Student fights his way back from addiction

By Michael Simpson - Staff Reporter

Walter Heyman pulled stacks of plastic milk crates, bread pallets and Dole banana boxes from the back of a former moving truck that was loaded to the ceiling.

Heyman, 42, in a coverall jumpsuit, black rimmed glasses and work gloves, was among a group of volunteers handing out food at a building that houses senior citizens in Kent.  

"Why are you being so nice?  You don't even know me," a woman asked him as she filled her bags with groceries.

The answer is the story of a drug dealer's redemption.  

He sold drugs to do drugs, which took him in and out jail and finally, after a religious awakening, into Highline's program to train counselors to help the chemically-dependent.

Twenty-nine years ago, when Heyman was 13, he moved to the Seattle area from Cleveland.  His father thought it was a better environment for a teenager.  Heyman enrolled at Renton High School.But his dad worked nights, he was estranged from his mother, and left on his own in the evenings, Heyman said. "I was basically raising myself, but not really raising myself.  So I turned to the streets."

He did weed rather than homework.  His grades were mediocre.  Then, as he entered the final semester of his senior year, he impregnated his girlfriend.  Instead of buying a cap and gown, he rented an apartment at 28th Avenue and South Jackson Street to share with her and their baby daughter.

He took a job as a carpet cleaner, but sold marijuana on the side.  

"Easy fast money is what it really is," Heyman said.  

He knew the lifestyle because he grew up watching close family who lived it. 

And as he sold more, he used more. On any given day, he drank a six-pack to twelve-pack of beer, a pint to 1.5 pints of hard liquor, cocaine, heroin, or all.  

"Drinking and drugging," Heyman said.  "That was the life."

His father was concerned as Heyman stepped in and out of the lifestyle throughout his 20s and 30s.  When his son came home for visits, it came with repeated lessons on how his choices held him back.

But the lectures that Heyman had memorized didn't stop him.  Only close-calls and family obligations slowed him down.  He finished his high school diploma after a bullet ricocheted off his collarbone during a drug deal, and wired electrical boxes for construction vehicles after he married the mother of his son. 

And challenges set him back.  He served six months in jail in connection to a drug offense after a head-on-collision left him with a back injury, and slept on buses and couch-surfed after he was laid-off from his union job.




Heyman knew his life had changed after three surgeries to save his leg failed.  A break caused by a jump down a flight of stairs while showing off at a family party became a bone infection that persisted for two years.  

"If it don't work this time, then cut it off," he told doctors after the third attempt.  

He now walks with an artificial leg.

Heyman got into religion as he recovered.  He continued to fight his addictions, selling his prescription medication for drugs, but studied a Bible that his father, now pastor of his own church, gave him after the accident.  

Then every Saturday, he volunteered in a food ministry, delivering produce to local community centers along with people receiving treatment from Praisealujah, a faith-based drug rehabilitation center in Burien.

Heyman was inspired by the volunteers to enter Praisealujah's 90-day recovery program.  By this point, he was sober.  He wanted to change and saw the three-phase program as a step to cutting ties with his past.  

"Now that I'm stable, now I can get back to who I'm supposed to be," Heyman said.  "I finally came to the realization that without God I ain't gonna be able to do it."

He enrolled last May and began the 30-day blackout period.  No phone calls.  And no visits to the house that he and 20 men shared.

"More leave than make it," Heyman said.  Some left to get high and some came back after regressing.

Those who remained did everything together including Bible classes, homework, meals, household chores and church on Sunday.  By sharing their experiences, they got close and offered encouragement when temptations to fall back into former lifestyles came up.

To graduate, all had to find full-time employment, or vocational training.  Heyman chose the chemical dependency professional program at Highline with the goal of becoming a state Department of Health certified counselor, because he wants to approach patients from a place of shared experience.

Students in the program study the history of addictions treatment and the effects that drugs including alcohol has on people and society.  And they learn counselling techniques practiced through internships.

Here he found out he was one of the majority of students who have encountered addiction first-hand.

Ken Pimpleton, adjunct professor in Highline's chemical dependency program, said in 11 years of teaching classes of 36 to 40 students, 25 to 30 have overcome addiction, or have family that have.  

"They want to give back what was given to them," Pimpleton said, adding that they tend to be strong caregivers because a counselor helped them through their recovery.

Some patients prefer to be treated by chemical dependency professional who has overcome addiction, said Brad Burnham, a program manager at the state Department of Health.

Heyman, with a 4.0 grade-point average and a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, says chemical dependency is an incurable disease and he will always struggle with temptation.  Because of his studies at Highline and Praisealujah he said he understands the triggers to relapse and how to avoid them through his support systems of family, counselors, teachers and friends who say they recognize his dedication to remain sober.

This summer, Heyman is set to intern at Valley Cities, a behavioral healthcare provider, and on successful completion of his certification at Highline, Heyman wants to work in a faith-based recovery program such as the one that helped him.  

"That's the front line of addiction," Heyman said.  "It's my purpose to be that example for those that are still out there struggling."

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Suicide Stopped

An alert Highline staff member and local public safety officers helped stop a potential suicide on campus last week. While a staff member was working, he noticed a suspicious male wandering the East Lot around 6:25 a.m. May 25. The staff worker called Highline Public Safety who responded to find the individual running around with a rope in his hands, looking for a place to possibly hang himself. This prompted Public Safety to contact Des Moines Police and South King County Fire and Rescue. By the time first responders came to the scene, the distraught man climbed into a tree near Building 99, ready to use the rope on himself. First responders talked to the man, successfully convincing him to come down from the tree. After the turmoil settled the individual was transported to a nearby hospital for an evaluation. Sgt. George Curtis of Public Safety said this was the first time he has encountered someone attempting to endanger their own life on campus.

Staff member passes out

Public Safety said the actions of the staff member who reported the incident is an excellent example of how “see something, say something” could potentially save a life. A staff member was reported to have passed out in Building 4 at 8:10 a.m. The person was sitting in their chair when they lost consciousness, then fell out, hitting their head on the ground. Public Safety arrived but the staff member refused any medical treatment.

Late night fast food runs a no-no

A suspicious car was spotted on campus at 1:35 a.m. on May 28 by a Public Safety officer. The car was occupied by two students and parked between buildings 29 and 22. The two students had gone to Jack in the Box and decided to eat the fast food on campus. They were told by the officer to leave because campus was closed.

Learn all about Safe Zones

Allies of the LGBTQIA community along with faculty and staff will be hosting a Safe Zones training program, next month. Safe Zones is a program identifying individuals in the school community who are safe and supportive allies of LGTBQIA students and faculty. The Safe Zones training is put on by Highline’s Multicultural Affairs organization. The program is about learning more about the queer community and to build skills to use on the Highline campus and out in other communities. The LGBTQIA Taskforce has been working on creating a basic curriculum for the Safe Zones training that not only provides information that may seem basic or simple. Anyone is welcome to the Safe Zones training. The training will be June 2, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Writing Center, Building 26 room 319i.

Annual Vicom Portfolio Show is next week

Highline is hosting its annual portfolio show next week. Design students will show off their work and achievements on June 5 - 6. The show is in Building 8, Mt. Olympus room from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m.

Faculty awards nominations due

The annual vote for Highline’s Outstanding Faculty Awards has been extended June 5. The Highline College Foundation provides two $1,500 awards to be presented to Highline College’s Outstanding Faculty of the Year. Nominations can be made by any student, staff member, faculty member or administrator of Highline. A person may make only one nomination for each award. Further detainominations need to consist of written statements from both the nominator and then a second reference that gives specific emphasis to the nominee’s contribution to education at Highline. Nominations need to be submitted to the Selection Committee in the Office of Instruction, Mailstop 9-2, by 5 p.m. on June 5.

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