Reformed addict returns home with a message
Ronald Butterfield did not have an easy childhood. His parents were alcoholics. At a young age he was out on the streets, living on his own.
He stayed away from school worried that he would be judged because he was poor. As a result he was 41 before he learnt to read.
At 15, he started selling drugs. “I remember sleeping on the streets when I was 11, 12. I was living in abandoned houses, eating out of trash cans.”
His parents, Elsie and Joe Butterfield, had split up. His siblings were old enough to care for themselves.
“I couldn’t live with my daddy, he was in Salvation Army, and my mama was living with her friend.”
His role models were the neighbourhood drug dealers who “had the finer things in life”.
“Kids see that and want the same thing,” said Mr Butterfield, who left high school after three months. “Why work 40 hours a week for $1,000 when you can work five hours a day for $2,000; eight hours a day for $3,000?
“At 15 I was selling weed, at 19 cocaine. I was travelling around the world — England, France, all over America, Jamaica — smuggling drug money. It built me up, gave me some self-esteem.
“At school, I was terrified. It was like a whole different world that I didn’t fit in. You don’t need an education selling drugs.”
It’s a story he plans to share on Saturday at the launch of YouthVision Promotions’s magazine, The StreetLife.
Mr Butterfield and others, such as boxing legend Clarence Hill, politician Kenneth Bascome and former prison inmate Andre Minors, will discuss their experiences on the streets and how they were affected by them.
The hope is to build positive relationships with the island’s “angry, aggressive, violent young people”.
His father’s death in 1985 came after multiple strokes brought on by alcohol abuse; cancer took his mother five years later.
“Some parents when they drink, beat their children or fight,” Mr Butterfield said. “Mine, the more they drank, the more love they gave me. No, my mama wasn’t a Christian but she taught me morals. I became a drug abuser. I made that choice, it wasn’t because my parents were alcoholics.”
They didn’t know the depths of his self-destructive behaviour.
“My life was my life. I never took my life to my family,” he said. “Whatever situation I was in, God protected me. He covered me from getting killed, I was never caught, He protected me in my drug abuse.
“I should have been dead. Many times I had ounces of cocaine or heroin or weed. I did too much and my heart stopped, or I went to sleep in the bath tub and the water woke me up; I fell asleep for two days and a dream woke me up.
“I got sick and tired of being sick and tired. You can snort heroin and no one will even know, but I was hurting inside.”
He thought religion might be the answer to his problems; however, as he was illiterate, he became “discouraged” when told he had to “read and study the Bible” to become a Christian. He had better success in 2001 while living at The Salvation Army.
“I went to church to get saved,” he said. “I remember crying and Ralph Burrows grabbed my hand and took me to the altar. It was my first taste of the Spirit and I was so upset that I had to wait for a whole ’nother Sunday to get the same feeling.”
Three months later he left, forced to rejoin the working world “because I had to pay bills”. Now 50, he’s grateful he got another chance to turn his life around.
“In 2007 I went to Atlanta. Tanna Smith, one of my best friends, was in a ministry there — Victory Outreach International — and my family got in touch with her for me to go. It’s a six to nine-month drug rehabilitation programme. I was in it for three years.”
It was then that he taught himself to read and write.
He became Pastor Jerome Carradine’s right-hand man, travelling across America to open churches and rehab centres for Victory Outreach. US immigration allowed him to stay on after his rehab was complete because of the work he was doing.
“Only a few are chosen to go out and spread the word,” Mr Butterfield said. “If you don’t have the spirit, people know.”
True faith only came after a disappointment. Debilitating pain in his neck led him to doctors who diagnosed degenerative disc disease. With no insurance, he couldn’t afford the $95,000 operation.
He turned to the church but “they said they couldn’t help me, that I had to go and pray”.
“At this point, I’ve helped build the church ministry, I’ve travelled to help other churches. I felt these people telling me just to ‘go and pray’ really upsetting. But sometimes God sends people to speak a word with you.
“The next day a [stranger] came up to me and said, ‘God brought you here to have a relationship with Him, not anyone else’. People were walking in and out of ministry all the time I had no idea who he was. But that’s when my faith came. From that time on, I had the faith to believe.”
His sister took out a $10,000 loan to cover the cost of the anaesthesia and the operation went ahead. Mr Butterfield still doesn’t know how.
“The church didn’t help; my family couldn’t help. It was the work of God.”
And then came another test.
“When I was in Bermuda I was renting houses, I was staying with people. When you’re a drug dealer you don’t want to put something in your name.
“In Atlanta I was given an opportunity. A couple from the church owned a house and it had become a crack house. The house cost $25,000. We made a deal, my fixing it up was the down payment and I would pay $700 a month for rent.
“At the end of the year I would take over the mortgage.”
The couple reneged.
“I lived in the house with just water and electricity. The kitchen was torn up, the bathroom was torn up. I would get baths in a basin and had a small heater in the bedroom.
“I had an 80-pound pitbull to protect me. To people, that house was a mess, a crack house. To me, that house was a palace.
“One Christmas I didn’t have nothing but the roof over my head, the next Christmas it was fully furnished with a 50-inch TV in the living room, a 50-inch TV in the bedroom, a 40-inch TV in the kitchen and a 20-inch TV in the bathroom.”
By then he was doing maintenance work for wealthy people who gifted him “bedroom sets, dining sets, a 150-gallon fish tank with all the accessories”.
“Everything in that house was given to me,” Mr Butterfield said. “I’d always asked God to make a way for me to come back here and be a pastor.
“When Trump came into power he put out a memo that said anybody in America who is not a legal citizen would be deported and not able to come back. I considered it one way of God speaking to me.
“My boss offered me ten different identities to stay out there, but I said God wouldn’t love that.”
He returned to Bermuda last December. Although it remains a priority, he’s yet to do much ministry.
“Victory Outreach has over 600 churches in 46 countries,” said Mr Butterfield, who works at LF Wade International Airport and paints on the side.
“I would love to take people who need help here and can’t get it, to ministries all over America, all over the world.
“I would love to speak to kids, to guys in jail. I want to show people that if God made a way for me, God can make a way for them.
“We’ve got a lot of programmes here but no God/faith-based ministry to house people. A sponsor is your foundation but it’s just another man. A sponsor is very good but to have a relationship with God is better.
“I remember hanging with people in the street. God brought me back, not to tell them, but to show them the right way. My way is to have the foundation of God — my strength, my friend, my buddy. That’s what keeps me strong.”
He regrets “not listening to my parents, not listening to my family” when they insisted he go to school, but recognises he wouldn’t be in the unique position that he is in to help addicts, if he had.
A deeper regret is that he didn’t focus his attention enough on his six children,
“I’ve told my kids sorry that I messed up in the past but God is making a way for a beautiful future. The teachings that were taught to [my sons] were good but sometimes where you grow up reflects on the life that you live,” he said.
“The worst thing of all is my drug abuse taught my sons how to be killers. One of my sons is in prison for my mistakes, because of me teaching him the wrong ways of life. I was there when they were kids but as they grew they weren’t my primary goal. Heroin took first place.”
• Ronald Butterfield is one of several guest speakers that Desmond Crockwell, the director of YouthVision Promotions, has invited to speak at the Hamilton Community Centre on Saturday. Join them from 6pm to 9pm.
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