Ruben DeJesus knows too well how the tentacles of a troubled childhood can strangle you for life. Raised by a single mother in a drug- and gang-ridden North Jersey city, Ruben started smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol when he was just 13.
“As I got older, marijuana was no longer doing anything for me so I began using harder drugs like cocaine, and I started stealing to support my habit,” Ruben said. “I was always in and out of jail, and that put a hold on my life. I wasted a lot of time in jail.”
Tired of disappointing both his mother and himself, he resolved to fight his addiction, and he enrolled in a recovery program. At first, it went well. He landed a job as a warehouse supervisor in Long Island, and it seemed like his troubled past was behind him. But sobriety is a lifelong commitment, and relapse can be part of the recovery process. “When work seemed a little overwhelming, I’d feel like I needed a break. So I’d have a beer or two – and that woke up the beast inside of me. I picked up again with the drugs,” Ruben remembered.
One night when he was drunk, he encountered an armed robber.
“He pointed a gun at me and demanded money, we exchanged words – and he raised his hand and shot me, point blank in the chest,” Ruben said. The December 2019 incident was a turning point for Ruben, in both a good and a bad way.
“It was a miracle from God that I made it through this. I was so close to dying. It was a wakeup call, that I was given another chance to fix my life up,” he said. But it took him so long to recover from the injury that he lost his job, couldn’t pay rent and had to move in with his mother. Just a few months later, he lost her to COVID-19 – but Ruben remained committed to his sobriety, even as life’s challenges continued. Last April, child protective workers called from Virginia. They had removed his two children from their mother’s custody and wanted him to take them. His joy at being reunited with his children was tempered by his housing situation: He was living in a halfway house, which is no place for children.
Dreaming of the future
Ruben knew he needed help. He reached out to Monmouth County social services and learned about Catholic Charities’ Linkages program in Tinton Falls.
Linkages is emergency transitional housing for individuals and families exiting homelessness. The program provides residents with supportive services and time to help them get back on their feet and into permanent, stable housing. Linkages apartments have multiple rooms and kitchens, and residents have laundry facilities, a playground, a community room, 24-hour staff and other amenities on-site, all of which create a more home-like atmosphere than a motel.
“It may have been a bullet that woke Ruben up, but it is the love for his children and the commitment to his sobriety that keeps him moving forward one day at time,” said Stacey DePoe, Linkages program director. “I could see the determination in his eyes the day I met him.”
Ruben and his children moved to Linkages in April. “I like the environment and the structure here – it’s safe and clean, and the staff are great,” Ruben said. “The kids love it, and they’ve made friends here.”
In July, Ruben began pursuing his high-school equivalency degree at Brookdale Community College. Once he has that in hand, he plans to go to cosmetology school, get his barber’s license, and ultimately open his own barber shop. He’s now job-hunting so that he can save up for an apartment and a car.
As Ruben works to ensure a bright future for his family, his children daydream about the home they hope they will have someday soon.
“My dream house is a big house with stairs, and a nice room, a nice rug, a nice TV, and a pool,” said Jazleen, 11, her smile as sparkly as the glitter stuck to her arms from summer camp.
Ten-year-old Elijah chimed in: “I want a lot of rooms where we could stay in, a lot of good furniture, a park across the street, and a garage with a nice car.”
“My kids are a great motivation to me – they motivate me to want more and to do more, and they help me to get focused,” Ruben said. “I don’t want them to go through what I did. I know I have to do nothing but the right thing because their lives are on the line.”
FOR INFORMATION about Linkages, call Program Director Stacey DePoe at (732) 922-0400.
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