I met Andrew on the streets of Portsmouth. He set up shop outside the Starbucks on Market Square, selling walking sticks he crafted from fallen tree limbs. Homeless since being released from prison, he was surprisingly open and upbeat about his future.
“I’m trying to make a start, get some money together and get my life back together.”
“How much are these walking sticks?”
“I’m asking $15 but I’ll take less.” I paid $15 for mine on the condition that he would engrave the words, “Galatians 5.16,” a reference to these words in the New Testament: “Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
This transaction began a friendship that has lasted four years. He spent two of those years in prison following an allegation of assault that was never proven. It turns out that a reputation is a hard thing to shake.
Andrew looks and acts younger than his late thirties. Although prison has added thirty pounds to his frame, his face shines and he talks loudly and warmly to just about anyone who will listen. His affable nature has won him friends wherever he goes, and sometimes made enemies.
As a child Andrew bounced around the foster care system in Florida with a brother and sister in tow. until Steven and Debbie adopted them. After seeing foster children come and go, their one biological son, Justin, asked, “Why can’t they stay?” The Christian couple then made a decision to adopt whole families who were stuck in the system.Three years after adopting a family of four, they committed to Andrew and his younger brother and sister. The family of 8 would eventually grow to 17. Steven says that from the beginning, Andrew was “a trip, just fun, a never-ending source of energy.” Born with fetal alcohol syndrome, he always had problems with cause and effect – making the connection between his actions and their consequences. His driven personality and need to be in control made for a perfect storm which became his life.
Church became a surrogate family for Andrew. He made friends easily and internalized much of what he heard about the Gospel. Putting it all together, he would often tell his parents, “I’m either going to be a policeman or a preacher. I’m either going to shoot ‘em or save ‘em.” Rebellion in his teenage years put both of these goals on hold. Never one to take orders easily, he launched out on his own.
His adult years have been a patchwork of relationships with women, construction jobs, drinking, drugging and frequent encounters with the law. His most recent encounter landed him in a New Hampshire prison and forced him to reflect on twenty years where, “I haven’t gotten anywhere in life and just barely survived.” (to be continued next week)