From Fort Lyon

For the past three weeks, I’ve worked as Lighthouse’s writer-in-residence at Fort Lyon, an old repurposed U.S. Army fort on the Bent County plains. The Department of Local Affairs, the surrounding county, and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless collaborate together here to house, feed, and encourage the recoveries of 200 odd residents who’ve wrestled with addiction and homelessness. They are, once you get to know them, the same as people anywhere, except that they’ve suffered more, been forced to scramble. They’ve fallen prey to the wide variety of addictions the pharmaceutical companies—legal and illegal—and the liquor industry have been good enough to offer for our delectation.

One of the realizations you have after living here for a couple of days—or at least I did, and perhaps I should speak in the first person here—was that I’m not fundamentally different from anyone in a neighboring room. All that lays between me and them is one misfortune too many. You lose a job. There’s car trouble. Your partner is killed by a drunk driver, and you can’t live with the grief. Medical debt piles up. Sleeping in the cold, you drink to stay warm. Before you know it, drinking is all you have. A friend who works as a homeless advocate puts it this way: “If I had to sleep under a bridge, I’d be drunk every chance I got.” I know a warm and thoughtful woman here who grew up a few towns away from me in southern Connecticut. (She also had houses in Fort Lauderdale and Maine.) Now this is the best place she can be. I ate dinner the other night with a formerly homeless man who went to my college, lived on my dorm floor, and founded the comedy troupe I auditioned for a few years later. The more residents I get to know, the luckier I feel to be here in the position I am—and not in another position entirely. I also feel lucky to be able to share some of the residents’ writing with you over the next few days.

Starting tomorrow, please check back here daily for a different piece, and a different writer, every day, all week. It’s our hope that by encouraging the residents here to reflect on their lives on the page, they’ll gain a new outlet for self-expression, different from the oral storytelling that takes place in AA meetings or in counseling. Writing is more meditative than the spoken word, less reliant on immediate reactions from the audience that might shape its course. Writing is a dialogue between one person. However meaningful these works were to their writers, reading them has been surpassingly meaningful for me. More tomorrow…


John Cotter is one of three writers in residence Lighthouse is sending to Fort Lyon in 2016. He is also a Lighthouse instructor and author of Under the Small Lights.

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