How do you go from Tragedy to Triumph to Roommates with a Homeless Man to Producing a Movie Starring Renee Zellweger?
Steven Santos has a storied past of struggling with drug addiction for over 16 years. This path eventually landed him in prison, and later he found himself homeless. Tune in to hear his remarkable story of transformation and finding faith in order to make a better life for himself and others. He now serves as Development Director at Teen Challenge, a nonprofit for people struggling to find their path to a better life.
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Pamela:
Hello, everyone. Welcome. And today we have a very special guest here on Underdog. We have Steven Santos. Steven, thank you so, so much for being here today. How are you?

Steven:
Oh, well, thank you for having me.

Pamela:
No, thank you so much for being here. You know, what’s crazy is this interview has been very long-awaited on my behalf. I remember meeting you, when was it? I think was it 2019? Right? November 2019. You guys were at the Native Mall, and I saw your sign for Teen Challenge. And I just remember going over to you and saying, hey, like, what’s your story? What’s your involvement? And I remember just being blown away with what you had said to me. And that sort of has always stuck with me since I met you.

Steven:
That’s awesome.

Pamela:
Yeah. So I mean, it just floored me. And I think to this day, it’s gonna floor anyone else who hears it. So I’d love for you to sort of give us your background. I guess we could start with like, where you were in the past, you know, and your story, and then sort of get into, you know where you’re at now in, like, in sequence. I’ll probably ask some questions along the way.

Steven:
Yeah, absolutely. So I started, I grew up in Wareham, Massachusetts, as a young kid, it was just I had a normal family. I had a mom and dad that stayed with me. I had brothers who kind of supported me. And were just there for me. You know, I started to allow myself to get crazy when High School kicked in, you know, I started playing football and things got really selfish. And I started to do, started to mess around with alcohol and marijuana and, and that moved into other drugs lightly at the time. And then when I was in my 20s, I had fallen off of some pipe stage, and I broke my back. And so I had back surgery. And from having back surgery, I was put on pain medication in a substantial amount. And as you know, it’s easy to get addicted, especially if you have an addictive, addictive past. And so for me, that’s what I went to right away, was just being addicted to the pills constantly. And that turned into heroin.

It really took me from having a family and having a job and having a focus on a future to just focusing on the drug and nothing else. And I was able to lose everything that was in my possession, along with dreams that I had for my future. And through my addiction. My father, who was my best friend, we spent a lot of time together, was getting sick, he had diabetes, and he had a bad heart. And so he was dealing with health issues. And I didn’t see how bad he was declining at the time. And so when I reached out, I reached out to him and told him that, you know, I was in trouble. I was, I was addicted to the drugs. And he had always had words of inspiration for me, like just telling me about how important it is for me to live my life. And he had big expectations for me. And one day, my mom had tried to reach out to me. I was getting high. I didn’t, I didn’t answer the phone. My father actually was dying. And I ended up getting to the phone like three hours later. And he had already passed. And so I didn’t know so I rushed to the hospital, you know, frantic family there was thinking that I was going to fix everything. And so I never get that moment back. But at that time, I didn’t, couldn’t see past that. I was pretty, pretty in a bad way that I had really lost it and ended up in prison two days later.

Um, and so when I went to prison, it was you know, I didn’t want to live anymore, I lost my dad, I let him down. I wasn’t there for him, and lost my family, my home, my business, everything that I had anything to do with. And so I met a guy in there who knew that, you know, one day in my life I didn’t want to live anymore. And he was actually a former resident of Teen Challenge. And I knew none of this growing up. I was in church, but I moved away from it. And as I got into my teenage years, I mean, so he slid some scriptures under the prison door and just told me that if I make it to the morning, that we’ll have more for me, and that God had a plan and a place for me and, and he said all this other stuff that I really didn’t want to hear at the time. And so I was in that cell, and I just was trying to find ways to end my life. And there are ways in the cell that you can do that. And I was in a bad way. Look, I said, You know what, let me look at what he put up there. For some reason I read it. And I just had a presence that I can’t explain to anybody in words that was in that cell, came over me, a feeling that there was breathing, and there were no windows. It was, I was on my knees on the floor, and I cried all night long. I didn’t sleep in that position, I cried all night. It was just a revelation in my life. And..

Pamela:
In your prison cell, yeah.

Steven:
Yeah. And then I came out of that, so, and I ran over to him, and I said, Hey, whatever you can do, the feeling that he had shown me that there’s more in my life, and I need to live for Christ. And he was like, I will feed you the whole time you’re here. And so he fed me. And he was not only with just the Word of God, but also with ways to be able to reach out to those that get hurt in addiction and don’t feel like there’s a future for them. And so he was really like digging into me. And so I finished my prison sentence. And on the last day, he told me, he said, you’re going to have a decision to make in life. And so when you walk out those doors, you’re going to either go to the left, and you go back to your old life, and you’re going to succumb to the devil’s grasping, you’re going to die in it, or you’re going to go to the right, and you’re going to get on the bus, and you’re going to go to Teen Challenge, and you’re going to make a difference in not only in your life, but others.

And so I got on that bus and went to Teen Challenge and my life, in all the things I dreamed for my life, has not only come true, but has surpassed any of my expectations. And so my life now, I live for serving, and making sure that there are other people out there that know that they’re worth living, that their life is worth it, that they’re not worthless, that they’re not alone, that there are so many resources that they can tap into. And it doesn’t have to be always on a spiritual level. But it can be that you can connect with somebody who can pray for you, who can make it happen for you, who will walk you through that valley that you’re going through. And so a lot of people have, they feel alone. And it’s hard for them, I felt alone, too. And God put an angel there. And he knows who he is. And he changed my life. And he helped me to get into that position. And so now, as of August of 2019, I have gotten married, I also have bought a home. And God is providing all the things in my life that I never thought was possible. And

Pamela:
That is, oh my gosh. And now you’re sitting as the Director of Teen Challenge, am I correct?

Steven:
Well, so now I’m sitting as real as a pro. What I do now is I’m the Admissions Coordinator, and Program Development as well for Teen Challenge Greater Boston.

Pamela:
Yeah, that’s unreal how the script flipped, right? Yeah. Oh, my God, I have so many questions for you. Because I was, I was floored the first time I heard your story, I was like, and you were on heroin for 16 years, right?

Steven:
Opiates and heroin for 16 years.

Pamela:
16 years and then went to prison. You were homeless? And like, Oh, my God, so many questions that I have for you. So when you were sort of down in the dumps, like, you know, because and this is the hardest thing for anyone to conquer, right? When you’re rock bottom, you know, and I know, as I’ve experienced that in my own way, and everybody has their own way of how they get to their definition of rock bottom or their lowest point in their life. The hardest part is just getting over that hump. Yeah, well, anyone who’s facing addiction or really any hardship in their lives, like, you know, what was something that really helped you? I know that gentleman helped you big time. What was something? Was there anything else that was sort of keeping you going on the day to day to be like, you know, I need them a lot.

Steven:
A lot of me was realizing that my youngest son, Stevie Jr. was out there in state custody. And he did nothing wrong… because I was in a situation where I wasn’t able to provide and take care of him at the time. And so for him to be there was hard for me. I said, You know what, what, I’m going to make sure that I do everything I can, so that I can provide a home for him, come back, and he can have a home and have all the things he should have had from the beginning. And so that was something that I held on to as well. But as I went through, I learned that if I don’t do it for myself, I’ll never be able to help no one else. And so as I started to do it for myself, those things came together. And so now, in February, that is going to come true, you know, he’s going to be able to live with me and you know, like I said, I bought a home and he has his own room and he has all the things that he never had before.

I mean, during my addiction, I want you to know that I was, had sold everything and I was out, I was reaching out to people who would pay my hotel room so that I could take money and spend it on drugs. And my son was going from hotel room to hotel room, and he wasn’t getting the life that he should have had.

Pamela:
So that was one of your motivations. Because I feel that sometimes, too, you know, it was like, I remember in my life, you know, when I went through my low point, not you know, there’s because there’s no comparisons when it comes to low points, you know, everyone has their own. But I just remember if it wasn’t for myself, that it was for my family, or someone close to so it looks like that’s what sort of kept the ball going for me, I just find it fascinating how it sort of shifted. And it’s like how, and most people think that something like this takes, I mean, it does take a great amount of strength. Now the question is, it was a step by step process, right?

Steven:
Oh, yes.

Pamela:
To get to here, because sometimes people feel so disconnected. And I’m sure you hear this in your program, when you’re like, how can I go from this to this? Yeah, what would be your way of sort of breaking it down for them in a way that’s, like, tangible? You know what I mean? Because some people are, could be at rock bottom right now and be like, how the heck am I going to get to where Steve is, like, you know, he did all this in such a short amount of time, you know, so it’s like, I always love to know, like, what’s your mind state behind that?

Steven:
The great thing about Admissions Coordinator now is that I can meet these guys from their lowest point, and to their highest point, with being, getting a bed available for them and putting them through the program. And so with that, I wrote a book that’s called Set the Captives Free. And in that book, which isn’t published yet, but in that book, we give it to the residents that come into the program. And it provides them a sense of something they can grab on to, for the first 30 days, each day, about what you’re going through… how you’re feeling, how to persevere through that feeling, and get to that next morning, because in the walk of recovery, it’s every day, in every moment.

So then sometimes in the morning, you’re gonna feel great. And in the afternoon, you’re ready and raring and in real form. And so as you’re going through that, it gives you the tools and the information to continue to get you through that first 30 days. So the first 30 days are so important in anybody’s recovery. After you get through the first 30 days in your mind, you’re saying I can do this. And then you have to take it one day at a time. Make sure that you surround yourself with the proper people that are positive in your life, so that you don’t fill your life with negative and move backwards, but positive, continue to move forward. That’s what’s so important.

Pamela:
I find it incredible that you’re giving back and that book is going to do wonders once it’s published, I can already tell you, I’m sure there’s gonna be thousands, millions of people out there that would want that book. Can you give me sort of like the excerpt like of the first three days? Because those have to be the hardest, I would imagine.

Steven:
Yeah. Yeah. Oh, yeah. Cuz the first three days, you’re wondering, why am I here? What am I doing? All you’re thinking about is finding a way to get back on the street and get high, you are thinking about exit plans, you’re thinking about, sometimes it’s a lot, a lot to do with depression, and anxiety that’s going through your body and your mind. You’re constantly thinking of the what ifs and, and you know, your family that you may have heard on the outside, and if they’re not going to be there for you. And so a lot of us we tend to, through recovery, we tend to think about everybody else. And the main thing you need to do is think about you. And as you focus on you, everybody else in your family that love you are going to surround you, those that can’t forgive may not, but you do it to action and not to words. And so I was always taught that, by my spiritual leader in my life that always said, make sure you do what you do through your actions and not through the words that come out of your mouth, because people will trust what you do and not what you say you’re gonna do.

It was such an honor to have Steve Santos on the show. Tune in to the episode to hear the rest of my truly remarkable interview with him.

Are you struggling with addiction?
Do you know someone that could benefit from a program like Teen Challenge? There is a program for adults too!

The Teen Challenge program changes thousands of lives every single day. For over 60 years they have operated on a holistic model for drug and alcohol recovery. Their approach is based on healing and recovery for the body, mind, and spirit of everyone that visits one of their addiction recovery centers.

With over 200 Adult & Teen Challenge residential programs across the United States, they are able to provide a number of services for people struggling with drugs, alcohol, and other life-controlling issues. The organization remains dedicated to providing cost-effective programs. The many costs associated with providing training, lodging, meal and supervision at their centers is made possible by the generous support and donations from the public.

They are always in need of donations and volunteers to help expand their service and mission.

To learn more about a program near you visit https://teenchallengeusa.org