“Hey man, you work today?” he says, clapping a slightly shorter, bearded man on the back. Moving on, he stops to exchange a joke with Brian Lear, one of the center’s staffers, and as he heads out to the parking lot, a car of fellow Pathways residents pulls in. Mann waves vigorously.
“These guys love me to death,” he says. Mann, 44, sees himself as a mentor, a person that residents can come to when they need advice or a listening ear. He loves the role.
But until a few weeks ago, Mann was also a resident of the Waynesville center, which is something of a cross between a homeless shelter and a transition home for people getting out of prison. And just six short months ago, he was in as bad of shape as anyone else who’s come through the Pathway Center’s doors. A pot user since his early teens, Mann had made his way through the gamut of illegal drugs.
“You know they say drugs, sex and rock n’ roll. It goes that way,” said Mann, a former guitar player and vocalist with a local band.
He’d tried to get clean a few different times, but the addiction always came back. The most recent spiral started in 2012, when his dad passed away.
“I took care of him for four, five years,” Mann said. “I quit my job. I did nothing but take care of him, and he took care of me. When he passed away, it killed me. I went straight down.”
That spiral whirled Mann into some harder drugs, like cocaine and methamphetamine. He became homeless, but as a meth addict not having a home wasn’t really a concern.
“You don’t sleep, so you didn’t need a place to lay down,” he said. “I been up for as much as 21 days before with no sleep.”
He doesn’t miss that life, he said. Even while living it, he knew there was something missing. The highs were temporary, the friends were fake — companions who would “rob you blind” the minute they came short on drug money.
Something had to give.
“One day I was in a house with no power,” Mann recalled. “Everybody left and somebody come by and took a power pole and run out of the yard.”
Mann knew that law enforcement wouldn’t be far behind the power pole thief, so he left the house. He was heading toward Hazelwood to get high but wound up taking a right where he should have taken a left and found himself walking instead toward Meridian Behavioral Health Services, where his then-girlfriend was getting help at the time.
“I said, ‘I need resources to get my life back,’” he said. “I went to the Open Door and [my friend] Jody was there and I was high. I’d been high the whole weekend, but I was tired of it. I was sick of it. I was tired of not having a place to lay my head.”
Jody’s advice to Mann was that he head to the Pathways Center.
“I kind of walked around the streets all day that day, wondering if that was what I wanted to do,” Mann said, “because I knew once I came here I was done, I was done with the drugs. I took two hits off a joint before I walked up to a guy and I told him, ‘I want to come to the shelter. I’m going to test positive for THC and meth.’”
That was Dec. 29, 2014, Mann’s birthday. He hasn’t used any drugs since. On Valentine’s Day, he smoked his last cigarette.
“I gave myself a good birthday present,” he said. “I gave myself a good Valentine’s Day present too.”
It should have been harder than it was, he said. He suffered no withdrawal symptoms from the cold-turkey end to his drug use. He attributes that to the power of God, who’s become an important part of his life ever since arriving at the Pathways Center. On Jan. 4, he recommitted his life to Jesus.
“I honestly believe that my problem in life was I tried to do things my way instead of his way,” Mann said. “If I’d done things his way, things would have turned out a whole lot different.”
But compared to where he was just six months ago, things are already quite different. Mann’s got a job, making plastic truck parts for ConMet in Canton. He saved up his pay enough to buy a car, as well as the tags and insurance to go with it. It’s not hard to see that Mann’s pretty proud of the little red Subaru Impreza Lear sold him for $500. It’s nothing fancy. It’s got some scrapes and a healthy papering of bumper stickers from its time in Lear’s possession, but it runs and it belongs to Mann and he’s proud of it.
Now, next time he goes around looking for a job, he’ll be able to drive. During the first round of the job search, he put in 50 different applications, walking each one to its destination. He’s still getting calls back, and those calls are encouraging, showing him that he’s now got his life to a place where he can look for a job that’s a calling rather than just scrambling to find something to yield a paycheck.
“I want to use what I’ve been given,” he said.
He’s full of ideas for how to do that. He’s a people person, and he loves to talk about his faith. Maybe he could get a job as a salesman or deliveryman, something that requires more interaction with people. Maybe he could start up a band again. Or maybe there will someday be a place for him on the Pathway Center staff.
“I believe I’ll be a mentor somewhere, somehow, whether it be here [the Pathways Center] or somewhere else,” he said. “Wherever God puts me, but I believe I’ll definitely be using my testimony. I’d love to come back here and work, because this is the place that brought me out.”
But Mann’s still in transition. He recently moved out of the Pathways Center to live with his mom and is hoping to get his own place before long. But apartment searching is a tricky business. He doesn’t want to sign a lease just anywhere.
“I don’t want to live somewhere someone can knock on my door and say, ‘Hey, do you want to get high?’” Mann said. “I want to be surrounded by healthy people, supportive people, not people who are going to pull me down.”
“I’m still early in my sobriety and I’m really strong in it and I believe nobody can bring me off of it, but no sense tempting it.”
That’s what’s so great about the Pathways Center, he said. All the residents there have had a rough past, but they’re all committed to living a better future.
“Its not just a homeless shelter. It’s a place to come to get your life back,” he said. “It gives you a chance to be surrounded by healthy people, healthy relationships that’s not going to put you down and damn you for where you’ve been, but lift you up for where you can go.”
The Calvin Mann of six months ago was a mess, Mann said. But he believes even that guy would be proud of where he is now.
“I think that if people see and know me and they know where I been and the things I done, if I can do it anybody can do it,” he said. “All you got to do is make the move.”