Drug-Treatment Agency Gives Atlantic City Man Changed Days


Press of Atlantic City, 1999




   ERICKA BLOUNT Staff Writer

Published: November 15, 1999
Section: REGION
Page: C1

Sitting behind his neatly organized desk, Rodney Waldron is the picture of professionalism.

The phone rings incessantly. Situations need resolving and decisions need to be made.
His quick ascent to the upper echelon of his profession has earned him a salary of $10 a week.

Waldron, 55, is a resort resident and works as a coordinator at Daytop village, a drug-treatment facility.

Before voluntarily entering this program, Waldron spent the past nine years homeless, living under Atlantic City's world-famous Boardwalk. During those years he was content to feed his addiction to heroin and cocaine by ripping off elderly patrons drawn to Atlantic City's bright lights and big jackpots.

Nowadays, his typical workday begins at 6:30 a.m. and ends about 10 p.m.

Waldron is serious, intelligent, insightful and charismatic. A charmer. He can motivate with parables, a stern look or a shake of his head, accompanied by constructive criticism. His laughter is contagious and his peers come to him easily for advice.

Just a few months ago, he was scrubbing toilets and mopping floors as a general worker in the maintenance department, followed by a short stint washing clothes as a member of the laundry team. But Waldron hasn't only come a long way up the Daytop chain of command, his personal life has been rife with twists and turns.

Waldron's transformation from a successful businessman with his own clothing store into a heroin addict who chose drugs above his family, employment and own well-being, was a slow and torturous one.

He grew up in the Bronx in a family that he describes as exceedingly normal.

"I had a two-parent family. It wasn't any 'Beaver Cleaver' type deal, but I couldn't have come from a more average family," he said.

His grandfather, originally from Trinidad, spoke 11 different languages and was the first generation of his family to come to the states. His parents married and had four children, of which Waldron was the second eldest.

"My father was the most dedicated, dependable and sincere person," Waldron said. "He didn't have a lot of conversation. He worked in a steel factory. He came home, he wanted to read the daily paper, take a shower and help the kids with their homework. He wasn't as animated as I am."

His mother grew up in a convent after her parents died when she was only a child. Today she is 77. When Waldron was a child he and his siblings went to Catholic school where he was an altar boy and his brothers were in the choir.

"I probably would have been a priest if I would have went the straight life," Waldron said. "I was really big into being an altar boy."

Waldron said back then he was winning awards for being the smartest kid in the class, but that he always had a mischievous streak that would send his teachers into a daze.

"They didn't have enough work to put in front of me, I would breeze through my work. I was always ahead of everyone in school and I thought I had the luxury of sticking my toe in the pool," he said.

A friend of his introduced him to cocaine when he was about 15. A year later he was sentenced to five years in a reformatory for armed robbery.

"When I got out, about two weeks later, my father died from cancer," Waldron said. Waldron got married and had a son a few months later.

In 1976, he was a partner in a successful clothing store, Aramis Fashion, in New York.

After four years of marriage, the relationship broke up and Waldron marks this as the catalyst that turned his recreational drug use into a daily addiction. His descent from entrepreneur to drug addict happened quickly.

As his addiction worsened, he lost his store and his income began to come from armed robberies. His continued drug use and criminal activities resulted in numerous stints in prison. Once he left prison he decided his best hustle would be in Atlantic City with the casinos and where he also had family he could stay with.

When he first came to the area, he lived with family in Pleasantville.

"I was there for four months, doing drugs, before I was hit with the ultimatum, 'If you don't get a job in two weeks, you have to go.' In two weeks, I was at the Rescue mission at Bacharach Boulevard in Atlantic City," he said.

Waldron said several people helped him during this time, including a former Atlantic City police sergeant who took a liking to him and once bought him $250 worth of groceries out of his pocket.

But eventually Waldron's addiction overtook his life.

He found himself homeless, living day-to-day on the Boardwalk. He would the use the bathrooms in the casinos to wash up daily. Then he would look for easy targets. He survived nine years living that way.

"They had these casinos, to me, as an addict, it was like a goldmine. There were a bunch of victims. A lot of the people coming down to Atlantic City were addicted like I was, they were addicted to gambling," he said.

During this time he said he remembers the smell of dead bodies in abandoned buildings, he remembers the looks on the faces of other drug addicts, and he remembers his family members and other small sparks of hope.

"There was always something inside me that felt like I could bounce back," he said.

"My cousin came down to Atlantic City from New York and told me that everybody remembered me as a hell of a guy and he urged me to stop," Waldron said. "There were instances and people that punctuated the beginning of the change for me, but I didn't actually change until years later."

Waldron said he reached his breaking point one year around the time of his grandson's birthday.

"At one point I kept telling myself that my grandson's birthday was coming up. On his birthday I found a purse with $600 in it and I bought him some presents from Warner Brothers," he said.

Not too long after that he did an inventory of his life and he entered Daytop for treatment.

"I looked at the blocks of pictures, graduations, confirmations, all of the pictures I wasn't in," he said.

But Waldron said he doesn't feel like those nine years was time wasted.

"In the book 'The Thornbirds' there is one bird whose whole purpose in life is to sing one beautiful song and after that he dies. If the Lord made me to help just one person, so be it," he said.

Waldron said he is taking the recovery process slowly.

"It is not as easy getting back after becoming an addict as it is getting there. It is a lifelong process. A lot of people come in here looking for answers from counselors, but they are barking up the wrong tree. A psychiatrist is nothing but a high-paid friend," he said.

Waldron was recently hospitalized for a cancerous tumor in the back of his throat. But he said he was lucky enough that doctors were able to cut out the tumor and he wasn't forced to undergo chemotherapy. His recent brush with cancer made him think only in the short term about his goals.

"I would like to start my own rehab program some day," he said seriously. But then the mischievous grin surfaced and he said that his goals for his personal life include a new family.

"I would like to do a Clint Eastwood and have another baby. I can't visualize myself with a blue-haired old lady with a perm. I am not ready for that," he chuckled.

Waldron only has a few more months before his treatment is over.

In a few months Waldron won't be a coordinator at Daytop, he will be a person looking for a job, looking for an apartment, looking to mend old fences. But despite all he's seen and been through, he is optimistic and he believes he has a new start.

"When I read 'The Diary of Anne Frank,' she said that even despite the abuse and the rapes and the beatings and all the bad things she went through, that she still believed that the essence of mankind is that people are good people," he said. (1) Rodney Waldron currently is a resident and coordinator at Daytop
Village, a drug-treatment facility. Press color photo by Erica

Copyright (c) 1999 The Press of Atlantic City