Bipolar. Drug dealer. Addict. Thief. Unfit parent. Frequently in trouble with the police. Undesirable member of society.
Michael Little apologizes for being all of the self-proclaimed above.
Now, the Vernon man is working hard to right his wrongs.
“I just want to thank my community for the judicial system, the RCMP, community corrections, mental health workers, hospital, doctors, nurses, drug and alcohol counselors, outreach workers and the food bank,” said Little, 46.
“All of these services are the reflections of a community’s warmth, caring and compassion, and the examples that I used to achieve my third year of sobriety.”
Originally from Montreal, Little came to Vernon as a fundraising consultant and thought the North Okanagan would be a great place to semi-retire.
At age 38, Little had no criminal record. He says depending on who you talk to, there are various stages in his life when the “cheese slid off the cracker” and he turned to drugs and to crime to pay for his addictions.
“I think it was about seven years ago when my son was taken away from me,” said Little. “There were unresolved issues and not having a way to deal with it. Things just got compounded and escalated.”
A two-page chronology from his physician shows Little’s descent into his man-made hell.
Smoking a gram of pot per day in September 2005; diagnosed possible bipolar affective disorder; first of what would be many grand mal seizures Dec. 22, 2005; 72-hour IV cocaine binge May 2006; caught shoplifting at Real Canadian Wholesale Club May 2006, banned from store; lost custody case involving kids in July ‘06; involved in assault altercation, multiple injuries to face, evicted from building, arrested by RCMP and charged with resisting arrest in October ‘06.
“I was a drug dealer, hard core,” said Little, who said he sold drugs in Vernon to 127 people. “The circuit of shoplifting that I did. I was notorious for that. I appeared in The Morning Star, mostly in Crime Stoppers.”
His turning point came in August 2008 when he nearly died at 6 a.m. in Polson Park due to a drug overdose. He spent three days in intensive care and suffered a brain injury as a result of the overdose.
“It was clear I wasn’t going to be able to kill myself,” said Little. “I was on 23 pills a day for bipolar, epilepsy and I took a whole week’s worth at once. By my calculation, that should have done the trick.”
It was then that Little, the same man who had victimized the community with his drug dealing and criminal actions, turned to the community for help.
He was given three meals a day at the Upper Room Mission. He got counselling through Interior Health. He apologized to a person with whom he crossed paths numerous times over the years, Vernon RCMP Const. Kathy Szoboticsanec.
“For a police officer, it’s always a good feeling to see somebody that you’ve seen in the worst possible place, physically and mentally, turn things around and look healthy,” said Szoboticsanec.
“He came and said a few words to a young chap I had in my car that was heading down the wrong path in life. He said to him, ‘There isn’t a drug I haven’t tried.’ It made an impact on me and also on this young guy.”
Little now does public speaking for the ministry of health, community corrections, Canadian Mental Health Association and social development.
He started an organization called Neighborhood Investment Group (http://neighborhoodinvestmentgr.wordpress.com) that hosts dinners once a month at the Upper Room Mission (next one is Wednesday, Nov. 20). If he can’t find a sponsor to pay for the dinners, Little pays for them out of money he earns from his part-time jobs.
The food comes from the Wholesale Club, where, because Little remains banned from the premises due to his shoplifting, volunteers pick up the groceries.
“They’re happy to help as long as I’m not the guy coming in to buy the food,” laughed Little.
He can afford to laugh now. As he mentioned, Little has been sober for three years. He has his son, Seth, 16, living with him again and the two are tight.
“He’s an attentive parent and I have no worries,” said Seth. “I wanted to be with my dad. It’s been pretty good. While we were apart we called each other, sent e-mails, Skype-chatted, just little things like that.”
Little’s daughter recently gave birth to his first grandchild.
More than anything, Little wants to say sorry to the City of Vernon and its residents, make amends and let other people know that he wouldn’t have been able to change his life around if not for the services offered in Vernon.
“The community is phenomenal, great, wonderful,” said Little. “There’s such cooperation between agencies. I wasn’t a very good citizen of Vernon, but the city said it wants all members of the community to get well. They put forth an effort, people really tried.
“I was greeted and held with open arms. I was a thorn in the side of the RCMP and now they work with me. I did my recovery process in our community without benefit of a treatment facility or ongoing program. I just used resources available on the street in our community.
“I no longer deal, I’m an attentive parent, working with the law and an active participant in the community.”
(If you would like to make a donation to the community dinners, visit Little’s website or visit the Wholesale Club and ask staff to purchase a community dinners card and leave it at the Club. Staff will make sure the card gets to Little.)