When Orlando Garcia was selling crack cocaine, he was making $900 a day.
“I had everything I wanted,” he said. And so did everyone around him — he financed the party, so to speak, and it went on for years.
Mr. Garcia, 30, was also paying for his addiction to cocaine. “You fail to admit that you’re powerless,” he said. “I never thought I was addicted. I always denied it.”
A high school dropout, Mr. Garcia, who was raised in Brooklyn and St. Croix, V.I., most regrets his unfinished education. “I took it for granted,” he said one Sunday afternoon as he worked his maintenance shift at Chelsea Lodge, a small hotel in Manhattan. But the money he made hustling was too good, he said.
His parents sent him to St. Croix at 12 to get him out of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where he had been living. “It was the ’80s,” he said. “Sunset was corrupted, gang-banging.”
Mr. Garcia’s father was in the military and stationed in South Carolina, and his mother was living in Puerto Rico. He was left in the care of his grandmother. But at 13, he started smoking marijuana and cutting class, preferring instead to make money by catching and selling fish, where he earned up to $400 a day.
When he was 18, Mr. Garcia returned to Sunset Park and the gang lifestyle, becoming a member of the Latin Kings. “I liked the way they carried themselves,” he said. “And they saw I didn’t fold.”
Shortly after his initiation, Mr. Garcia was arrested for trying to sell drugs to an undercover officer and received five years of probation. Arrests followed for turnstile jumping, drug possession and strong-arm robbery.
The last charge yielded him six months in jail and another five years of probation. After his release, he failed a drug test and was ordered to attend the Serendipity program at New York Therapeutic Communities, a residential drug rehabilitation center in Brooklyn.
He had trouble following the rules. He was not allowed to smoke cigarettes, he did not want to wake up early and he refused to remove his black and gold beads, which signified his membership in the Latin Kings.
“My mind wasn’t stabilized like that,” he said. He mouthed off. Finally, warned by the court that he faced rehab or jail, he made a decision.
“I gave myself up,” he said. “I surrendered.” Serendipity, he added, “gave me a second chance; they really didn’t need to.”
He still struggled with being told when to sleep or shower, but “the program doesn’t work unless you make it work,” he said.
In treatment, he discovered that romantic drama had led to his self-destructive drug use, so he worked on learning to cope with heartache. He was released in June 2010, and he has four more years of probation. He must stay clean or return to jail, and the threat of jail, he said, is what keeps him sober.
Mr. Garcia, who once earned $900 a day selling drugs, now makes $10 an hour cleaning up around the hotel, where his father also works. Before he got the job, however, he needed business attire, so New York Therapeutic Communities referred him to the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, one of the seven organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. With a grant of $495, he bought pants, socks and shirts.
Mr. Garcia’s good looks keep him active in the dating world, but what he really wants now is to be a father. He also has more immediate goals. He would like a driver’s license — he does not even have an ID — and he wants to earn his G.E.D. Asked about any goals beyond that, he is quiet for a moment.
“I never thought of something like that,” he said. “I have a felony. There’s a lot of things I can’t do that others can do.”
But there is one thing he knows for sure: “If I mess up, there are no more chances for me.”
By JENNIFER MASCIA
Published: January 7, 2011
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