, Salem, MA

November 8, 2012

Letter: We need more guys like Sonny Turner

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

I was saddened to read about the death of Eldon “Sonny” Turner the other day. Sonny worked for decades with substance abusers, the homeless, ex-offenders — all the kinds of people society has no interest in or use for.

Sonny and I worked together at the Northshore Detox in the late 1970s. He taught me plenty about substance abuse and recovery, to be sure. But more importantly, he taught me about the obstacles poor and working people face when they try to reclaim their lives from the chaos of drug and alcohol dependency.

Most of us assume that all the resources provided by our health insurance plans are, somehow, available to the poor or others without first-class insurance. That’s not the case, and Sonny understood that, firsthand, from his own experience. Sonny fought hard to reclaim his life; then he dedicated the life he regained to helping others.

Sonny always reminded anyone who would listen that nobody knows, for sure, when somebody is ready to make the move out of the deprivation and degradation of substance abuse, and into a sober, stable life. Since no one knows, we have to always be ready to offer that support and encouragement, whenever it is asked for. Sonny also thought there was another, perhaps even more urgent uncertainty to keep in mind: the fact that nobody knows, for sure, if there will even be a “next time” for the person asking our assistance. Without that certainty, we can’t afford to miss an opportunity that may not come again.

Sonny donated the better part of his adult life to helping others reclaim their lives, on the North Shore, Lowell and lots of other places. I make use of things Sonny taught me pretty near every day. These days, we need more Sonny Turners. Just about nobody in public life has anything coherent, let alone encouraging, to say about providing for those who are struggling in poverty or who are afflicted with problems like substance abuse.

It was these women and men, who live on the margins, who struggle with addiction, that Sonny cared about most. Probably the best way for those of us who learned from him to honor him is to redouble our efforts to ensure opportunities for all women and men — not just those with high incomes or “sweet” health plans — to reclaim their lives and resume their place in, and contribution to, society.

Thanks, Sonny. You taught me plenty, and I hope I have and will continue to put it to use in ways that would make you proud.

Jim Stewart


First Church Shelter


The author is the former director of the Northshore Shelter Committee and one of the founders of the shelter at Crombie Street Congregational Church UCC, Salem.