After Lewis Blanche got caught with a mobile meth lab, 19th Judicial District Court judge Bonnie Jackson, or as Blanche calls her, “his first higher power,” gave him a choice.
He could either spend the next 35 years of his life behind bars in Louisiana’s State Penitentiary or get sober.
“I blew myself up in a meth lab and I was in the burn unit for a month. I was in a coma there and I thought the problem was I wasn’t good at making meth, the problem was I was an addict,” said Blanche. “I did not want to come out of Angola at 75.”
Today, after years of personal revival, Blanche owns a sober living business in Baton Rouge, which provides a close-knit, housing environment consisting of and specifically structured for recovering male addicts.
“When I split with my partner,we had 50 clients,” said Blanche. “I looked around and said I don’t know anybody. This is not why I’m in this business. So, we split the business and I got back down to two houses and I knew everybody.”
Located in a middle class residential area of Baton Rouge, one would never know a group of recovering addicts live in the homes. Generally, A1 zoned neighborhoods prohibit non “single family” occupants from residing in them. However, because non-using, recovering alcoholics and drug addicts receive federal protections under the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, such ordinances cannot discriminate against three-quarter sober living houses.
“It’s been a great help and it’s a response to the severity of addiction. It’s a response to the destruction of our community,” said Blanche. “People now understand what’s going on in these houses and there is more good than there is bad.”
A prime example of this good lies within—chef of 30 years and now Blanche’s sober living house manager, Keith Bayard. After getting arrested for DWI Bayard spent two months in jail and while there developed a friendship with a fellow inmate who will remain nameless.
“He let me use his deodorant one time. It was a great blessing,” laughed Bayard.
Eventually, after both were released, Bayard every now and again would see his old friend working on a house downtown.
“He was still using and drinking,” said Bayard. “Every time I saw him, his first question was, are you still sober? He wanted to know there’s hope. I’d like him to know there’s hope.”
Today, alive and revived Bayard and Blanche help others the way others helped them.
“I wanted to at least say when I die that I stopped being a slave to drugs and alcohol,” said Blanche.
Photo by Greta Jines.