Scott Atwood loves his family, the Dallas Cowboys and the people at a Key West nonprofit who helped him crawl out of the hell where alcoholism had him cornered, leaving him at the end shooting up heroin no matter what the cost to his family.
“Just a junkie dirtbag,” Atwood said. “Heroin — you have to have it. If you don’t, you become deathly sick. Scraping your bones with a butter knife is what it feels like.”
But not today.
At 49, the Key West born-and-bred Atwood has been clean and sober for nearly five years, employed and reunited with the family that had cut ties with him after he stole thousands from his parents — while he was living under their roof —so he could feed his addiction.
“I don’t have to run today,” Atwood said on a recent evening at the offices of Florida Keys Outreach Coalition. “I’m totally blessed. People that know me don’t even recognize man. I take care of my mother, I have a 12-year-old daughter. I take care of my daughter.”
Nothing good came without a price, Atwood said.
He detoxed in a jail cell facing dozens of felonies for theft and bank fraud after his sister called the police on him — for good reason, Atwood adds.
“She hated me but she didn’t realize she was saving my life,” said Atwood, who always worked for a living, having spent 18 years at TGI Fridays, even traveling across the south to different restaurants.
“I made money but I spent it all on dope,” Atwood said.
After a year, he walked out of the Monroe County Detention Center on Stock Island broke, homeless, shunned by his family and finally ready to ask for help from a number of programs in Key West available to help the homeless and the alcoholic and drug addicted.
His court sentence required him to go to Outreach Coalition and complete a bevy of programs designed to help drug addicts who wind up criminal offenders. It took more than wanting to stop drinking and drugging, Atwood said. He had to take part in the programs offered to him.
“FKOC saved my life,” Atwood said. “They gave me structure, balance in my life. It’s made me become a better man and not be selfish all the time. But nothing was given to me. I had to earn everything. They give you the starting point.”
Working through it
One of the Sheriff’s Office programs, Care For You, helped pay his first month’s rent at the FKOC halfway house where he went through case management. He learned how to transition back to living on his own while sober, working and giving back through public service.
The key is showing people how to reconnect with the community as a productive citizen through a system where you have to pay for your room and board, said Stephanie Kaple, chief operating officer at the FKOC.
“It’s not just a place to sleep, it’s a place to grow,” Kaple said. “It’s not just a bed. When you leave, you are prepared to live in the world and be a good neighbor and a good person to others.”
Not everyone grows up learning skills and structure from their parents, Kaple said, and some who did, like Atwood, still can’t connect due to alcoholism.
“We’re giving them skills to maintain housing when they leave. It’s not just telling somebody to go to work and not do drugs.”
While locked up after his arrest on Valentines Day 2012, Atwood took advantage of in-jail programs like the Animal Farm, a petting zoo that takes in all types of animals including a sloth, goats, horses and llamas.
“I worked on the farm six days a week,” Atwood said. “The goats are cool. Angus the bull, he followed me around wherever I walked. They’re smart.”
All those homeless outreach services, the Sheriff’s Office, a jail cell and 12-step meetings have brought more than a second chance for only Atwood.
Sobriety must come first, he says, and he sticks to a daily regimen.
“My recovery comes first,” he said. “I stop doing that, that’s all she wrote. Guaranteed.”
For Thanksgiving, Atwood had a full day: He worked on his sobriety and then his job — he works at the FKOC helping men who looked like he did in early 2012 —before gathering together a hearty hot plate of food that he carried to the Key West rehab center where his 88-year-old mother has been since a recent fall.
There, a son and his mother shared a holiday meal.
“I fed my mom Thanksgiving dinner,” Atwood said.
Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen