Last Step to Redemption

Drug counselor Richard Entriken swam a little too easily in a sea of sharks.

Richard served two years in Tallahassee Correctional Institute. When he got out, he joined his mother in Fort Lauderdale. And kept partying. He was styling hair at a salon in an Oakland Park strip mall in 1980 when a customer named Scott Miller sold him out. Miller had been busted by Fort Lauderdale police for allegedly trying to sell a pound of cocaine. In an attempt to wriggle into a reduced sentence, Miller told police that, while cutting his hair, Richard had mentioned he could supply dope in quantity.

According to court documents, Miller then told Entriken that some acquaintances visiting from out of town were looking to purchase a kilo of cocaine. Could he hook them up? Miller's "pals" were actually two undercover cops. Officer Scott Israel said in a sworn statement that Entriken sold him a gram of powder cocaine for $60 outside the now-defunct Press Box Lounge in Wilton Manors. It was a taster. Israel added that Entriken agreed to deliver two pounds of coke in four-ounce increments worth about $8,000 each. But after two weeks, Entriken hadn't made the drops, so Israel decided to arrest him for selling the gram. It was a felony, but Entriken got a reduced sentence of community service and probation.

A few years later, in 1983, Entriken met his wife-to-be. Sandra showed up at the salon for a haircut. At six feet, Richard towered over her five-foot-five frame. Sandra is dainty and soft-spoken; Richard was sturdy and garrulous. Sandra shies away from the spotlight; Richard thrived on being the center of attention. There's a photo in the Entriken house of Richard kissing a woman wearing a brown paper bag over her head. The woman is Sandra, who hates having her picture taken.

Chris Doherty stands on the spot where his friend, business partner, and mentor – Richard Entriken – was shot down.
C. Stiles
Chris Doherty stands on the spot where his friend, business partner, and mentor – Richard Entriken – was shot down.
Richard with his wife, Sandra, and daughters
Richard with his wife, Sandra, and daughters

Richard cut Sandra's hair several times before they started dating. "He was a little wild, fun. I didn't think it would be a permanent thing," Sandra recalls. They married in 1984, the same year the first of their two daughters was born.

Until she became a mother, Sandra thought Richard's drinking was manageable. But sitting at home with a newborn while your husband is out partying is dispiriting. Sandra noticed that Richard always seemed to have alcohol around, even when he was working or mowing the lawn. He was a functional drunk, though, able to hold a job and provide for his family. Then Richard got arrested for a DUI on January 17, 1992. Sandra bailed him out of jail and told him, "No more. I'm done. Finished."

In AA terms, it was Richard's moment of clarity. A cousin took him to his first AA meeting, and Richard Entriken never took a sip of alcohol again.

But he still had to deal with the DUI. So Entriken hired Fort Lauderdale attorney Mark Skipper. "He was a hurtin' cowboy," Skipper remembers.

Both men were trained paratroopers, and their wives were from the same part of Ohio. They seemed to have a lot in common, and much to talk about. "I thought, man, I wish this guy wasn't my client because I would like to hang out with him."

Before long, Entriken would become the kind of guy all sorts of respectable types would want to befriend. He would become a fixture at the Broward County Courthouse, where he advocated for addicts in court. And instead of wearing a gold Quaalude tablet around his neck, he now flashed a diamond-studded triangle inside a circle — the AA symbol.

Alcoholics Anonymous formed in 1935 when a small group of addicts realized that they could actually help each other stay sober. Part of the self-treatment, they believed, involved paying it forward by continually sharing those helpful lessons with others — free of charge. As former selfish lowlifes, they had incurred a debt to society; volunteering to help other addicts seemed like the best way to chip away at it. They'd even walk into a courtroom and ask a judge to release a problem drinker into their custody after a bender.

In Broward County, the first AA group formed in 1943 and met in Fort Lauderdale. Courthouse veterans remember an old-timer named Danny Foley working the court alcohol program several decades ago. Foley was a merchant marine in World War II who became legally blind and started drinking heavily. He sobered up, though, and concentrated on helping others abandon alcohol. "People would open up to Danny," Mark Skipper remembers. "He had this disarming way about him. He could manipulate people into realizing that they were addicts."

By the time Richard Entriken came around, the chain of alcoholics helping one another was well-established in Broward County. One night early into his recovery, Entriken heard John Williams speak at an AA meeting. Williams was 12 years his senior and had been sober since 1975. Entriken liked what he heard, tapped Williams on the shoulder, and asked the older man to be his sponsor. Williams took him on.

A few years later, in 1996, Williams, Entriken, and a friend named Gary Recht started a halfway house in Pompano. It was the first incarnation of 1st Step, and it was a bumpy ride. The three made a pact that, if any of them began using again, they'd be cut off. They bought a duplex that could sleep eight at a time and spread the word that lost souls could come there to get sober.

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