[box]Over My Shoulder Foundation is honored to share this interview with Attorney Rick Dyer who kicked a heroin addiction, got out of jail, rebuilt his life, became a respected Boston Attorney and now dedicates his life to help others who suffer from this illness of addiction. Rick’s story stirs the imagination, and provokes us to think about how mentors can help those struggling by replacing unhealthy addictions with partnerships, dreams and a healthy lifestyle!
This is one of my favorite mentoring stories because it embeds massive amounts of hope and is the shining example that through mentoring we can have one less hopeless person. Rick became one less tragedy, one less addict and one less horrible statistic because of the mentoring he received. Enjoy this energetic interview with Rick Dyer and writer Jarred Samarco.
-Dawn Carroll, Over My Shoulder Foundation Co-Founder and Executive Director[/box]
Jarred Samarco: Attorney Dyer, your life story is an inspiring one of addiction, recovery and hope. What is the one thing that helped you start turning your life around that you wish all those struggling with addiction could experience?
Rick Dyer: Hope, finding a reason to believe in me when I couldn’t – by borrowing someone else’s hope until I could get my own
J/S: While navigating the ups and downs of your troubled, younger years, how did you come across the relationships that appear to be paramount in allowing you to be the kind of man you are today?
R/D: People did care in spite of my own hopelessness.
J/S: A number of times you make mention of a gentleman by the name of Judge Charles Artesani as your mentor. How did the two of you meet and how did he mentor you?
R/D: Judge Artesani, aka Chick, was the judge who had sentenced me several times. He deeply cared about the individuals and families in our community. He believed I could make it. Judge Artesani was my neighbor but I really got to know him as he handed me sentence after sentence in Brighton Court. No matter how I came into that courtroom – crying, strung out, desperate, despairing – he never gave up on me. Time after time, when he got over the shock of seeing me yet again, he tried in earnest to find the right placement for me to best deal with my addiction, trouble or pain be it jail, halfway houses or hospitals. Years later, when he recommended me for Law School and later for a Governor’s pardon, he reminded me that I wasn’t arrested but rescued. I didn’t appreciate this until later in life–when all my friends who used drugs were dying and getting life sentences.
J/S: You have been an active member of Boston’s judicial system for the past 25 years. Specifically, you focus on Criminal Defense Representation. Do you find it effective and advantageous in this role to use your own experience of struggling with addiction as a misunderstood youth?
R/D: Absolutely. We are talking about sharing hope – the kind of hope that saves lives. Empathy and compassion are necessary to break down the barriers between myself and my clients, be they children or adults suffering from addiction and abuse. I don’t have to share my personal experiences with them in order for them to know that I truly understand. But the way I speak to them – when I can speak the language of their experience, and help them tell their story, they believe I understand and then trust and healing can emerge.
J/S: Was there one mentor in particular that allowed you to actually become a lawyer?
R/D: There have been many mentors like Judge Artesani and Governor Mike Dukakis who pardoned me over 25 years ago and has remained a mentor to this day. I believe my most important mentor was my sponsor/mentor in my 12-step program, Larry Sullivan (Sully) who encouraged and supported my sobriety and health, education and wellness. He taught me to write and appreciate the classics and continue my education. Most importantly, he taught me how to care about me.
J/S: On your website (www.rickdyer.org) there is mention of how your personal experiences can help others navigating their way through addictions. Would you consider yourself to be a “Mentor”?
R/D: Yes. I speak every day to individuals across the country about “shared hope”. To me, mentoring is about sharing and caring. It is like fly fishing with my son. First I share with him the techniques I use to cast the line. I share them with patience and steadiness and confidence so that he captures those traits as well as the technique. Then I let him cast and wait for the tug on the line. I guide him but let him make the mistakes or claim the victory of landing the fish. So the same with mentoring children and adults struggling with their lives.
J/S: How does someone like you go from a self-described 40 bag a day heroin habit to a well renowned member of the rehabilitation and recovery community?
R/D: 48+ bags a day. I was given the gift of desperation. I recognized the hope in others’ eyes and closed my own. I stopped listening to myself and reached out for the help of others.
J/S: You have helped so many people in their personal struggles with substance abuse. What motivates you?
R/D: I believe the more love, happiness and joy you give, the more you receive. I like being happy. I love my life.
J/S: You are a Defense Lawyer who represents people that have been, themselves, led astray by the vicious cycle of drug addiction. Do you mentor your clients?
R/D: No, I do not mentor my clients while a case is pending because my role is to represent them as an attorney. Many times, however, when a case is over, my former client will stay in touch and share their life story. Then, I can use my mentoring skills to help foster their recovery.
J/S: You got a second chance at life. Today, with the unforgiving Internet and the severity of background checks for careers (even just for the construction industry) what do you suggest to kids who are flirting with drugs and alcohol and starting to get into trouble? Could you do today what you were able to do years ago?
R/D: To answer your first question: flirting with drugs is dangerous and can be fatal. The collateral damage – loss of family, job, education, employment and community is devastating. Flirting with drugs can lead to abuse and/or addiction and a lifetime of pain and suffering. What I suggest to kids is to stop and think about what they are putting in their body and doing to their hearts and minds. Also, if they are making decisions that start off with a lie – either to their families or themselves – that decision is probably not a good one and will lead to problems. Drugs and alcohol are takers. They take away our opportunities, our hopes and dreams and our lives.
To answer your 2nd question, could I do today what I had done before? Times are definitely different now! Remember, I did not really get away with my crimes having been incarcerated over 18 times! Today, I may not have been back on the street as much. Incarceration is tougher today. There are not as many options for people in the criminal system with addiction problems. The jails are overcrowded. The programs are overcrowded. We live in a time of program cuts and staffing cuts. Today, people who find themselves in the same desperate situation I was in may not recover. There simply are not enough mentors out there. That is why I believe that every voice of hope in the recovery community needs to be a strong voice. In the sixties and seventies, I think people had more time to care and believed in rehabilitation and all the rights, titles and privileges that went along with having a second chance, with being a productive member of society.
J/S: How can instilling confidence, self-esteem and mentoring help cure addiction?
R/D: Its starts with knowing that we are ok and are worth recovering-step by step. We learn, a day at a time, that we can like ourselves and eventually love ourselves.
I didn’t care or believe in myself in spite of positive things that were said or done for me in my journey from addiction. WHY? Because I couldn’t. I just couldn’t see it in myself. But others stood up and witnessed my recovery and showed me that they believed in me and showed me how to believe in myself. I learned to see what they saw in me. This is the key to mentoring. Recently, another judge, Judge Donnelly, reminded me “We don’t get to where we are alone.”
J/S: Is mentoring essential to your well being?
R/D: Yes, every day. I get much more back than I give. That is the gift of mentoring, absolutely.
J/S: You are a well respected lawyer who conquered a brutal addiction and a life–threatening career in crime. What’s next for you?
R/D: Not sure, but it seems to get better everyday. I’m very much interested in our criminal justice system and how I can make a difference on a larger scale for more people to access recovery and how we as a criminal justice system can reduce recidivism — e.g. sentencing and drug court reform.
J/S: You are living proof that mentoring works. You are a man who started his legal career on the wrong side of the bars and is on his way (fingers & toes crossed) to becoming a Judge in Massachusetts. What happens to you and your message of hope if this doesn’t work out in your favor?
R/D: I’m not sure about being a judge tomorrow but even so my message is the same and is not about me, but about hope and opportunity
J/S: Has society lost its patience with addicts?
R/D: Society has not so much lost patience but more society has become frustrated with the costs and time it takes to rehabilitate an individual, family and community. Society is hoping for instant fix for it tax dollars, but unfortunately it takes time. Relapse is part of recovery – and no one likes to hear that. There is a lot of fear associated with the addict and no one likes to pay or spend time on things they fear.
J/S: How will people with mistakes in their lives ever prosper if they are not forgiven by society for their past?
R/D: We all make mistakes. Someone once said circumstances don’t make the person but reveal them – mistakes are an opportunity for learning life’s lessons. People can prosper if they learn to live up to their own expectations and not hang on other people’s judgments.
J/S: Can we get addicted to happiness?
R/D: Not addicted, but connected to happiness, beauty, love and creativity to name a few other good feelings. Our lives are a part of the most infinite, majestic source in the universe –all we have to do is connect to it.
Thank you for letting me share my passion about my transformation and the mentors that made it possible.
My recovery and my mentoring has been the key to my personal health and wellness, mental excellence, spiritual awareness, growth and prosperity, improved personal relationships, a higher quality of life and a greater ability to perform and contribute to society as a productive member in it. Mentoring is about love and sharing joy so that we can all benefit from this life we are given.
J/S: That concludes our Over My Shoulder Foundation interview with Attorney Rick Dyer. Thank you for sharing your time and thoughts with us, Attorney Dyer. You can get in touch with him on LinkedIn. Readers, please keep checking back to read more inspiring stories about the impact of mentoring in our lives!