By LINDON DODD
Jerry Westmoreland’s life in many ways parallels that of country music legend Loretta Lynn. He was one of 15 children raised in a three-room house in Barren County, Ky. He was sort of the next-to-last born. You see he was one of a set of triplets. Both his mother and grandmother were blind. His father, among many other things, was sort of a farmer as he recalls.
“Daddy was a sharecropper but never brought in the harvest.”
His early life was difficult. “I came from a very dysfunctional family. They did the best that they could.”
He remembers being a very troubled and difficult kid. To combat that, as a young child some local brew would be administered to calm him down a bit. He eventually left home at the ripe old age of 13 and moved in with an aunt in Louisville.
He was diagnosed as a manic depressant and schizophrenic who managed to stop drinking at age 17 when he was married and had two sons. During that period he was a workaholic. That would eventually lead to marital problems and a divorce. An old bugaboo resurfaced.
“At 25, I started drinking again and crossed that invisible line.”
Alcohol led to bad behavior, problems with the law, and years of being checked in and out of Central States Hospital for mental health problems. From the age of 28 to 39 this pattern of an out-of-control life included every alcohol treatment program he could get into and fall out of. Then he discovered Alcoholics Anonymous, The Talbot House, and the Twelve Step Program. He also met a man named Bill Wallace who saved his life.
At age 40 he was a recovering alcoholic with no education, job skills, or work history. Wallace got him a job in Jeffersonville with Dave’s Produce. That led to a job at Gateway Grocery followed as a custodian with the Greater Clark County School Corporation where he spent 17 years.
In 1990, after seven years of sobriety, he had an epiphany that would change his life’s mission. He started Jerry’s Place — a program out of his home for alcoholics and eventually drug addicts seeking recovery. Since then he says he has had success stories with more than 400 men who have come through the program which requires them to work with a sponsor, get a job, not test dirty, and complete the Twelve Step Program.
I attended a meeting of the Jerry’s Place board members this past week. The members include a career lawman and two probation officers. The current board is made up of Patti Zelli, Elizabeth Starck, Eric Watkins, Chuck Adams and Bob Woford.
The board has multiple short and long term goals. Among them is to formalize and standardize the process. They want to do whatever they can to improve the drop out and relapse numbers. There is a first-ever public fundraiser being planned for sometime in April with the details still being finalized. A guest at the meeting this week was a grant writer volunteering in honor of his own sister who became a drug addict while working as a $100,000 medical professional and is now clean and sober and again working in her field.
Jerry has worked tirelessly and ran Jerry’s Place for many years. Allowing delegation to board members is not always easy for a man who has always done it his way. He cannot say, “No.” The board wants to utilize the always-too-short funds to maximize the successes. Jerry admits to giving many people multiple admittances upon failure. As Jerry said at the meeting, “How can I say no when I failed on seven different chances before I got sober.”
Last year 197 men spent some time as a resident of Jerry’s Place.
Jerry’s Place still gets court referrals and has been since the days of Judges Fleece and Hancock in the early 90s. Referrals come from the counties of Clark, Floyd, Harrison, and Washington. Often some type of rehabilitation or a halfway house is a requirement for release from jail. However, Jerry will still take calls from those seeking help on their own initiative. Jerry’s Place has also never required someone to have insurance or other provable means of payment.
Aas Chuck Adams said, the board wants to change the admissions process.
“Right now I get calls from Jerry at 11 o’clock at night and 7 o’clock in the morning,” he said.
But the ultimate goal is to insure Jerry’s Place is around long after Jerry is not. And on that mission there is complete agreement.
For those of us who interact with abusers on a daily basis we know how widespread, prevalent, destructive and expensive alcohol and drug abuse are in this community. No matter how many are locked up or how often; eventually they will all get out of jail and satisfy their obligation to the court. Then what?
Jerry is not clinically trained in anything. He now has to deal with such legal concepts as 501- Cs and LLCs. There is also a certified public accountant and other such complications to the simple idea that was begun by one who’s been there for those who can only struggle with sobriety — with so many obstacles to overcome and so few opportunities to succeed. Such people are not among the most attractive choices of charity.
In other words Jerry Westmoreland is kind of like his father in that he plants and nurtures a lot of seeds. But much unlike him, Jerry wants to see all of them through for a successful harvest.
Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Donations can be made to:
Jerry’s Place c/o Jerry Westmoreland
P.O. Box 351
Jeffersonville, Indiana 47130