a criminal history.
State records show that he has five convictions on his record, all from 1986 through 2009. The charges are for minor offenses, such as shoplifting and forgery.
His last arrest was for driving a car with a suspended license. That was in 2009. Around the same time, he was living in a room at Pat’s Motel on U.S. 29 North. He lost his car and was driving a bicycle back and forth to work.
One Sunday afternoon, in February 2010, Robinson said he hit bottom.
After years of going in and out of rehab programs, it was the realization that he was 50 years old, tired, broke and broken that did him in. He had never married because the “dope was his girlfriend, his relationship — his everything.” And as he readied to smoke some crack, he looked at an old pay stub from his job at a local plant.
“I realized that I had made all that money, and I didn’t have nothing,” Sammy said. “I was sitting in a hotel and I was broke. I didn’t even have a car. I had been using people and lying to people for so long. I was tired.”
So he prayed.
“I asked the Lord to take the taste from me,” Sammy said.
Then, for the first time, he took the first steps to enroll himself in a rehab program. He has been clean ever since.
These days, Sammy still says that prayer every day. He admits that he does not know how long he will remain “clean.” Instead, he talks about that goal in day-to-day terms. For him, staying sober is a goal that is best mastered one day at a time. Anything more than that becomes too overwhelming.
And at least two days a week, if not more, he can be found at the Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, working on pricing merchandise, hauling appliances and mopping the floors.
He has worked here off and on through the years since he first walked through the doors of the local charity in 2004. Even when he couldn’t work there because of his addiction, Libby said she did not give up on him.
“He is always willing to work hard,” Libby said. “He is just the hardest-working guy I have ever seen.”
Late last year, Sammy qualified for one of the Habitat for Humanity homes because he cleared the background check, had a steady income and could make his payments.
Libby said he has already started paying for the three-bedroom home, which should be completed in August. And he met the charity’s required 200 work hours, which they ask of all their homeowners, in just two weeks even while he was working another full-time job.
These days, Sammy laughs freely, like a man without burdens.
Ask a question about his past, and he will tell you. Dates are little fuzzy sometimes, and he will admit that some details have faded in part because of the “brain cells he killed with the drugs.”
But his eyes shine. Libby said she can see that he has a joyful heart these days when he comes in to volunteer at Habitat for Humanity’s resale store on Murray Avenue.
“This is what God has brought me through,” Sammy said, with a smile. “I could have killed myself so many times. But he saved me. So many people believed in me even when I did not believe in myself.”
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