Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children

James Browning

stories from the book
by James V. Browning

Hitting Rock Bottom

Timm J. Tribble, Sr.

I was born November 11, 1964, the last year of the Baby Boomers, in the small town of Wynona.

I am the youngest of five children, one brother and three sisters, Rose is the oldest, then Sandy, Janet, and my brother, David. Our father was a truck driver, an occupation that would play a role in the future events of our lives. Our mother was a housewife, and I would come to have few childhood memories of her.

We were a poor family, barely staying above the poverty level. The government food commodities program was very much a source of meals for us at various times from month to month.

As best as I have been able to understand, sometime in 1968, the marriage of our mother and father had hit an impasse. My siblings and I were in and out of foster homes while our parents tried to work out things in the best interest of our family. My only memories of this time were the sad and lonely feelings and that my days and nights were filled with tears.

I was a very scared little boy who did not understand what was going on.

At some point in time, between 1968 and June 1970, my parents decided it would probably be best if they stopped placing us in foster homes where we were being separated and spread out from town to town and family to family.

On June 29, 1970, my brother and sisters and I were all placed together in the Baptist Children’s Home in Oklahoma City. As our parents dropped us off at the Home, I became very sad and cried because I knew, as I watched our parents drive off in that white station wagon, that this was going to be home for a while, far away from our parents.

As the station wagon pulled out of sight, I cried harder and breaking away from the arms of my comforting siblings, I ran to the light pole in front of Kerr Cottage, sat down, wrapped my arms and legs around this pole and refused to let go as I cried like there was no tomorrow.

I learned later it took one of the older boys there on campus to pry me loose from the light pole and carry me to my cottage. I was placed in Rhinard Cottage with Mama Betty, with children my own age. I soon adjusted to my new world and started making friends, Dewayne Cook, Eugene Clark and James Jackson. We four shared a room and soon became best friends. If one of us was in trouble for something, usually two of us or all of us were in it together. Mama Betty always knew if something wrong had happened, the first place to look was at us four, not that we chose to do something wrong. But at that age, a dare could get you to do some pretty silly things.

At some point, I discovered the Children’s Home wasn’t such a bad place. We went to public schools, church and most of the events we were involved in were public events, so we were not sheltered and kept separate from society. My first school was Belle Isle Elementary. Funny, but I don’t recall a lot of times when the kids from normal homes in school would make fun of us kids from the Home. But I do remember that we kids from the Home did stick together and were quick to take up for each other.

One thing more I’d like to mention about school. We were allowed to participate in school activities, such as sports, band, clubs and other activities. Hard to believe, but I was once a Boy Scout and played the violin.

We attended church every Sunday. I attended the First Baptist Church in downtown Oklahoma City. Reverend Gene Garrison was the pastor. We were given an allowance each week at the Home. We would give a portion of our allowance each week to the offering plate on Sunday. As a child, I didn’t understand the offering, but putting my envelope in the offering plate always gave me a good feeling about myself.

The houseparents were caring, loving and giving people. You were accepted as a child no matter what your background was; each and every child was made to feel special in a very unique way. I never felt left out or not a part of my surroundings.

We each had chores that we were assigned. Those chores helped us learn to accept responsibility.

Mr. John Fite was instrumental in helping teach me my mechanical abilities. I would help in the grounds-keeping and along with the lawn mowing, came the care of the equipment, which is where I found my knack for fixing things.

The houseparents were not just parental guides for us, they were also teachers. It was through them that many of us found what it was in life that we were looking for as far as a career was concerned.

Mr. And Mrs. Wilson were my houseparents when I was moved into Kerr Cottage, a family cottage for siblings. My four siblings and I were all under the same roof after three years in the Home. Even before that, we had still been close, because we were around and saw each other every day.

I was always fascinated with Mr. Wilson’s stories and his true compassion for the kids around him. He had a knack for finding ways to involve the kids in things that interested them, even if they didn’t know it interested them at first.

Miss Clarissa Beatty surely had the biggest shoulders in the world, because if you needed a shoulder to cry on or just be comforted for a little with a hug, she always had time for this. You could talk about your problems with her or just come to her without saying a word and she seemed to know just what you needed.

  • Continued...

    I think some of my fondest memories were of the summers. I’ve been the outdoors type as far back as I can remember. I can recall the summer when some of us kids were out playing on the playground equipment. This girl named Amber Painter was swinging on the jungle gym and she let go to jump down to the ground. When she let go, I was walking underneath her. Her leg caught me across the head and she fell awkwardly to the ground, breaking her leg. Everyone really ribbed me, saying she had broken her leg on my hard head. Amber Dawn Painter was some one who was no stranger to me, she was very special to me for many years.

    Our annual camping trip to Camp Hudgins in McAlester was one of my favorite activities. We would spend a week at the camp each summer. It was a blast. The boys would sleep in the tents and the girls stayed in cabins. We would swim, canoe, fish, go on hikes and compete in activities against each other for fun. The older boys and girls got to ski. Just about anything you could think of to do outdoors, you could do. Every evening at dusk, we would join around a campfire for singing and testimonies. We would also spend two weeks of each summer with our sponsors, families who’d sponsor a child in the Home, and two weeks with our parents, if possible. Summers were definitely a busy time for the kids.

    I did not become well acquainted with Mr. Browning, the campus superintendent, until a few years before I left the Children’s Home. One school day, James and I had this brainstorm idea to skip school and tell this not-at-all-possible-to-believe story about why we had skipped school. Well, I found myself sitting in his office and he had a very serious look on his face. As he stood up, in his hand, there was a paddle. He looked seven feet tall, holding that paddle in his hand. I took my swats; yes, I cried. My backside was a little warm and my pride couldn’t stand up to the pain in my rear.

    But without the Children’s Home, I seriously doubt if I would have the fond childhood memories that I do. I met some great people who helped get a sad little boy through a trying childhood. I know for a fact that there are some brilliant minds at work in society today and I shared six years of my life with some of those great people I’ll never forget—John Cochran, the Williams brothers, the Sanders twins, Eugene and Patricia, James, Dewayne, Vicky, Cindy, Maribel, Amber, and my brother, David, sisters, Rose, Sandy and Janet, Mama Betty, Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, John Fite and James V. Browning. Thank you all for that six years of my life, it was the best time of my life so far.

    On Aug. 5, 1976, my siblings and I left the Children’s Home to go live with our father in Tulsa.

    What happened next in my life is no one’s fault but my own. I was never forced to do anything that I did not already decide to do of my own free will.

    We were living in North Tulsa in a fairly rough neighborhood. Dad was working long hard hours to support us. My sister, Sandy, had been the one to look after me. We were without much parental guidance. I’m not knocking my father; he was a great man and one of my real heroes in life.

    But in late 1977, my sister, Sandy, had run off one night with a boyfriend. A few months later, they split up. She started living just a few blocks from us with a female family friend. Janet was living in Chickasha with one of the families that had sponsored her in the Home. She had wanted to go and Dad would not deny her that happiness. Rose was married and had a child. She lived close by. David was coming and going and pretty much running wild. I only saw him occasionally. The better part of life, my siblings had protected me as the youngest. Now they were pretty much all off on their own.

    On Saturday, Feb. 14, 1978, a Tulsa police officer knocked at our door. As I stood at the doorway with my father, the officer explained that my sister, Sandy’s, bullet-riddled body had been found in a snow-filled ditch just north of Tulsa. Her ex-boyfriend had killed her because she would not go out with him. He was high from sniffing paint and had shot her six times in the head. This was a turning point in my life as I tried to let my mind understand what the officer had just said. As I saw the life drained from my father’s eyes, I knew right then that life would never be the same again for me.

    Not long after Sandy’s death, I started running the streets at night, drinking beer and smoking pot with friends. I was stealing to support my lifestyle. I started skipping school. Having a good time was all I cared about; 14 years old and destined for misery already. My ambition in life had come to partying and chasing girls. I had skipped so much school that the Tulsa Public Schools had kicked me out permanently. Of course, my father knew nothing of this because he was working all day. I was now doing nothing but partying, drinking every day, smoking pot, popping uppers and downers, snorting cocaine, eating acid, whatever I could get my hands on to catch a high. This went on for a few years, just stealing to support my way of life, or should I say my wasted life.

    At age 18, my girlfriend and I were staying together with friends or wherever we could to be together. Partying was a part of everything until she discovered she was pregnant. I actually slowed down on the fast life, got a real job. We rented an apartment and I seemed to pull away from the crowd I was involved with for the past few years. My son, Timm, Jr., was born Feb. 25, 1983. My father died three months after his birth. He died in his sleep—a painless ending. Although I had not spent much time with my father the few years before his death, his loss would affect me in a negative way. The day we buried my father, I felt alone in the world again. I got falling-down drunk that night. For the next two weeks, I’d come home from work, light up a joint, and start drinking. After two weeks of this, my girlfriend said she was not going to live like that or raise our son in that environment and I needed to figure out what I wanted. She felt that I should put her and my son first in my life and not the doping and drinking. That weekend, I moved out and went to stay with a friend, started drinking and using drugs like never before. I lost my job and self esteem, but found a new girlfriend. I got involved with a new group of friends and started a new career of stealing and chopping up cars to sell for parts.

    Six months into the relationship with my new girlfriend, she was pregnant—just what I didn’t need. I already had one child and now another on the way. No job or home, I was just a common criminal, a drunk and drug abuser, and I was only 19 years old. Before my second child was born, I had been arrested and convicted of larceny of auto and placed on probation. I got a job from my girlfriend’s uncle and did okay for awhile.

    My son was born Oct. 19, 1984, and a few months later, I was on my way to prison for probation violations. I had failed 11 drug tests and my probation officer had finally had enough, so off to prison I was sent. I served four months and was let out on a supervised parole program—house arrest, to be exact. I was out two months and failed three drug tests, so I was sent back to prison. Even in prison, I had not quit using the drugs. My relationship with my girlfriend was all but over and I got high one night in the prison and escaped in search of a good time. I was caught the next day, drunk and high, using a pay phone in a small town close to the prison. I was given a two-year suspended sentence for running off and spent a year and a half behind the fences before being released.

    Upon my release, I discovered people saw me different now and didn’t care to associate with me. I felt there was nothing for me in Tulsa and maybe a new start in a new town would change things for me and turn my life around.

    My sister, Janet, agreed to let me stay with her until I got on my feet, so I hopped a bus for Chickasha.

    It took a little bit of luck, but I got it together and was working and doing okay. I managed to complete my two years of probation for the escape, but things were not as they seemed.

    I started hanging out in bars and using drugs again. The girl I had met at the bar and started dating was pregnant, but I was not in love with her, and I told her I saw no life together for us. Truthfully, I just didn’t want anything interfering with my miserable life of drinking and drugs. The night life in bars and clubs and one night stands was where I thought happiness was.

    I was now drinking whiskey and rum every day and had graduated to the IV drug-user level. I was using heroin and crack on a daily basis. Lots that happened during that time frame, I don’t recall with clear thought.

    But on Oct. 17, 1987, I was arrested for selling $100 worth of drugs to an undercover cop in my favorite bar. I got out of jail on bond, awaiting a jury trial. In early January, 1988, my sister, Janet, came looking for me. The girl I had dated and gotten pregnant was now living in California. She had called Janet to tell her that I had a daughter, born Dec. 23, 1987.

    I was still drinking heavily and was now hooked on methamphetamines and the needle, I was in the bars every night. I figured I’d be going to prison pretty soon anyway, so might as well live while I could.

    I had met this girl in early 1988 at the club and we started dating. We dated for six months and she moved in with me. I was living in a trailer house right behind my favorite club. I never mentioned to her my pending jury trial for the drug charge. She was appalled at finding out I was an IV drug user. She didn’t realize I was more than just a social drinker, but she must have truly loved me and was determined to change me and make a respectable man of me.

    Right after Thanksgiving in November, 1988, my live-in girlfriend discovered she was pregnant. In May, 1989, I went to my jury trial. I had told my girlfriend just the night before the trial was to begin, of the trial. She was not happy that I’d not told her sooner. On May 5, 1989, I was convicted of the drug offense and sentenced to a long prison stay. My girlfriend gave birth September 1, 1989, to my second daughter and fourth child. I was already in prison when she was born. Her mother and I held things together for the first two years of my incarceration. But in early 1992, we decided it would be best if she were to move on with her life so as to provide for our daughter.

    My brother, David, was found dead in a park in Wagoner on Feb. 28, 1992. A recent divorce and other emotional problems had led to his choice to commit suicide. But in his death, I found strength, and a part of my brother lives in me, giving me the strength and wisdom to live a better life.

    Even though in prison, I was still using drugs and drinking every chance I could. It’s not hard, if you know the right people.

    Shortly after the break-up with my girl friend, I sat down in my cell one morning and cried. Through the tears, I saw my way. I went and enrolled for my GED, got into a computer programming course, entered a drug and alcohol treatment program. As a hobby, I chose photography and developing. I got my GED certificate, graduated from my computer programming course, and received a certificate from the University of Oklahoma for my studies in photography and developing.

    But my pride is in my successful completion of the two 12-step programs for my drug and alcohol abuse. I graduated from the program after 14 months of intense dedicated treatment. I’ve been clean for seven years now without the smallest thought of relapse.

    I will be released any day now, as I was granted parole a few months back and I’m awaiting paperwork for my release. I will be living in Kansas City with a stable surrounding and good-paying job awaiting me. I’m going to pursue my computer studies with some college courses and hopefully, find a way to use this experience to help others with addictions.

    When you reach rock bottom, only one’s self can pull one up from the bottom and you can only do it for yourself.

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