Features

Harvey House

"Harvey House" Continued...

Issue: "The audacity of real change," Aug. 23, 2008

Restoration Ministries provided Skoda with the space, resources, and encouragement to start the boxing club in 2002. Since then he's coached the Harvey Boxing Club to four first-place wins at the state Silver Gloves Championships. He said the program taught him that love includes discipline. "It's helped me be a better coach, a better man."

Not every man wants tough love. Last year 61 of 102 Harvey House residents dropped out or were expelled. Executive Director Banks let some back in, like Kenny Baumgardner. On his first day back, Baumgardner, an unshaven man with a brown-blond mustache, nervously finished a dinner of sliced ham, sweet corn, and macaroni. Eight months after dropping out, he had relapsed into alcoholism and drug use. "God brought me back there," he says. "I've lost everything in my life already, so there's nothing else to do but grow up."

Kuta is already growing up. Just a few weeks after celebrating four years of sobriety he sat down to talk about the future. His high GED scores have earned him a two-year scholarship at South Suburban College, which he hopes to attend in the fall. He's also rebuilding a broken relationship with his family. Kuta said his mom professed Christ a few months ago, and he's finally able to talk to his stepfather as a friend. "They invited me to go on a fishing trip with them next Labor Day. It'll just be me, him, and the boat for a week. I'm excited. Scared."

Kuta's cell phone rang. It was his mom. "She called to thank me again," he said after hanging up, explaining he had just remodeled his parents' bathroom. "She went in and thought about me this morning. People [are] thanking me instead of cursing me."

From phantom pain to spiritual gain

Paramedics saved Mike Acquaviva from drug overdoses three times before he was 16. Break-ins and theft landed him in prison with a three- to five-year sentence.

After parole, Acquaviva decided to become a dealer in illicit pharmaceuticals. He coached a one-legged friend to hoodwink doctors with a story about a former jeep accident and phantom pain (the leg had been lost shooting dope). Acquaviva sold Dilaudid and other prescribed painkillers, becoming a powerful person in his neighborhood.

When Acquaviva inadvertently killed his sister with an injection of narcotics so hard-core she choked trying to expel them, he viewed himself as a murderer and descended into depression: "I believed at the time that suicide was too good for me." He slept with rats and lice under a highway bridge that became his home for the next 12 years. With a sign that read, "Homeless. Hungry. God Bless," he collected $50 to $500 a day from empathetic motorists. He used each dollar to keep himself high. Shivering one night in the Michigan cold, he prayed to God, "Can you reach a guy like me?"

On a Saturday, two auto executives in a new pickup truck handed him a Burger King breakfast sandwich, hash browns, and a coffee. Acquaviva was disappointed they hadn't included money but was surprised when they returned with breakfast the next weekend-and continued doing so for a year. The two executives eventually invited him to a restaurant, but en route signed him up at a methadone detox center. They also took him to their church, where people Acquaviva had never met gave him a reception "as if the Prodigal Son had come home." He went forward at the first altar call and made a commitment to Christ.

It took another year under the bridge before he accepted, in 2004, an invitation to Harvey House. He wore a hood, spoke to no one, and slept in his boots and the layers of clothing he'd worn in Detroit. "As I began to take my physical clothes off, spiritually [God] removed one layer at a time."

Now Acquaviva, 52, has a gentle demeanor and a gravel voice. He is the associate director of Restoration Ministries, runs its chess club, and counsels men with stories like his. In May he married a Tabitha House graduate. "I was the guy who was toothless and diseased," he says. "I sometimes feel guilty that they pay me."

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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