Poetry in recovery
By James Card
James Hamilton came to Waupaca for salvation and Waupaca saved him in return.
He lived in the Rhinelander-St. Germain area for 17 years. He started drinking when he was 8 and he heavily used methamphetamine as an adult. He lost his house, wife, cars and career.
During his last methamphetamine charge, he was blood tested with 940 nanograms per milliliter. The tester said she was surprised he wasn’t dead.
“Everything came to a head there. I knew one guy in Waupaca that I’ve known since I was a boy. I really didn’t care about living or not when I got here. I came here to get clean and I fell in love in the community. So for me this is giving back to the community that saved my life,” said Hamilton.
That was in October 2021. While still using drugs, he published his first book of poetry, “American Junkie: Life, Love and Loss.” He is self-taught, he writes like he talks and a professor at Nicolet College encouraged him to keep writing and to publish his work.
While living in King, he wrote his second and third books, “My Manic Mind” and “My Nature Darkly.” These were a cathartic release while coming out of addiction. He would write for hours while sober. The third book emerged from what some recovering addicts refer to the “pink cloud,” a state of being that is a positive bliss and optimism – yet the recovery journey has only begun. The fourth book, “Why?” he wrote at Riverview Park. It tackles more existential issues and it was published in August 2023. He is working on his fifth book.
Aaron Holt offered counseling services at the 200 N. Main St. WisHope location and now he works at Core Services. The space is used weekly by numerous recovery groups for 12-step meetings. The WisHope center sat unattended from May 2023 until November 2023 except for the meetings.
WisHope is a non-profit, peer-run recovery community organization that serves Wisconsin. They have two drop-in centers for individuals seeking support for substance use and mental health disorders. One is in Waukesha and Waupaca is the other.
When WisHope was looking for an outreach director, they found Hamilton to be a natural fit.
“While sitting in meetings, I got to meet people working in the recovery sector people from ThedaCare, Michael Hall from Impact Wisconsin, Aaaron Holt who was working here. Addicts would come and talk to me. It naturally happened. When WISHOPE said the wanted to open a community center, they called Michael Hall. I’d been basically doing what I had been doing here for free for like a year. Just helping people, providing resources for people, making calls, getting people into treatment, helping people find jobs. It happened organically. I’d get messages at 11 o’ clock at nigh – by the way, this place is hiring now. And then somebody would ask me the next day and I’d hook them up with jobs,” said Hamilton.
The new job gives him the flexibility to pursue his art. He is at the drop-in center during the day and he performs as a spoken-word poet in the evenings. He recently opened for Hammel on Trial on Jan. 17 at Odin and Frejas in Scandinavia. Ed Hammel is a punk rock, spoken-word musician who tackles controversial issues with humor. He has numerous recordings and tours nationally.
More work ahead
“In our recovery coalition meeting this morning, we talked about how our numbers with homelessness and addiction rivals numbers in Outagamie County, which has a considerably larger population. It shouldn’t be like that. There are people doing really good work in this town but it’s just not enough,” said Hamilton.
He cited numerous other counties in the region that fund peer-support services but Waupaca lags far behind.
“The city police have been wonderful. Brian Hoelzel has been great. The officers drive past and they wave. They know what’s going on here; they know the work that’s happening. The sheriff [deputies] have accosted three African-American people that come in here for loitering or whatever they think they are doing while they are walking from Foundations for Living to here – or walking to apply for three or four jobs a day,” said Hamilton.
He sees the homelessness problem getting larger and he pointed out that while partnered with Foundations for Living this last year, they helped people get back on their feet and out of the shelter but now the shelter is full again – and there is a waiting list.
Mission of Hope is at full capacity in New London and the Oxford House is full.
“Methamphetamine is rampant. Fentanyl is in the methamphetamine. I believe that people that have overdosed recently have overdosed on fentanyl that’s in the methamphetamine. I don’t think heroin is as big of a problem here. I think that the prescription opiates has gone down. We’re seeing cocaine coming back but that’s somebody capitalizing on the fact that for dealers selling methamphetamine or anything with fentanyl in it – if somebody dies – the seller, the people in the car or anybody that knew anything about it, are going up for manslaughter. That’s trickled down. The cocaine that’s coming in doesn’t have fentanyl and it’s a capitalization of a market weakness,” said Hamilton.
The WisHope Drop-In and Outreach center is open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. More information about the organization can be found at https://wishope.org. James Hamilton can be reached 715-281-4986 and his Facebook page features his books and upcoming spoken-word performances.
“This recovery community is all about love. It’s unconditional. All they care about is use, staying clean and sober. Everything else is a bonus. That’s what I do here. They saved my life and they showed me how they saved my life and I push that back to everybody,” said Hamilton.