“What’s it like to spend 30 months in jail? Well,” says Willie Hoyle, “that’ll change anybody’s mind if you want your mind changed.”
Willie joined the Marines right out of high school, and though he believes military life helped him grow up and “made a man” out of him, he struggled with a sense of boredom and despair when he left the service. In between periods of homelessness and unemployment, he spent decades working odd jobs, mainly in warehouses. And he turned to alcohol.
Marrying his wife brought a brief period of happiness, but the year his wife died, Willie lost any control he’d had over the drinking. He quickly found himself homeless again.
He had been living on the streets for about three years when he was arrested. “Someone tried to rob me, and I fought back,” Willie says. In jail, he couldn’t drink or smoke, and being sober helped him. “It made me see things I needed to see,” he says. “And I passed the blessing on. I talked with other guys there. God helped me to help other people.”
After he got out of jail, Willie moved into a sober living facility and then connected with a shelter in Chicago. When a woman with Volunteers of America told him about Freedom’s Path at Hines, he filled out the application right away.
Now, at 62 years old, the majority of Willie’s time is spent on schoolwork. He’s a student at Triton College, about 20 minutes away from Freedom’s Path at Hines. When he graduates, he hopes to work as an addiction counselor. “People are more likely to listen to someone who’s been through it,” Willie says. He already enjoys working with people who are in recovery at the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings right at the property. “I always want to have my hand out to help someone because God’s taking care of me.”
After a heart attack last year, Willie visits his cardiologist regularly at the VA Hospital and likes that it’s so close by. He uses the complex’s gym to walk on the treadmill and keep his heart in shape. And back in his unit, he likes to read the Bible and watch old black and white movies in his living room.
His peaceful life at Freedom’s Path is a long way from the anguish of alcoholism and homelessness. “This apartment has given me stability,” he says. “And my wife is buried right down the street. Talk about a blessing.”