A Drunkard's Prayer

Will this couch go with my salvation? A South Florida operation moves furniture and damp souls.

Most of the men at Faith Farm are believers. They embrace the misery. In the swanky rehab programs, they promote luxurious relaxation, but the pain is the gain here. The misery is the treatment. Faith Farm aims to prepare them to deal with the hardships of life — the pains of poverty and heartbreak and all the sadness that comes with being human — without chemical crutches.

They believe in the humbling treatment because they see what can happen. Every day, they see sober, walking, talking proof this program can work. Unlike other programs in which the facilitators are doctors and other professionals, managers like Rosendo know the desperate agony of addiction firsthand. They've lost jobs and families and had teeth knocked out while living on the street. The stories are so compelling that some men who don't completely believe in the power of Faith Farm pretend to until they've convinced themselves.

When Pullman came to Faith Farm, he put all his energy into studying the Bible. He would have long debates with ministers and fellow students. He graduated from Faith Farm's Boynton Beach campus and now lives at its Fort Lauderdale compound, where he takes web-based computer graphics classes through Atlantic Tech.

Bobby Murphy, 55, has spent more than 20 years in and out of rehab.
C. Stiles
Bobby Murphy, 55, has spent more than 20 years in and out of rehab.
Faith Farm customers can find anything from a Gay Talese book to a set of old crutches.
C. Stiles
Faith Farm customers can find anything from a Gay Talese book to a set of old crutches.

Once, when he worked as a salesman in the furniture store, he says, a customer offered him a joint if he knocked $50 off the price of a sofa. "I turned it down once. I'm just glad he didn't ask a second time."

As Pullman watches who enters and exits the campus, marking off students' names, he makes small, hand-rolled tobacco cigarettes. He does it habitually, one after the other, until he has a dozen or more on the desk in front of him. And each, when he's done, looks like a dense, perfectly shaped little joint.

Sunday is a big day at Faith Farm. The stores are closed. Mothers, wives, and children spill into the Fort Lauderdale compound, all dressed for church. Before the service, at 10:30 a.m., husbands and wives embrace in the parking lot, a moment somewhere between a conjugal visit and an elementary school open house.

As the first song starts on a recent Sunday, every pew is packed, and men stand along the walls and at the back of the room. Most of the kids are at the children's service, but a few roam the aisles and crawl around ankles in the back. A young girl clings to her father's hand: "I love you, Daddy," she says. "Will you come home with us, Daddy?"

The service begins with a six-piece band accompanied by a choir. For each song, the congregation stands and sings while the lyrics are projected onto a screen over the pulpit. The last song is "Amazing Grace." By the time the lyrics come to "that sav'd a wretch like me!" the men in the pews are louder than the choir coming through the P.A. Most are teary-eyed, and some weep openly as they sing "Thro' many dangers, toils and snares/I have already come/'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far/And grace will lead me home."

Then Pastor Garry Steffe takes the pulpit. The sermon is about the spiritual needs of man. "You can't satisfy the spiritual with the physical," Steffe says. "The physical can dull the spiritual, men. Fill your holes with Jesus. Fill up with Jesus and I guarantee when you walk out of here, you won't need to use again."

The men give an amen.

When they were on the outside, they were walking with Satan, they're told. The way they were living led to unhappiness in this life and damnation in the next. But not anymore. One of the Scripture selections is 2 Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things become new."

But is transformation and regeneration really possible?

By the time Bobby Murphy is staring at the purple drug test result, he's just received a promotion. Murphy has been one of Faith farm's top sellers in new furniture; now he's going to be a house manager. He's moved from the space where he slept with 68 men who coughed through the night to a semiprivate room with a roommate. He'll have more responsibility now — and more opportunities to fall. He'll have more to lose.

He looks at the test result and is silent.

"Maybe it isn't done changing colors," says Grisanty, the assistant director.

"Maybe," Murphy says.

The liquid does seem to keep changing. It becomes slightly bluer, maybe, although they can't really tell.

Grisanty decides to believe Murphy. It's that simple. And Murphy heads to his room, relieved.

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