“On the Sunday morning sidewalk/Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned/ ‘Cause there’s something in a Sunday/Makes a body feel alone.” Kris Kristofferson’s words and Johnny Cash’s voice made it the Country Music Association Song of the Year in 1970. Jump half a century to Sunday, July 23, 2023, when Matthew Twist was the case manager on pharmacy duty at the Orange County Rescue Mission, hoping that none of the 210 residents on OCRM’s main campus are stoned.
That’s unlikely, given tight security, so Twist’s main task that morning was to make sure no one wrongly attained any of the drugs he guarded. Twist, 57, with a short beard and a kind bashfulness, sat behind a locked door and a window like those at a fast-food drive-thru. Next to and behind him were 175 clear plastic bins, each with a name on them. OCRM residents lined up and signed in. He got down their bins, one at a time, each typically containing half a dozen medications. He watched closely that each resident took what the doctor ordered, no more and no less.
Matthew knew most of those lined up by name and offered a few words to each. “Hello, buddy,” to a man with a yellow lanyard—he’s in his first few months—who took one pill each from seven different models. “Beautiful morning” to a woman wearing a Wall Street Journal sweatshirt. “Hang in there, man” to a burly guy who looked and walked like a retired offensive lineman with knee injuries. “Get back to normal, stop taking them,” to a small guy in a hoodie.
At 8:20 he locked up, saying with a small smile, “Got to watch people. Some still have sneaky behavior.” Twist understands that because he lived with a mostly-hidden meth addiction during the last part of a 17-year career as a unionized $38-per-hour heavy equipment operator: “Ran that machine like crazy. I’d be up for days, then get sleep deprivation.” He lived for fifteen of those years with a woman he met in a bar and impregnated.
At 8:30 in the OCRM chapel, with its comfortable seats and stained-glass windows, a six-person band took the stage for the first service of the morning. Two singers, two guitars, a keyboard and drums led a hundred residents in singing, “You took all our shame, left it in the grave. We’re forgiven…. He won’t fail. He’s never let me down. He’s faithful through all ages. So why would He fail now?”
Twist and the woman never married. He said after the initial buzz they were never happy, but he loved his son. After fifteen years he finally moved from her to a different woman’s home for two years, until she “found out I was smoking meth and kicked me out.” Then came arrest for drug possession, seventy days in a county work program, and probation that he violated by not showing up for drug tests. Out of prison, he slept in a flood control tunnel with a group of fellow users who paid careful attention to forecasts of rain. Then they slept on nearby gravel, under tarps.
The chapel band led another song: “As you speak, a hundred billion galaxies are born. Every burning star a signal fire of grace. Every painted sky a canvas of your grace…. If the stars were made to worship you, so will I. If the wind goes where you send it, so will I. If you left the grave behind you, so will I. If you gladly chose surrender, so will I.”
Twist and his pals had plenty of opportunities to leave the homeless drug life: “Police and outreach people knew we were there. Every week the outreach people came. Hardly anyone ever went, because we’d have to give up dope.” On his fiftieth birthday, Matthew decided to change, partly to improve his relationship with his son. Soon after he entered OCRM, but left after 90 days and starting doing meth again, disappointing his son. But he returned in 2017, and this time he made his second chance work.
At the July 23 service, worship director Basilio Ramirez told the congregation, “Raise your hands if God has given you another chance.” Most hands went up. Twist after graduation from OCRM stayed on as a resident advisor, helping newcomers. Half a year ago he received a promotion to case worker. Even better, Twist and his son, now in his 20s, usually talk twice a week and have lunch together once a month.
As the service ended, computer screens at the front of the sanctuary showed a photo of a hand squeezing a lemon, followed by an injunction: “Life – making the most of it.”