Turning personal struggles into passion for helping others

From left to right:  James Page Jr., Dorothy Jones, and Angelina McDowell have histories of addiction. Today they serve others in the throes of chemical dependency.  Photos by David Pierini

From left to right: James Page Jr., Dorothy Jones, and Angelina McDowell have histories of addiction. Today they serve others in the throes of chemical dependency. Photos by David Pierini

Dorothy Jones puts people on a path to recovery

Now sober for 35 years, Dorothy Jones works to help others take their first steps into recovery.  Photo by David Pierini

Now sober for 35 years, Dorothy Jones works to help others take their first steps into recovery. Photo by David Pierini

By David Pierini Staff Reporter

Dorothy Jones was in college to learn how to help people recover from chemical dependency and quickly began to understand family trauma and addiction.

Jones saw she fit the profile.

Her use of Demerol had developed into a voracious appetite for the painkiller. It was so bad, she went through four or five doctors for prescriptions to keep up her supply. When she was finally cut off, an abusive boyfriend turned her onto cocaine.

“I was oblivious to what was going on until I started going to school,” Jones said. “As far as I knew there was no problem with me. However, I started seeing maybe there was something wrong. I started looking at my family and it was like a light went off in my brain.”

Jones’ sobriety is now in its 35th year. Her story, full of pain and loss in the early chapters, now resonate with grace and forgiveness, peace and happiness. She is 71 and as the intake specialist care coordinator for Turning Point, a North Minneapolis treatment center, she meets with people taking their first steps to recovery.

She starts each day with this prayer: Thank you lord for this day. Thank you for the air to breathe and the sight to see. Thank you for putting my feet on the floor so I can walk in your light. Let me be able to share something with somebody so that they will be able to move on with their life life with your words and insight.

Being able to share with honesty, she tells fragile beginners, makes recovery possible. It brings that light closer to them. It is what she learned.

Jones grew up in Des Moines, Iowa the fifth of eight children. Her parents fought constantly. Her father was a heavy drinker who died from cirrhosis of the liver when she was a teenager. Jones didn’t get along with her mother and resented her for seeming to favor a younger sister over her.

Jones and that sister fought a lot and one day, their grandmother passed out as she tried to break up the fight. An ambulance was called but her grandmother eventually died from heart failure.

“When my grandma passed, that started the whole road to destruction,” she said.

Jones gave birth to a son after her senior year in high school, married her high school sweetheart and moved to the Twin Cities, where they both had family.

They had a daughter but fought constantly, divorcing after five years. Jones got a job doing clerical work with Head Start and later with an alternative high school.

She developed chronic pain in her face, which would later be diagnosed as trigeminal neuralgia, where a cranial nerve transmits pain to the skin of the face. She was given Demerol for the pain. Her body quickly built up a resistance to it, and she found herself taking more and more.

When she couldn’t use Demerol, she turned to cocaine for the pain. She was then prescribed another addictive drug, Valium.

“My life was out of control,” she said. “I wasn’t taking care of my kids, I would forget to do things, I was in a relationship with someone who was chemically dependent. With me taking the Demerol and him on heroin, I was drinking and smoking weed...all this and I’m still going to school.”

But she had to surrender. Her kids were now in counseling and expressing their hurt and fear of life at home. She struggled at work and being on time. Her boss ordered her to get into treatment.

Jones struggled with treatment, but leaving was not an option because of her job. Jones began to slowly tell her story in treatment and a return to church gave her strength to follow through her treatment and help heal her family.

“You can be honest, you can share and God is there for you,” she said. “Things started getting better because I was believing.”

Jones has had a rewarding career in the field that, first, clued her into own addiction. The prayer that starts her day is part of the work she does daily to sustain her recovery.

Angelina McDowell battles addiction on many fronts

North Minneapolis resident Angelina McDowell is the care coordinator for an opioid use disorder treatment program for African Americans.  Photo by David Pierini

North Minneapolis resident Angelina McDowell is the care coordinator for an opioid use disorder treatment program for African Americans. Photo by David Pierini

By Kenzie O’Keefe Editor

Angelina McDowell has known addiction for her whole life.

Her mother struggled with crack and didn’t get clean until the late 90s. As an adult, McDowell joined the army and was deployed to Iraq. She returned with PTSD and medicated it with alcohol, descending into alcoholism that required professional help. Today, the social worker has turned these experiences into expertise at Fairview Hospital, helping the health system figure out how to better serve African Americans dependent on opioids.

“We have African Americans and Natives going into the emergency rooms at higher rates than their white counterparts and overdosing and dying,” she said. “They are medicating their trauma. They are medicating something away.”

She stresses the negative impact of institutional racism in healthcare and the philanthropic groups that fund positions like hers within white-led hospital systems. She says patients need providers who share their identities or, at the very least, understand where they come from and “are willing to be uncomfortable hearing our stories.”

When McDowell is not fighting the opioid crisis from within the healthcare system, she runs into it on her block. She is the president of the Old Highland Neighborhood Association which operates the community garden on the northwest corner of Emerson and 18th Ave. N. Earlier this summer, a friend found “dirty works” stashed behind a shed on the property. When McDowell reported it to the Fourth Precinct, she says she was told that the problem is widespread, especially in the parks. “Safe spaces are being tampered with,” she said. “People are so in the throes of their use that they can’t be mindful.”

She would like to see more on the ground response efforts— harm reduction approaches like mobile needle exchange programs, sharps disposal sites, and medically assisted treatment—along with word of mouth awareness building about the resources that exist here in the community, like the Northside Healing Space inside Liberty Church.

“It’s not just going to be that pill or that therapy. It’s also building community around you in your neighborhood,” she said.

Years of addiction led James Page on a reflective journey to help others

James Page Jr. battled addiction for years and now leads a men’s group to help others with their recovery.  Photo by David Pierini

James Page Jr. battled addiction for years and now leads a men’s group to help others with their recovery. Photo by David Pierini

By Abdi Mohamed Staff Reporter

Having battled addiction for decades, James Page Jr. is all too familiar with the opioid epidemic on the Northside.

In 2011, Page suffered an overdose near W Broadway Ave. after receiving a bad batch of heroin. It was that near fatal experience that convinced Page to end his 32 years of drug use. In 1979, then 17 years old, Page arrived for his first round of treatment at Turning Point (TP), the African American culturally based treatment center in North Minneapolis. After being treated for six months for his marijuana use, Page would return five years later for another six months stay, this time for a newly developed heroin addiction.

Page’s story is not unique when it comes to the Northside. Scenes of law enforcement arrests and ambulance vehicles related to drug sale and use have become familiar to residents in the area. Having lived and raised his family in North Minneapolis, Page has seen the evolution of the opioid crisis on the Broadway corridor

“On Broadway, the dealers out there, most of them were from out of town. What they learned to do was to stretch it to make it look more than it was,” Page said speaking about heroin dealers. The limited territory and high demand forced dealers to increase their supply according to Page, even if it required mixing in products that weren’t just heroin. “They found out other stuff to make it look better, but that made it more deadly. First, they put in morphine but then changed it to fentanyl,” he said.

In his dealings with addiction, Page came to understand the important part that law enforcement and the courts play in whether an individual will succeed in their recovery. Having been sent to jail for his drug use, Page found that probation officers have a unique influence in their recommendation of treatment options for individuals. In his first attempt at treatment, Page was sent to Eden House which, unlike TP, was not culturally specific. After abandoning his treatment, Page was later arrested and brought in front of a judge. When asked why he left, he answered that it was because they were all white at Eden. Understanding the cultural component, the judge then recommended his treatment be done at TP.

Although Page sees law enforcement practices changing and distinguishing their approach to individuals suffering from addiction, he takes issue with how they police areas like North Minneapolis. In labeling certain areas of the city as high crime neighborhoods, Page believes that officers have a negative disposition towards the community, especially the youth. This fear-based interaction between law enforcement and residents of the Northside, especially youth, could exacerbate the issues of drug addiction Page believes.

In the years since his treatment for addiction, Page has authored two books titled “Flatline, Your Ego Mind” and “Apples for Addicts and Alcoholics” which cover his strategies for developing spiritual principles and developing emotional intelligence. He also leads a discussion group every Tuesday at the Cultural Wellness Center in South Minneapolis called the Men’s Spiritual Circle which he likens to an Alcoholics Anonymous program, but members of the circle serve as mentors for one another.

Abdi Mohamed