All Photographs + Text Copyright 2012 Christopher Keeley

Willie Pompey Born 08/23/46 Brownsville, Pennsylvania.
Marisue writes:
Our friend Willie Pompey passed away on Sunday July 24, 2005
Please let any friends of Willie's know that he passed peacefully at home.
There will be a memorial service here in Washington State at the Tulalip Tribal Center, Sat. July 30, at noon.
Willie passed away CLEAN after a couple years of complications from a kidney transplant.

In 1987,
Willie participated in my book Addict Out of the Dark and into the light.
My favorite quote of his was : before I cleaned up,
I wouldn't leave too far from home unless i took a suitcase of dope
and a suitcase with clothes in it.
And worried every time I crossed the state line
for I was going to get busted, you know, by some of these little towns that you through.

Willie Pompey got clean on December 2, 1981 and stayed clean until his death.

DOB: 8/23/46; Brownsville, Pennsylvania

"Before I cleaned up, I wouldn't leave too far from home unless I took a suitcase of dope and a suitcase with clothes in it. And I worried every time I crossed the state line for I was going to get busted, you know, by some of these little towns that you go through."

Basically, when I grew up as a kid, I grew up in a large family. And growing up in a large family, I didn't have any problems as a kid, at least that I knew about. And I was one of nine kids, and we lived in a farm. And I grew up pretty much when I became thirteen, I think it was, when we moved to the city of Buffalo, New York, and I started running around with different people, and then I started drinking and drugging.

I basically just started drinking, and I got in trouble and I went to prison. And I got out and I drank more, and I'd run around, and I did drugs, and it got real hard. Nothing basically happened to me real bad. I mean some bizarre things happened: getting in trouble, police arresting me, that stuff was all normal to me.

Until in 1981, I had to do something with my life because I was sick and tired of getting loaded and I was sick and tired of the pain that was -- I guess what you would say I was mentally bankrupt. I couldn't handle it. I didn't want to deal with it any more. I had a wife and a son and a lot of friends, but they were mostly -- they didn't understand that I had a problem with drugs and alcohol. But I sought help and I met a lady who was my therapist, who told me about recovery and I told her, "Well, I don't need that, you know." She told me about treatment, a treatment center, and I told her that I didn't need it.

And a few months later I went back and talked to her again about it. And I wanted to take this stress management class that they had, and told me that I had to be clean. I couldn't have any drugs or alcohol in my system when I took this class. And I told her that I couldn't do that because I didn't want to expose my family to me going through not taking drugs, or not drinking. So she sent me to a treatment center. And when I got out of treatment, I went to a twenty-one day treatment. In there I learned a lot. I learned a lot about alcoholism and addiction and about drugs, because at that time I was one of the first addicts that they had ever taken into this treatment center.

And there was a little old lady who worked there who was a counselor who talked there one night and said she was going to talk about drugs, because it made a lot of the other counselors and other people nervous when she talked about drugs and the addiction of drugs, and she told me that I never had to use drugs again. And didn't understand that, and I went out of treatment. I still didn't understand that. It took me a couple of years in recovery with other clean addicts to find out what she meant. And I found out about going to meetings and getting a support group for me to stay clean -- to stay off drugs and alcohol and I did that. I went to a lot of meetings and then I found out that there was more to my life than these things. It's like I believe that I have a gift to communicate with different people, all kinds of people I can talk to, and people feel comfortable talking to me, and I got involved in all these committees and stuff.

And then, once I had to admit that I did these jobs and I do this stuff but I never learned how to read or write. But I had to admit that before I could do anything about it. And my son at the time, I think he was fourteen or thirteen years old, for my birthday he went to a place called the Foundation for Reading. And it's a place that teaches people how to read that don't -- adult people that don't know how to read. They got me this stuff and I started learning how to read and write. And if I hadn't quit drugs and alcohol, I wouldn't have never started to learn this stuff, because I had got through all my life, went through my life, getting by this stuff without knowing how to do it, or without people knowing that I had done it, or without people not knowing. Like they didn't know that I didn't know how to read. They thought I knew how to read.

I associated with people in the University of Pittsburgh and all over the place because I traveled around a lot and I had all kinds of friends. And being clean, quitting drugs and alcohol, made me able to clear my head enough to start learning this stuff. And it's okay to be clean; it's okay to feel the emotions of being clean. We do feel those emotions and it gets hard at times. You think about how you want to get back to getting loaded and then you think about the fun I've had since I have been clean. I have been clean since `81 and I have met people all over the world. Being clean, I was able to get a passport to go to Europe.

And I have a couple of felonies, I was charged with three felonies, and they gave me a passport and let me go to other countries. And the things that I can do now and that I have learned to do and I am constantly learning how to read better. And I am going to go to work on getting my G.E.D. And it's like through the friends I made that are also recovering from the disease of addiction, and the support of the people that are in recovery that don't want to do drugs or don't want to do alcohol and they support me in my learning and stuff and it's been great for me.

I go all over and I support other people and I tell people that it's okay to quit; it's okay to get clean. And it's okay that you are going to feel a lot of emotional things. Sometimes you get clean and you don't, things don't stay the same, because you get clean, and sometimes you find out that the woman that you're living with, you don't -- she don't love you, or you don't love her, and you have to learn how to deal with that stuff without going back out and getting loaded. Because so many of us, we want every time, to us, we want to blame other people, or it's always somebody else's fault.

And what I have learned is that I can't blame anyone for what I'm doing or what I've done. It's like I've made that bed, I have to sleep in it. And it's okay because what I have learned also is that to deal with my life and go on and learn and I have learned through my friends in recovery and through all these things that I didn't know anything about before recovery -- and I have learned how to create a support group that when I am feeling bad that I can call someone else up and talk to them, because it's real important to share with another addict that's in recovery about the pain I'm feeling or the discomfort I'm feeling, because they know how I feel and they know how they felt when they went through that.

It's okay that in recovery we have to do that, we have to support one another. It's like one addict helping another addict is parallel. And it's true because through the support of other people I am able to stay clean off of drugs and alcohol now for seven years, and come December 2nd I'll have seven years clean, continuously off of drugs and alcohol. And it's been a good life for me because I have learned a lot. I've gone through divorces, I've gone through death, I've had my mother and uncle and my grandpa and my brother in law died, all in an eight day period. And I wanted to go get loaded real bad, and the support of the people that I know where I live at in Seattle, by them calling me up, and in New York, and them asking me if I was okay and giving me the support that it's okay to feel the pain and go through it and not use over it.

There is no reason, at least I believe, for no matter who comes, stays, goes or dies, there is no reason for me to go get loaded unless I want to go get loaded. And that's where the spiritual part of the program for me I guess comes in real strong. That I believe that my senior partner, as I understand him, will help me stay clean another day, as long as I am willing to turn my will and my life over to the care of my senior partner as I understand him.

And we talk about it, you know, and I go through changes in life. And I don't want to get loaded. I want to further myself in education. I want to learn more. And there are things that I have goals to do. It's like I want to learn more about this business of recovery because I believe that I can carry the message to other addicts who may not make it. I may be able to help them make it. I believe that you have ministers to talk about different things and help people. I believe that by me talking about addiction and recovery I may be able to help another addict that is using drugs and wants help but don't know where to turn. And I do that a lot, I help the newcomer out. If a new person comes in hurting or sick, I try to help them through their recovery, and help them get established with other people that are staying clean.

And these things are real important. I believe that it's part of that support group that you set yourself up with, you get to know all these people, so that when you don't show up they want to know why you're not showing up, and they want to know why, what are you doing for yourself, or why aren't you being in touch with other people. Because sometimes we isolate ourselves and we have phobias and we don't want to talk about it because we think that it's wimpy, or it's none of their business, you know.

And that may be so, but we're talking about our life. And if we don't, and we give up a lot of our old ways by not asking for help or asking for support, we have to ask for help and we have to ask for support and talk about what's going on, you know. Talk about the emotional things that we go through. Talk about the feelings of fear, the feelings of anger, the feelings of resentment.

Because when an addict cleans up, at least for me, it was like taking my best friend away, my lover, my honey. It takes everything away from me that was negatives and it puts all these wonderful people in your life that are willing to help you stay clean and help you change things in your life. It's like recovery for me is making changes and being willing to make changes and talk about the things that I am afraid of, that if other people find out about . . . like it took me a long time in my life. And it took me about three or four years in my recovery, I think it was in my third year, I was getting ready to have my third year birthday, and I told people that I didn't know how to read. And that was hard to tell people that stuff.

Since then, once you tell that secret, those little secrets that we have that are what keeps us sick and keeps us in our addiction and keeps us running. It's like telling a little lie and then you have to remember it because you have to tell it the same way again. And in recovery you find out that if you're open and honest about yourself, it makes your recovery a whole lot easier and makes people easier to get to know you and help you in your recovery. Because we sometimes don't want help, and we do want help, but we are not willing to be honest with ourselves that we can't do it alone. And doing it alone is an addict in bad company. Because we think we can do it without help of others and we can't, because it's hard on us. We sometimes do it and it doesnŐt work because we don't have no guidelines, no support group. We're isolated, people don't know us, people think we don't like them, and we have to reach out. It's real important. The willingness to change, the willingness to go to any lengths to work on our recovery from the use of drugs and alcohol, because when we were getting loaded we would go to any lengths to get loaded. When I was living in Pennsylvania, I used to have friends in different parts of the country, and they would call me up to tell me that they had different drugs, and I would jump in my car and drive out for the weekend. And I would go to any lengths for drugs. And in my recovery I had to make a commitment to staying clean and to going to any lengths for being clean, because if I go that extra mile to get clean and to stay clean or to go to a meeting or go talk to another person that's hurting or a person that wants to get clean or to stop using, it's okay. Because someone did it for me when I got clean. They went that extra mile and they took that extra patience to talk to me, the time to share, to give away what they have learned.

And that's how it works for me. It's as long as I tell people how I am and who I am, I'm not a secret and people know me and they see me and they like me and I like them and I just work my recovery program to the best of my ability. For me it's to the best of my ability, no one else's, because I can't work it to your ability, because I don't know your ability and you don't know my ability. And if I do it to the best of my ability, I won't take nothing today and probably will have a support group for me that I won't take one tomorrow either, and for me that's how recovery works.

If an addict cleans up, the family has to clean up too, because the family is a part of that disease. We used drugs for lots of years and we'd say that we don't hurt anybody. I ain't hurt nobody but myself. But that's not true because when we were using we affect immediately ten people, grab any ten people that know us and that's close to us, love us and care about us. We affect them personally and affect our wives; we affect our children, our parents, and our relatives. And so everybody has to recover together, or if not recover together at least understand the concept of the disease of addiction and that it's not a phase that we're going through, or it's not some of the things that you hear people in denial talk about. People talk about, "Oh, it's just a phase he's going through. He'll grow out of it."

And sometimes we don't get to grow out of it because we die real dead or we get loaded and drive our vehicles and kill ourselves and we kill other people. And that happens through the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction. And there are places for everyone to go into these recovery groups. And people need to hear the message that needs to be carried, that it's okay to get clean and it's okay not to use drugs and it's okay to start feeling the emotions and dealing with them and reaching out for help and taking that first step and reaching out to another person that is in recovery or don't use. And it makes a better, happier life, at least for me it does, and I do the best that I can. I go to a lot of meetings and I go visit a lot of people and I talk about addiction and I just, I guess I just talk to my senior partner the most about helping me use not one more day, and that's all I got is today. And I go through it regularly and I stay clean through working and visiting with people and talking with people and carrying on.

We don't have to use drugs and we don't have to live that way and it doesn't matter what life style you live, you can be, you can have money in the bank. I know that one real well. You can have money in the bank, have a nice home, have a nice family, have a good job, and still be a strung out addict. I was one of them addicts that had a good job, and I still have a good job, and I have a wonderful son who's getting ready to go to college, I guess. He talks about it a lot and he loves me and cares about me. He cares if his Dad is a drunk or a junkie. And I didn't clean up for him but I cleaned up for me, and he gets to share the benefits with me of being clean. We get to take vacations together and do things together, where before I cleaned up I wouldn't leave too far from home unless I took a suitcase of dope and a suitcase with clothes in it. And I worried every time I crossed the state line for I was going to get busted, you know, by some of these little towns that you go through.

But today it's different. I don't care. It's okay that they know that I am cleaning up and that I have cleaned up and that I don't have a desire to get loaded again or to drink or to take drugs. And I want to be an instrument and a part of carrying the message of recovery for people that are in places as a using addict or as an addict that needs help into finding recovery. I like to feel that no matter who the person is or where they come from or whatever, if they ask for help about cleaning up, that I can help them do it. And that's part of my story. The basic part of my story is I grew up in and became what I never thought I would be and I did and now I am changing that stuff. The things I should have learned in school I didn't learn and today I am learning them and it's a little harder to learn it at forty two than it was when I was twelve and eight and nine and ten when I should have been learning that stuff and I didn't. Today I am learning it and if I hadn't cleaned up I probably wouldn't have even been trying to learn it. It's real important that I do that. It's real important that I remember to stay clean and to remember where I came from and where I am trying to go. Because as long as I remember that, I have nothing to fear but fear itself. That's about it for me. On Sunday July 24, 2005, Willie Pompey passed away clean, after a couple years of complications from a kidney transplant.

  • pompey family

  • Hi Christopher,

    We don't know one another but I am related to Willie Pompey (cousin - our grandfathers were brothers).

    I have been researching my family's genealogy for a while and ran across your piece on Willie. We did not grow up knowing one another but at a chance family reunion, I had an opportunity to share parts of our lives with one another. I found him to be introspective and at a point in his life where he was beginning to find meaning. It was unfortunately cut short.

    I am writing to thank you and sharing thoughts and photos of Willie. Although your medium is public and I would have done it differently, it has helped the family to come to know him better.

    Thanks again.


    Wiley Pompey-Kulia

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