Last Step to Redemption
On Friday nights, the parking lot of an 18-unit apartment building in Pompano Beach fills with white plastic lawn chairs. The men who gather there seem, at first blush, to have nothing in common, displaying every look possible, from clean-cut preppy to gaunt heroin chic to sunburned construction worker to dreadlocked roughneck. It's the sort of commingling you might expect to glimpse if Abercrombie & Fitch, Calvin Klein, and Ecko decided to shoot a fashion spread together.
But these men, of all ages, have lived a similar nightmare. An insatiable urge to drink alcohol, pop opiates, and maybe smoke some crack cocaine has landed most of them in jail. They're like tornadoes that once destroyed everything in their paths. Their substance abuse has tormented loved ones, terrorized innocents, and made them feel like the scum of the earth. At 1st Step Sober House, these guys have a chance to kick the habit. Make amends. Start fresh.
"This is frontline recovery," says Chris Doherty, a director at 1st Step. "This isn't some Gucci-ass, Kumbaya program."
On the night of last January 25, the men arranged their plastic chairs in a circle and Richard Entriken, 1st Step's 60-year-old founder, stepped into the center. He was tall and George Clooney-handsome, with a gray shadow of a beard and eyes that crinkled happily even when he wasn't smiling. Entriken had picked up a few cocaine charges in his wild days and carried on a long love affair with liquor. But that night in January, he was marking 16 years of sobriety — showing the newbies at the meeting that they too could lead a clean and contented life.
Entriken chose Mike Banas, a 39-year-old with spiky blond hair whom he had helped to put down the crack pipe ten years earlier, to present him with an Alcoholics Anonymous medallion in honor of the occasion. A teary-eyed Entriken accepted the token and launched into one of his motivational speeches. The men sat in rapt attention.
Entriken spoke in his booming baritone of how grateful he was to his wife of 24 years, Sandra, for once kicking his sorry behind to the curb. One of his favorite mottos was, "Tough love without compassion is just cruelty," and Sandra had given him the precise dose of tough love that he needed to straighten out. He spoke of how important it is to share the message of sobriety and to help others learn to navigate life safely. He employed another favorite saying, about how the elevator to success is broken and those guys would have to take the stairs. When he was done, the men cheered.
Richard Entriken personified the 12th and final step of Alcoholics Anonymous, the one that asks the reformed to carry the message of sobriety to others. In his copy of The Big Book, the Bible of Alcoholics Anonymous, Entriken had bookmarked the chapter devoted to "working with others" with a thin American flag. In the margins of one page, he had scrawled these words in black ink: GIVE ALL YOU HAVE. On another, he had highlighted in blue this passage: "Your job now is to be at the place where you may be of maximum helpfulness to others... You should not hesitate to visit the most sordid spot on earth on such an errand. Keep on the firing line of life with these motives, and God will keep you unharmed."
But even God couldn't help the effusive rehabilitation promoter that night.
Sobriety is a gift for those who check into the 180-bed 1st Step, but there are bills to pay. Rent is a fact of life, and becoming a responsible member of society is part of the recovery process. Newcomers to 1st Step get at least three weeks free before they are expected to pony up cash. Weekly rent of $150 is due on Fridays.
No one knows exactly how much money Entriken had collected from his charges that night, but even if only 100 men paid up, there would have been $15,000 on the premises. Entriken had a routine for taking the money offsite. Well after all the men cleared out of the meeting, the directors of 1st Step would stand lookout around the property while Entriken carried the cash to his car. Entriken served two tours as an airborne ranger in Vietnam, and his military training stayed with him. He was always vigilant, always looking over his shoulder.
But as he approached the driver's side of his truck with the rent money shortly after midnight that Friday night in January, he and his sentries were ambushed.
Chris Doherty was standing guard 20 feet away, on SW Second Street. Banas was positioned on the passenger side of Entriken's truck, just ten feet away. Banas saw three young black men wearing Rasta and ski hats jump out from a nearby hedge. The robbers didn't bother to cover their faces, and they were carrying guns.
One ran up to Richard Entriken, put a gun to his head, and said, "Hold it." As Entriken turned to face his attacker, his eyes seemed to say, What the heck are you doing? The young man pulled the trigger.
For Entriken's protégés on security detail, it was as if time stood still. Then bullets starting flying. Rounds whizzed past their legs and over their shoulders. Banas dove through a hole in a nearby bush, dirt from the bullets hitting his skin. The assailants fled with the cash.
Entriken was the only man shot. Chris Doherty ran to his friend and cradled his head in his hands. Blood was streaming like water from a hose. A fatal wound. For the several hundred men he had ushered into the fellowship of sobriety, it felt as if their JFK had been assassinated. This man, their leader, had overcome much adversity. He was their hero. Their idol. The man they all tried to emulate.
A few weeks later, police arrested Kino Bartholomew, a 30-year-old former client of 1st Step whom Entriken himself had shepherded to the program from the county courthouse, for allegedly planning the murder.
For residents, it was the ultimate betrayal: Entriken had persuaded a Broward judge to send Bartholomew his way in lieu of jail time. Courthouse regulars worried that the murder would put an end to the option of diverting nonviolent drug and alcohol offenders to rehab. The witnesses worried they'd be ambushed again, maybe even outside their own homes. The remaining directors at 1st Step worried that all their energy and effort combined could not fill the void created by Entriken's premature departure.
Richard Entriken's beginnings were so far from the vicissitudes of crime and redemption in South Florida that they seemed almost from another dimension. He was born in San Francisco, the youngest of Elizabeth and Robert Entriken's three sons. His father was an insurance executive, his mother a former billboard model. Both parents came from well-to-do families, and the Entriken clan was solidly middle class.
When Richard was 5, his parents divorced and his mother moved to New Jersey, then Manhattan. She would marry twice more. Richard and his brother Edward ("Buck") went to live with their mother, but they returned to California each summer to see their father and older brother Robert ("Rocky").
Buck, who was four years older than Richard, says the marriage split up because he and his baby brother were both abused by an uncle. Their father refused to believe that the uncle, his brother Van, had touched the boys, Buck says, so their mother left. For years, nobody in the family discussed the abuse. "We were in denial," Buck says. "Ricky and I have talked about it over the last ten years. It wasn't until my uncle passed that I realized what a huge injustice we were dealt — given a left curve early on. I don't think Ricky ever smoked marijuana over that, although it's a wonderful medicine for someone trying to forget a wrong."
Rocky, seven years older than Richard, agrees with Buck that Richard always had a sunny disposition. He was the happy baby brother. But underneath he was troubled.
As a teenager living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Richard started smoking weed. He didn't play sports and barely went to school. Buck remembers him befriending young Puerto Ricans like the gang bangers depicted in West Side Story. He dropped out of school in the tenth grade.
At 17, Richard joined the Army. His father, a Navy man, was delighted. Richard wanted to learn how to parachute out of airplanes, so in 1965 he arrived at Fort Campbell, Kentucky — home of the Screaming Eagles — to train with the 101st Airborne Division. Then he shipped out to Vietnam. While in Nam, he picked up two purple hearts, a battered conscience, and an opium habit.
After he returned stateside in 1968, he lived the rock 'n' roll lifestyle in Greenwich Village. He grew his hair down to his shoulders, set up a basement space where musicians could jam, and made crazy money dealing drugs. To let potential partiers know he could hook them up, Richard wore a gold charm around his neck the size and shape of an aspirin with the number 714, representing Quaaludes, engraved on it.
Richard may have gotten high with the hardest of the hard drug abusers during the drug revolution of the 1960s and '70s — Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison — but he sure didn't talk much to his brothers about it. "He didn't tell us about anything he was doing when in the company of drug customers," Buck says.
Rocky, a straight arrow, worried more about his baby bro's illicit activities than Buck, who felt like everyone at the time was doing drugs. But Richard was deep into it. He could have been a wiry, white character in the 1972 movie Super Fly. He had made so many trips to Colombia that he had to insert extra pages in his passport to accommodate all the immigration stamps. Soon enough, one of his mules got busted with coke at JFK Airport in New York. Richard was indicted in 1975 for trafficking cocaine. "I thought he was a lost cause," Rocky remembers.
Buck went to Richard's apartment on Bleecker Street hoping to find a way to help his brother get out of jail. At the apartment, Buck got a phone call that put his brother's cocaine cowboy role into perspective. "A Colombian guy, his Bogotá contact, called and said, 'We've got a couple pounds coming. Hope you're ready.' I said, 'Holy mackerel!'"
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.
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.
One of 1st Step's early projects was Chris Doherty, a 33-year-old father who was on the verge of getting sentenced to 17 years in jail as a repeat drug offender. Mark Skipper was representing Doherty, but the defense attorney was at his wit's end. He felt like the young man was incorrigible, like there wasn't a chance in the world he could get sober. Every time Doherty finagled out of a drug charge, he hit the streets looking for crack. He had stolen from his boss, hocked his own electronics, lied to his wife, and even brought his two-month-old daughter out on drug runs. Skipper stopped representing him.
Skipper referred Doherty to Richard Entriken, who still saw a glimmer of hope for the young man. Entriken showed up at his sentencing and pleaded with Judge Richard Eade to turn Chris Doherty over to the 1st Step Sober House rather than send him to jail. The judge relented.
"I didn't know how to stay clean," Doherty says. "I thought I had bad luck." Richard Entriken gave him hope, somehow teaching him how to live without drugs or alcohol. Chris Doherty shocked the hell out of people by getting clean. Doherty, now 43, points to a framed certificate hanging inside the 1st Step office that attests to his graduation from the program. Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" plays on the radio.
"I'm class of '97. OK," Doherty says. "That was one of Richard's biggest things — he'd ask for alumni, and class of '97 reporting in. He loved that. I'm one of his greatest success stories. I was able to reinvent my life."
A few years later, around 2000, the original founders of 1st Step had a falling out. Gary Recht had started using again. And John Williams disagreed with some of Richard Entriken's methods — such as soliciting clients from jail cells and courtrooms. "I was not crazy about having these prisoners in there," Williams says. Some residents, he adds, were complaining that Entriken was keeping them up late at night with stories and chitchat. Williams recalls saying, "Richard, do not come around here because as an owner they feel obligated to listen to you."
If Entriken had a flaw, Williams suggests, it was the way he seemed to play to the crowd. "He loved to see his success," Williams says. "I think he fed off it. He liked to look at someone and say, 'That guy is alive today because of me.' One of the reasons I think he liked to pontificate was to impress these guys. Then you get into that hero worship stuff, which is bullshit. You did the work. I only showed you the way."
Williams says he bought Recht and Entriken out of the partnership, and that Entriken got to keep the 1st Step name.
Until then, Entriken had been helping men find sobriety in his spare time while holding down a sales job at the security firm ADT. But now he was convinced that he should do it full-time. He found a few roach-infested buildings in a rough section of Pompano, lined up new partners, and presented his wife Sandra with this plan: He'd pick up some odd jobs on the weekends, and the family would live off her income until the sober house started to generate a profit.
"I was scared, financially," Sandra remembers. "But I just wanted him to be happy." As he drove her past the target properties, though, she remembers squinting and saying repeatedly, "Are you sure?"
Chris Doherty had been spending a lot of time at 1st Step, helping other men reshape their lives. So Entriken asked him to join the business. Chris explains the principle of giving back, talking as if Richard is still there: "I should be in hell for half the things I've done, just like my partner. Just like everybody here. We've broken a lot of laws, hurt a lot of people in the past. There's wreckage we're constantly cleaning up. Both Richard and I, our service to the community is how we make amends on a daily basis."
Richard Entriken seemed to work around the clock. "I always told him he was gonna die of a heart attack," Sandra says with a dry laugh. She remembers the phone ringing at all hours with residents from the house calling about childish stuff like "my roommate stole my blanket." Richard was like a father to many of them. Some even affectionately referred to him as their "old man."
To show appreciation, those he helped reach recovery might offer him a cigar after an AA meeting. If they were really looking for approval, though, they'd try to follow in his footsteps and take on a leadership role at 1st Step. Those devotees were the equivalent of honors students.
For Richard and his imitators, the duties included showing up at the main courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale, perhaps five days a week, in a sharp-looking suit at half-past eight in the morning. Pro bono, they'd strut into six or more court hearings a day to vouch for defendants desperate for time in a halfway house instead of jail. Sure, plenty of those defendants would just be looking to beat a prison rap. But others would truly want to get their acts together. And how could anyone tell them apart?
Kino Bartholomew caught his first drug arrest in 1996, just a few months after he turned 18. A confidential informant told cops in Margate that Bartholomew was carrying crack in the waistband of his pants. When the officers searched him, they found a plastic Krazy Glue container stashed just above his crotch with 2.5 grams of crack cocaine inside. Bartholomew told the officers that he sold crack as a source of income because he couldn't find steady work. The rocks were going for $10 apiece.
In his first police booking photo, Bartholomew looks like Kobe Bryant when he had big hair. At six-foot-two, maybe Bartholomew could have been a baller. Instead he became a hustler. Bartholomew told the officers that he was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, and that he lived with his grandmother in Pompano. Bartholomew got busted with crack two more times that year; Krazy Glue containers seemed to be his hallmark transport vessel for the rocks.
He'd rattle off a different birthplace for each arrest: Fort Lauderdale, Queens, the Bronx, or simply New York City. He picked up street names such as "Slim" and "Holdem." He sported gold teeth.
In April 1999, Bartholomew fouled up big-time. He was parked in a beige 1980 Chevy outside a seedy Motel 6 just east of the Turnpike in Pompano when two Broward Sheriff's officers pulled up. Bartholomew, a felon, made a U-turn to avoid them. In an affidavit, Officer Byron Dickerson said that when he asked the young man for his driver's license, Kino pulled a silver revolver out of his right front pants pocket. "I then grabbed the defendant's hand, at which time the defendant was forced to drop the gun," Dickerson wrote. In Bartholomew's left front pocket, Dickerson said, there were 11 crack rocks inside a Krazy Glue case.
For his actions that night, Kino Bartholomew was looking at a maximum jail sentence of 35 years. The prosecutor on his case offered him 85 months. Standing before Judge Stanton Kaplan in 2000, Bartholomew asked to be considered a youthful offender. The judge said no. Bartholomew said he had a drug problem, and asked for leniency. "I'm wondering if you can take into consideration that I — I have a family out there that needs me," Bartholomew said in open court. "I just had a little girl, you know."
At that point, Judge Kaplan's patience seemed to be wearing thin. "You have told me this already," he replied. "I'm not going to take the blame. Stay away from guns, stay away from drugs, stay away from driving while your license is suspended — and then you don't need to go to jail."
Kino Bartholomew got out of jail in August 2006. The following January, he caught the first of several new drug charges. He hired defense attorney Bill Gelin to represent him. Gelin got the impression that Bartholomew genuinely wanted to straighten out and that 1st Step could help; over the years, Gelin had recommended perhaps a hundred people to 1st Step. He had also gotten to know Richard Entriken at the courthouse. Richard would regale the lawyer, who was 20 years his junior and fascinated by '60s counterculture, with tales of his days of rubbing elbows with musicians who played Woodstock.
"As soon as you met [Richard], you knew he was the real deal," says Gelin, who remembers Entriken wearing Jerry Garcia ties to court. "He'd been there. His words were weighted down with experience — you could hear it in his voice,"
Again, Kino Bartholomew went before Judge Stanton Kaplan. Richard Entriken and Chris Doherty made court appearances on his behalf, asking to have him tossed their way. The judge released Bartholomew to 1st Step in June 2007, before Bartholomew's case even went to trial. In October, Gelin wrote in a motion for alternative sentencing that Bartholomew "has a sincere desire to attend and complete a residential treatment program." Bartholomew was sentenced to complete six more months at the halfway house. That meant three AA meetings a week. Curfews. Rent. For men living without rules or responsibilities, being at 1st Step felt like boot camp. And Richard Entriken was their drill sergeant.
Chris Doherty says that, at first, Kino Bartholomew was playing in bounds. But then he dropped the ball. He'd show up late. Spend nights at his girlfriend's place in Dania Beach. "Everything with Kino was a negotiation," Doherty says. "He just didn't want to be here anymore. Richard and him had gotten into it a few times, and when Richard got upset, he was like a bull in a china factory."
Bartholomew got kicked out of the program in November. Doherty informed his probation officer of the suspension, and the judge issued a warrant for Bartholomew's arrest. Even though Bartholomew had fallen out of 1st Step's graces, though, he kept dropping by. In retrospect, Doherty believes Bartholomew was casing the place out. (Kino Bartholomew, who is being held in the county jail without bail declined to be interviewed by New Times.)
Doherty fumes at the alleged betrayal. "We both gave of ourselves for him — we would battle for anybody — but Kino turned out to be a fucking monster."
Chris Doherty has since taken the lead at 1st Step. He's at the courthouse every day, dressed to impress like a union boss, standing confidently before the criminal judges, following all the lessons that Richard taught him. He's fielding calls from clients, their mothers, and their probation officers. There are drug tests to be done. Men to be saved. He's leading the mission now.
He still chokes up when he talks about the man whose enormous shoes he's trying to fill. "If I wind up being half the man Richard used to be," Doherty says, his face turning red and eyes filling with tears, "I'll have lived a full life."
Mark Skipper still imagines seeing Richard Entriken poking his head around the corner at the courthouse. "I saw the guy every day and took it for granted. He was always upbeat. If you said, 'How you doing?' he'd say 'Fantastic!' I mean, I watch out for people like that. They're usually mentally ill. He was a rare breed. He would talk to everybody. Some people think you're crazy if you say 'hello' to a stranger. He just loved people. Everybody in the courthouse knew him."
And just about everyone at the courthouse suspected that one of Richard's clients might have orchestrated his murder. Bill Gelin says: "All of the defense attorneys were saying: 'God, I hope it wasn't my guy.' I drew the short stick."
Kino Bartholomew was taken into custody in March, accused of premeditated murder. Gelin emphasizes that Bartholomew is innocent until proven guilty. Still, he says he couldn't possibly represent him in court again. If Bartholomew was indeed involved in Richard's death, then he abused Gelin's trust. Knowing that he referred Bartholomew to Richard has led Bill Gelin to do a lot of soul-searching in recent weeks. He says it's been the toughest blow of his career.
For Sandra Entriken, the pain is unbearable. Tears stream down her face as she reflects on him from their house in Sunrise. She stares at a picture of her deceased husband, his gold chain and diamond-studded triangle charm draped over the frame, and says: "I feel numb. I can't seem to laugh. This house is too quiet. He was the most unselfish man. He saw the good in everybody. I guess he tried to help the wrong person."
Richard hoped to retire in a few years, and the couple planned to travel. They wanted to visit, among other places, Croatia and Alaska. They talked about buying a second home, maybe in a place where they could dock their 24-foot boat.
"He was just everything to me and so many people."
On the evening of January 31, hundreds of people — former clients, attorneys, judges — crammed into Fred Hunter's Funeral Home in Davie to pay their respects to Richard Entriken. The roads leading there, University Drive and Interstate-595, were clogged too. "It looked like going into Joe Robbie stadium for a football game," Doherty remembers.
Judge Stanton Kaplan made it to the service. He remembers being approached by dozens of men who thanked him for sending them to 1st Step. For giving them a chance. Stanton has been assigned to preside over Entriken's murder case, but he plans to recuse himself. His history with both Kino Bartholomew and Richard Entriken would make it impossible to remain impartial, he said in an interview.
Rocky Entriken remembers being completely "knocked back" by the turnout that evening. He realized his brother had straightened out and that he was helping others do the same, but he never imagined the extent of the positive impact that little Ricky had on other lives.
"I thought: Wow, my kid brother who was such a mess turned out to be a success. And I was happy for him. He really had become that person we had always hoped against hope that he'd be."
Richard Entriken would have liked it — he always did love a room full of people.
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