Story of the Month

February 2023: “Never Give Up!”

Marjorie (MJ)  Johnson, who grew up in the South Park area, just south of Seattle, is currently a Housing Case Manager  at a Non-profit Agency  working at the Camp Second Chance – back in the South Park area. It has been a long road ~ and truly a “Hero’s Journey,” as she has battled addiction and homelessness herself.

In a recent celebration at the Camp, Marjorie circulated among the “not-now -homeless” folks radiating her natural vitality and a grounded assurance.  Clearly the residents of Camp Second Chance both respected her and felt a strong connection to her.   When asked about her relationship to the folks at the Camp Second Chance, Marjorie replied without hesitation “I am my real self with them.   I am in recovery myself and I know the experiences and challenges these folks have encountered..  She is relentless in her job of seeking out housing for low-income and homeless individuals and families.   She is also a very real example of the bone-deep intention and determination required to overcome the incredibly tough circumstances most of these folks have experienced.

Marjorie, says these photos represent her at this point in her life: She welcomes residents into her office at Camp Second Chance, helps them reflect on their future, set goals, encourages them with her motto “Never Give Up” which she says came to her as she was asking for guidance from her ancestors, then sends them back to their Tiny Home at the Camp feeling more confidant and hopeful.

Marjorie acknowledges that she had a “rough childhood,” and that she felt, as a young adult, “that I wasn’t a good person.”  When she became engaged with the legal system, and was offered:  “Drug Court”, she began a Detox program and reached recovery, becoming “clean and sober” within a year.

However, at the end of the program, she didn’t know what she wanted to do, had no job and no thoughts about “a career path.”  An older counselor invited her at this point to “Come speak to this Detox group I’m working with.  You’ve made progress and it is time to ‘give back.’” Though Marjorie thought she did NOT want to work with people, this experience of sharing her story with others changed her perspective.  The experience led to a job within the Detox program which she held for 18 months and led to work in the Recovery Centers of King County.  During the three years she worked with this program, she learned to take Blood Pressure, monitor heart rate, and realized that she could learn valuable skills.    She also thought, after 5 years, that she was “cured,” and could use drugs recreationally on weekends. “That was a lie”

In 2002 she relapsed.   The following years included prison time for possession and parole violation and using Methadone to avoid heroin.  In 2007, when she was sent to Purdy for parole violation she was put in the prison hospital.  There was no Methadone program there and she was dreadfully sick and in lots of pain.  The experience was so horrible that at this point she made a promise to herself that “If I get out of this, I commit to becoming clean and sober and staying that way.”  She felt like her mind was broken and was asking herself “Why would I keep doing the same things over and over and expecting different results.”

After the first 10 days in a padded room in the prison hospital detoxing Methadone she was sent to a mental health program within the prison system. Before being sent to Purdy, Marjorie  prayed to her ancestors asking for their guidance “At that time, Marjorie comments, ‘I first heard the words “Never Give UP.””

Just before Marjorie was sent to Purdy she had signed up with a program through Sound Mental Health.  All she had to do when she was released was go to SMH and they would do an intake.  “It was hard to get into this program,” she commented. “You had to be very serious about making a sustained change.”   felt like she had tried everything else.   She had stopped “cold turkey” at one point, had been through Detox, had tried A A,  books, etc.  and she determined that she needed it, and was ready for this program.  She felt like she had to go into it with a clean slate, not considering it as “just the next program.”

It was a 1 year program, with housing, access to a psychiatrist, a psychologist, and chemical dependency counseling.  “It was a place where I could look ahead – to the rest of my life.   I had suffered.  I also knew what sobriety felt like.   I wanted a good life going forward.  I didn’t want others to suffer as I had.  At this point I knew my prayers had been answered.”

In the last 15 years now she has been working with the homeless, sharing kindness and love, as well as practical knowledge and assistance.    “I’ve been there.  I really do not want others to experience what I had.   I can now help others begin to feel better about themselves and help them build their own foundation.  I know my purpose! My purpose is to help others know they do not have to give up!”

Marjorie comes from a lineage of strong, powerful Native women.  With tears flowing down her cheeks, she described her grandmother who lived through having family children stolen and taken to white schools where they were not allowed to speak their traditional language or practice any of their cultural customs.

She draws inspiration and steadfastness from her Native American ancestors as she continues her work as a Case Manager.  She helps formerly homeless folks not only find housing, but self-esteem, and appreciation for themselves.  She helps them build strong communities with others, and supports them in adopting her hard-earned, hard-learned understanding that They Never Give Up.