An interview with a former resident, Carl Heyward
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Orangeburg, SC, the older of two boys, and lived there until age 19. I was somewhat of an outstanding basketball player in SC. In my soph-omore year I was voted Best of the Rest. Two Division One schools recruited me. I ended up with a full scholarship to Alderson Broaddus College in Philippi, WV.
So you went to college on a full scholarship. How did that go?
College and basketball didn’t go well for me. In my freshman year I started drugs and alcohol for the first time in my life and it was all downhill from there. I ended up in three different schools because of the drugs and alcohol. In my senior year, my basketball scholarship was cut due to grades. I was placed on academic probation and eventually cut from the roster.
Did you ever graduate?
I didn’t. Four years of college, no degree.
Tell me a little bit more about your life growing up in Orangeburg with your parents and brother before you left for college.
I would say it was a house divided. My mother played the organ at one of the local churches. We did go to church every Sun. Daddy didn’t go. He’d only go every blue moon. He was a drug addict; he was what you would call a functional addict. He always helped out and always paid the bills. Every now and then he and Mom would fight.
What do you recall about your relationship with God during those years?
I’ve got to relate that to my brother Todd. There were times when we would dress up in my Mom’s and aunt Lotti’s choir robes. We played church. We would pretend to preach. One day my brother Todd got really excited about preachin’ and that’s when I realized that there was something special about going to church. I noticed a difference in him and in myself. We were baptized, and what I understood was that once I was baptized I was saved. But did I live that life? No. I didn’t learn to depend on God until years later.
Could you describe what happened after you left college?
I actually had professional tryouts after that for over-seas teams. I had offers, but I turned them down. I was livin’ with a young lady in Nashville, I was workin’ two jobs, and thought that what I was doin’ was enough for me. I talked with my father one day who was living in NY. He was there because he and my mother had gotten into a fight and he pushed my mother and I drew back to hit him. He put his hands up to stop me and I told him, don’t you ever put your hands on my mother again. Shortly after that, he left and never came back.
What happened after that?
Dad and I always stayed in touch. The girlfriend I was living with in Nashville got into it one night and I told myself that night, if I don’t leave here I’ll never leave. I went to NY and found my father who was living with my Grandmother. Long story short, there was still the drug addiction, he was sellin’ drugs and still usin’ drugs. I really got involved. After three years I left NY in 1985. Dad died two weeks after I left. I went back to my mothers in Orangeburg and the drug addiction got even worse.
Did you ever sell drugs?
Yes, sometimes. The young lady I ended up marrying, Pearlie, and I were working together in Orangeburg. We stayed there a while, but the drug addiction got the best of me again, crack cocaine. I ended up leaving her because of my ad-diction. So it was back to NY where I went to my Grandmothers and told her I needed a place to stay. She said, OK, you’ve got two weeks. I called a cousin of mine over in Brooklyn. He enlisted in Brooklyn, that’s where his recruiter was. I went straight to that recruiter and I joined the army right then and there. I told the recruiter that I wanted Ft. Jackson in Columbia, SC for basis training. I wanted Ft. Jackson; because I could tell my wife that I was doing something for us. Then I got stationed at Ft. Hood, TX. In 1988 I brought my wife and her daughter there and in 1989 we got married. We attended 76th Street Chapel. My wife joined the choir and I coached the women’s softball team. I went to serve in the Gulf War for eight months. When I got back, my wife had moved back to SC and the bottom fell out of my life.
Why do you say the bottom fell out?
Because I went back to that life of drugs and alcohol. I was upset that my wife left. I was upset that while I was over there I got promoted and when I got back there wasn’t more cash in my bank account, so I started to get in trouble.
What kind of trouble?
Late for formations and fights. I told myself one day that I needed to get out before they put me out. They were offering early out at the time and I took it. I’d served 5 years, 10 months and two days.
Where did you go when you left the army?
I came back to Bowman, SC. That’s where my wife was. We got back together and I ended up working at Bowman High School as a teacher’s aid and basketball coach. One day, the mayor’s wife, who was a teacher there, approached me about working for the town. She wanted me to go talk to her husband. He offered me a position with the city.
Where did this new job lead you?
There’s a lot of drug traffic in Bowman. One day the mayor asked me to do something for him. He said the chief of police needs your help, he needs you to finger some people. He wanted me to point them out. He said, you know who they are.
How did he know that you knew? Did he know that you were doing drugs?
He did. I told him that I wasn’t going to do that, because my family lives here, and I’m not going to help him do his job like that. That’s when he told me that I had to step down. After that I went back out using even more. I was using on and off from 1996 until 2002. In 2002 I got tired of using and entered a 6 month drug treat-ment program in Augusta, GA.
How did that program work out for you?
It worked fine. When I got out of that I came back home to my wife. She took me in and two or three years later, I started up again. Every two or three years I would start up again. I’d go right back to treatment, always in Augusta. I went there three times between 2002 and 2009 and was fine up until the summer of 2011 when I started up again. I was tired of where I was going, I wanted a change in my life because drugs and alcohol had led me to jail.
To jail? For what?
In 2002 for a thing called theft by deception. I was in for two and a half months and I ended up getting out on probation. I broke my pro-bation and left the state of GA. and was put in jail again. I went to jail three times. The first time I was in jail I asked God to… let me state it
just like this: The ones I’ve hurt, suffer them not for what I’ve done, put their pain and suffering all on me, I deserve it. As soon as I said that, it was like all the pain just hit me at once.
What was that all about?
I don’t know. I think it was God showing me something, I feel it was God intervening. This is when and where I picked up a Bible to read. My Bible’s got three different color highlights in it, that’s how many times I read it from front to back. I wanted to make a difference in me, I was ready. But then I’d go out and use again.
So that transformation you were so desirous of never really took hold. When did that happen?
It happened in 2011, right before I came back to Charleston. I got tired of what I was doing, I got tired of hurting folks, and I called a friend of mine, come get me, I need your help. I was getting high everyday, I had a pocket full of money, I’d just gotten my reserve pay for the summer, gave my wife a thousand dollars and I left. My friend came and got me and brought me to Charleston and I went straight to the VA and admitted myself to treatment. On Aug. 2, 2011, I went into the rehab. program at the VA. I had made up my mind that whatever it was going to take I was going to do to stop using drugs. I read my Bible daily and tried to assure anybody on drugs that if God could do it for me He’ll do it for you. I’ve had no other relapses since.
So what drew you to the Star Gospel Mission?
Ten years ago I was a resident here. I wanted to change and I knew that you had church here
every Sunday, and I liked that. Besides, Star Gospel is neat and clean, it’s homey, I enjoy talking to people here, everybody gets along here, we get a great meal every day, we’re allowed to stay in on the weekends, sleep late on Saturday’s. I was drawn here because I felt it in my heart. I wanted to be here. God is doing some things in my life, and I believe that this is where God wants me to be in order to get me where He wants me to go.
Carl, how do you see God moving in your life, experiencing a transformation in heart, body, mind and spirit?
Everything I was praying for is falling right in place. I think I was led here; God led me here. I don’t fully understand it yet, but I’m very content with where He has me right now. It allows me to minister to folks, both here, at the VA where I work, and right in these streets. I called my brother one day and I said, we’re in the wrong business. I talked with him about opening a facility similar to Star Gospel in Orangeburg or Columbia. It’s needed and I know God is leading me to minister.
Do you feel you’ve beaten the drug thing, that that chapter of your life is closed?
I feel that God has taken that away from me. He’s taken the desire, the need away completely. God’s been blessing me and I’ve just seen doors open.
How is the relationship with your wife, your step daughter and your son going?
It’s going great right now. They’re pleased with where I am. I help them as much as I can. They understand my situation here.
Is there anything you want us to know about that you might have left out?
Yes, Star Gospel has had a major impact on my life. Not just the doors open to men in need, but to veterans; we feel at home together here. I’m at peace right now. I enjoy your sermons and I get a lot out of them. It helps my spiritual growth a lot by being here. It gives me comfort to know that if I need to talk to someone, anytime, I can talk with you. You and Star Gospel allow me to be me. You’ve allowed me to step out in faith, to trust in God, and to put my past in the past.
An interview of Carl Heyward by Pastor Christian