The Transformation of Upcycling (Reflection for May 5th)

May 5, 2024

by Pasquale Moretti, ISP Providence Alum and Volunteer

Jesus said to His disciples, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. … This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:9-17

People might not easily connect me to those words from scripture. I may not have always been the best to love others as God has loved me.

I struggled in my past for many reasons: drug addiction, mental health challenges, moving from place to place, often just living in a tent. I sometimes had a misguided sense of looking for justice and protecting my friends by giving in to my tendency to violence. All of those unpredictable realities ironically led me to one of my more predictable life situations: I spent a lot of my time from age 18 to 48 walking through the revolving door of incarceration, serving what I call a “life sentence in installments.”

It was my last stretch in prison when I felt some real transformation in the midst of new realities and challenges. This final time I was very dedicated to my recovery from addiction and trying to put aside a lot of the toxic things in my life and my mind. But the transition from addiction also came with real physical and mental health challenges that the authorities were not eager to help me manage, so I spent that time in a lot of pain.

There was still a sense of hope though, because I had time to reflect on my previous stints in jail, and I knew this time was different. I felt I was moving away from the anger and hate and inclination to violence I had known in my younger days. I was taking steps beyond hopelessness because I was consciously changing my relationship with others. I felt a growing desire to be caring of others and doing good things, even still in jail. I wanted to help myself and other inmates move away from the macho jailhouse chatter that caused conflict; I wanted to listen to others’ stories and perspectives instead of assuming the worst of them; I spent time in the law library looking for solutions for mine and others’ situations; I used my little bit of savings and jail pay to buy necessities to share and to get the ingredients to make “trash bag noodles” and “bunk burritos” for myself and fellow inmates. I might not quite be laying down my life for my friends, but I was finding purpose in sharing what I had and building relationships.

For years after that lock up, there were temptations to return to a life before with drugs and living rough, but the transformation growing in me kept me from going back. But I did return to one old habit: “upcycling.” In the past I had spent some of my time trying to survive without a home and supporting my addiction by “dumpster diving.” I could find food, clothes, objects that would help me make my way. Now in this new transformation, I started doing something similar, and people still know me for it. I look for the food that grocery stores are preparing to pitch because it’s too close to expiration – holiday hams, milk, Halloween candy – and I help others make use of it. I look for the pieces of furniture or the musical instruments that people have no more use for and I find a way to fix them and share with neighbors who can use them. I love horticulture, and I’m amazed at what a nursery will throw away, like flower bulbs that I can salvage and plant for someone to enjoy later when they bloom.

This is my kind of “upcycling.” It’s a beautiful thing to imagine continued life for a thing that seems to have no more use and then to help others to see its value. I can recognize all of the resources, hard work, experience, and even love that went into the creation of such a thing and its purpose in the world. It isn’t lost on me how close this attitude is to how I feel about people, how I feel about myself in my lived experience. Society can be quick to label people as worthless or see them as disposable. I keep trying to help myself and help others see the value in the so-called “damaged” people, to know all people have value. I try to do this by encouraging the kids in my neighborhood or by mentoring others as a volunteer or in sponsoring others in the 12 Steps. My recovery is part of my contribution and purpose in the world, not just to be given away or wasted in darkness and addiction.

One person I now sponsor is Chris. That is a relationship that has been transformed! Thirty years ago, Chris and I found reason for conflict. In the midst of bad living and a disagreement, I wanted to protect my friend from Chris and I resorted to violence. I hurt Chris badly. And he steered clear of me for decades. Long after that I was at my NA meeting and I really felt the need to get off my chest how I had hurt Chris and done him wrong. I told the whole story and expressed how I wished I could make amends. From the group, an irate man stood up and shouted, “I didn’t know it was you, Pat, until you told that story!” (Pat was the name I went by when I was young.) The shouting man was Chris! And then he ran from the room in anger and fear. I immediately chased after him and did everything I could to convince him that I was really sorry and I wanted to make it right. After quite a bit of time and argument, he came around and accepted my apology. After reuniting he has now asked me to be his sponsor. We now call each other friends. We honestly say “I love you” to each other. It took a few decades, but Chris and I have been able to “upcycle” each other.

When I left prison the last time, I remember telling my friends, “I’ll be back.” Of course, I didn’t mean in the usual way; I didn’t plan on being convicted again! What I meant was that I wasn’t going to forget helping those guys somehow. I didn’t really know how and it was hard for a guy like me to find the opportunity. But I’ve recently decided that I want to bring the ISP spiritual reflection or something like it to the guys in that prison, and I’m working through the bureaucracy slowly to try and do that.

Whether it has been with fellow inmates, with my neighbors that I care for, in my church community, with my fiancée, or even in the renewed relationship with Chris, I always feel how God sees me bearing fruit and reminds me that He chose me. When I give space to share in my vulnerability and open the door for this transformed life, I experience with all of those others a desire for unconditional love that my Higher Power shows.

The reason I don’t return to the darkness I have known? Love still calls, and there’s hope in that. I want more of that transformation.

Reflection Questions: In what ways are you challenged to create something new from something that is easy to cast away? When has someone found new promise in your brokenness and helped you recreate yourself?

Pasquale (formerly known as “Pat”) went on the very first ISP retreat in Providence, Rhode Island, in 2015. He has been a witness and volunteer since then. He was most recently a member of the second cohort of ISP’s Ambassadors of Hope. He considers himself a professional volunteer now. He graduated from culinary school and still enjoys cooking and sharing food. He spends a lot of his time now caring for creation in horticulture and landscaping. He is preparing for his wedding this August. And he wants to remind everyone that they are beautiful and much more than any addiction, trauma, or obstacle they experience.