Unexpected Freedom

Rowland Garner arrived in St. Louis in February 2011 expecting to be locked away in federal prison. In the days prior to his long bus ride from Detroit, Rowland said farewell to friends and family, sold all of his belongings and gave away what remained. With courage and conviction, he arrived at the Federal Marshall’s office to turn himself in.

Upon searching through federal records and databases, federal marshals informed Mr. Garner that he was a free man, that there was nothing on his record in Missouri, and that there were no other charges for which he could be extradited on his record.

“I should have been happy,” recalls Rowland, “but I was in shock, numb.”

Rowland started walking, thinking about what had gotten him to this point. “I’d been working in Michigan helping others with substance abuse counseling, when a member of my church came to me and asked me to minister to her son who was arrested in Missouri. I knew I couldn’t help him, because of unresolved legal matters, and that feeling of helplessness drove me to clear up the matter once and for all. “

Rowland had tied up all of his life’s loose ends, and headed to Missouri for incarceration. Now that he was a “free man,” he found himself homeless with only $30 in his pocket. As he walked, he found himself at 18th Street & Washington Avenue, where he sat at a bus stop to rest. When a gentleman heard his story, he gave him a bus transfer and asked the bus to take him to The Salvation Army, further down Washington Avenue.

“Sure enough,” he remembers, “the bus doors opened up and there was The Salvation Army.”

Rowland is a recovering addict and had suffered a lapse in sobriety at his farewell party. Because of this lapse in sobriety, the intake counselor at Harbor Light recommended that he reenter treatment to prevent the lapse from becoming a full relapse that might totally jeopardize his long-term sobriety. Rowland entered the Harbor Light’s sobriety program and stayed from February to the end of August 2011. Due to his experience as a substance abuse counselor in Michigan and his commitment to sobriety, he was invited to lead and facilitate some groups during his stay, including “Recovery with Jesus.”

 “I was living a life that was not totally pleasing in the eyes of God. This journey was a catalyst for change,” he says as he looks back on 2011 and the journey he took in obedience to God, “the staff and program here at the Harbor Light reinforced my sobriety, answered my homelessness need, provided needed resources and helped me to address medical issues.”

Embracing his unexpected freedom and the new path set before him, Rowland thrived in the Harbor Light program and now lives nearby in his own apartment and has established a new life in St. Louis, his one-time childhood home. Garner feels he still has much to offer, having a firm hold on his sobriety and faith, along with the necessary credentials, experience and passion to continue his substance abuse counseling career in St. Louis.

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