In North Carolina, a town turns haven for recovery and hope
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They come on a hunch or a recommendation. Ryan Dieterich has been here two weeks, and he already feels like a new man. He's staying in a modest dorm room at the Western Carolina Rescue Mission, one of several groups that are flourishing here, catering to ex-addicts.Skip to next paragraph
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For him, as for many, Asheville has become a crucial reprieve, a halfway house between addiction and lives back home. One lanky man in a starched work-shirt says he came to sober up. "I needed to get 400 miles away from home," he says.
Beyond a sense of purpose, outsiders have brought new economic promise for a city that was reeling from job losses in the late '80s and early '90s. Many ex-addicts work as janitors or clerks in the booming tourist industry. Most attend church regularly and go to a variety of support groups - Asheville has dozens. And though some leave, many stay. Sorrells works with several other recovered addicts at a shop where the owners know of their pasts.
"The workforce is getting over the idea that being a recovering addict is a bad thing," says David Rosenker, vice president of treatment at the Caron Foundation in Wernersville, Pa. "Many people who go to treatment come back a better employee than they were before. They have a great work ethic and they do very, very well."
Today, police don't arrest people for vagrancy as much as they once did and there's an acceptance of the city's new profile as a destination for all kinds of people, including those fleeing their pasts.
"If you want to go to jail, they'll still put you in jail, but it's not like it used to be," says Danny McKinney, an out-of-work general contractor at Pritchard Park.
Of course, not all ex-addicts can move to the mountains. "It's a great concept: Go through treatment and then go to a different community. But that's not an option for many people," says Mr. Heyman.
What's more, the thought of people with drug issues flocking to this once-quiet and straitlaced city doesn't appeal to everyone."You worry about people with drug problems moving in," says Nancy Perez, listening to a religious broadcast. "But I also understand: In my own way, I came back to Asheville to get my life together, and if other people can pull their bootstraps up here, then that's a good thing."
Today, Sorrells earns a fraction of what he did in Atlanta. But he has trouble remembering a time in his life when each day promised so much. In a strange way, he says, he's thankful for what his addiction yielded: A peek at the possibilities and pursuits of a happy, drug-free life.
"Before I got treatment, I was proud and arrogant," he says. "But finally I had lost so much of my life that I became humble enough to start taking other people's advice. That's partly how I came to Asheville. Since moving here, I have a whole different way of looking at the world."