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DISCLAIMER: This article includes some disturbing and graphic elements. It is intended for mature audiences only.
Faggot… Whore… Junkie… Deadbeat bum…
“It pisses me off to hear you say those things,” Patrick replied. “You’re talking about friends of mine. These are people that I love. And these are people that God loves.”
The high school kids I was sitting with stared back at him blankly, not sure how to respond to his candid reply.
He had, in fact, asked them to list off the derogatory expressions as part of an exercise he was conducting, but he’s still troubled every time he hears the words said aloud. Not only have his friends been branded with those offensive terms, but he has as well.
I first encountered Patrick as a factual character in a book written by Sanctuary’s pastor, Greg Paul. In God in the Alley, Greg describes Patrick’s story in vivid detail, but he was still in abstract form. The stories told were certainly gut-wrenching, but a book still keeps it at arms’ length. You can always close it up when the story gets to be too much.
But now I’m here. I’m at Sanctuary, and I’m looking at Patrick. I’m hearing his voice. I’m watching his mannerisms. He is no longer words on a page. He’s very real, and I can’t “close the book” as his story unfolds.
Patrick invited me to join him on a chilly, autumn morning as he took a group of high school seniors on a “street walk” around downtown Toronto. Every year, the Catholic high school, located about an hour outside of city, sends seniors to Patrick as part of their social justice curriculum. He is their guide, educating them on the issues that plague the marginalized and taking them on a journey of hearts and souls.
“What you see today may make you feel very uncomfortable,” he explains to us. “And I don’t apologize for that.”
Our perspectives are clearly going to be expanded and our knees buckled. Patrick’s own story plays a pivotal role in the street walk, and hearing him tell it nearly cripples me.
He’s now in his late 40’s, but his story starts way back when he was three.
“One of my first memories was of my dad putting me to bed at night,” he recalled. “And he’d put me in bed with my mother, resting my head on her chest.
“‘Let me know if you hear Mommy stop breathing or if you hear her heart stop beating,’ my dad would tell me as he went back to the living room. ‘If you do, come and wake Daddy up.’”
Patrick’s mom was addicted to prescription painkillers, taking them each night before she went to bed, and his dad was an alcoholic. But this was only the beginning.
By the age of four, he started getting sexually abused by a sibling and his friends. Soon, Patrick began to seek relief from the same drugs as his mother.
“I saw what it did to her, so I thought, ‘Hey, if I’m asleep, they can’t hurt me anymore.’”
Around this time, he also joined the local men and boys choir at his church, where he struck up a friendship with one of the other choir members, an older gentleman who took Patrick under his wing. The man took him to movies, to ball games and meals. As time went on, he truly became a father-figure to Patrick.
One day while they were riding in the car, the man told Patrick he had to stop by his mother’s house to get her mail and water her plants, since she was out of town. Patrick gladly obliged and went into the house with the man. Soon after they walked through the door, the man forced himself on Patrick and raped him.
Patrick was devastated, and his world came crashing down. He was defiled by one of the few people in his life he had counted on for genuine friendship…someone who had provided safe haven, stability and a sense of normalcy amid the turmoil he was experiencing at home. Patrick felt violated to his core.
He went home, found every pill he could, and he took them all.
Two months later, Patrick awoke in the hospital. The overdose had induced a coma and caused irreparable brain damage, forcing him to learn how to walk again and talk again.
It also forced Child Protective Services to intervene on his behalf. And before he knew it, he was being shuffled between foster homes and children’s housing facilities. It didn’t take long for Patrick to grow tired of the shuffle, so he scrounged together some money and bought a bus ticket to Toronto.
He was 11 at the time and soon became one of the thousands of street kids living in the city. And like many of them, he quickly turned to prostitution for survival.
“This may sound strange, but I actually felt empowered,” he said. “For the first time, I had control over the things that were done. I actually had a choice.”
On one occasion, however, things got terrifying.
Not long after he started prostituting, an enraged, disgruntled customer sliced an eight-inch gash straight up Patrick’s abdomen. He was dropped off in front of a hospital and left for dead. But by the grace of God, no vital organs were affected.
A short time later, he had another harrowing episode.
“I was 12 years old at the time, and I was picked up by a customer that wanted to see me cry.”
The man drove him to an old warehouse and forced a shotgun into Patrick’s mouth, hoping to incite tears. When that didn’t work, he pulled it out and blasted a shot into the concrete next to Patrick’s head, leaving cement shards in his scalp and hearing loss in his left ear.
“But I’m proud of myself, ‘cuz I still didn’t cry.”
As Patrick continued to tell his story, a few of the students dabbed their eyes. But most of us listened with deadpan expressions, trying to mask our struggle to comprehend this incomprehensible tale.
By all accounts, Patrick should be dead, or at the very least, plagued with bitterness and resentment at God and the world. But the fact he’s sitting here, back in Sanctuary, telling his story means that there’s a happy ending, but it still took some time.
Click here to read Part II of Patrick’s incredible story of redemption.
- Think about Patrick, and his heart for the marginalized. Picture what those folks look like. Do you tend to turn away from them or towards them?
- Often times, such folks represent a lot of hurt and pain. Consider that fact for a moment. It should shift our own thinking, from surface judgments to open arms.
- Pick up a copy of God in the Alley, by Greg Paul. As pastor of the church, he offers great insight into Sanctuary, including many of the folks that make up the community.
- Pray for the staff of Sanctuary. Their journey is not an easy one. Pray for strength, patience, discernment and ongoing grace.
About the Author: Stephen Crane is a year-long fellow with World Next Door. He has a bachelor's degree in theology from Calvin College and a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University. He has a passion for overlooked places and people and would snowboard at all times if it were possible!