Addict to Author

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a newspaper article written about the author. Anvil was a High School football star, turned addict, turned to God. Anvil was on his porch one day when a reporter approached him about his past. Surprised to find Anvil an author, and even more surprised to hear about his past, reporter Nikki Cobb wrote this article for the New Pittsburgh Courier.

Submitted: May 16, 2007

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Submitted: May 16, 2007

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Addict to Author - Ex-heroin junkie tells how he overcame his addiction

Written by Nikki Cobb for the New Pittsburgh Courier

A skilled craftsman forges raw steel into works of glowing art, all hammered out of an anvil.  In the Hill District Anvil Wallace says he's the metal upon which God has wrought a miracle.  Perched on the stoop of the Webster Avenue house he shares with his aunt, the former Fifth Avenue High School football star talks glowingly about being an author.

His verses on the page echo the stories that curl softly from his lips - stories told with honesty, courage, and bracketed before he was old enough to legally drink.  Now clean and sober, the 49 year old's tale of a rapid descent into drug addiction and crime reflects what happened to the Hill District neighborhood.  Similarly, his rebirth mirrors the transformation in his community.

Wallace was a star running back in high school during the late 1960's and early 1970's, capturing the hearts of adoring fans.  But following his mother's death, he fought a decades-long battle with heroin, coming clean during several years in prison in the early 1990's.  It was in prison that he began putting his philosophy on paper, one that involves worshipping God instead of a syringe.

Wallace has written a collection of inspirational poems called Life Warrant, and he hopes to publish them soon.  His target readership?  Young, confused, black men in the Hill District who have a choice between a life in Jesus or a life in the crack house.  Wallace hopes they choose the former, and said he plans to use his life as an example to help them. 

Living in a single parent household with four siblings, Wallace says he grew up happy, playing pick-up football games on teams chosen according to the block where they lived, not by the color of their skin.  On his Whiteside team, Wallace recalls a nice mixture of Blacks, Jews and Italians took the gridiron together and if you "messed with one of us, you had to mess with all of Whiteside."  When the city of Pittsburgh demolished much of the lower Hill to create the Civic Arena in the 1950's and 1960's, most of the Jews and Italians left.  After the riots following Rev. Martin Luther King Jr's slaying, those who remained quickly left the Hill.

"It galvanized us, when they built the arena" said Wallace.  "Anybody in the city, everybody in the city, knew this was the place to be."  Before King was assassinated, thought, Wallace parlayed his sand lot gridiron glory into one of the state's most dominating football attacks.  He was in the words of Wylie Avenue artist Jorge Meyers, "doing things unheard of for a running back," leading his Fifth Avenue High School Archers to one victory after another.  "The kids now don't get to see role models like Butch" says Meyers.

Sportswriters and fans alike called Wallace "Popcorn" because he'd pop off defenders on his way to another touchdown.  "I played the game as hard as I could," he says.  "Everyday, I wouldn't quit."  Tow years after he graduated, Wallace's mother became ill and died.  The man who once galloped into the end zone now scavenged for drugs outside an abandoned hovel.  "Everything changed - just like that, just like that," he says.  "On heroin, I didn't have to think about my mother.  I didn't have to think about anything.  As a kid, I never thought about the sickness I would get from it, what I had to do to get the heroin; the financial state of things.  "I didn't care about that.  All I cared about was getting high.  I sold it.  I was selling it, and I was my own best customer.  The called it a "dealer's check."

During his downward spiral, the lots where he once played became tangled with weeds.  Deserted buildings loomed over the sidewalks.  More people, including Wallace, used the buildings as a place to inject heroin, and later, smoke crack.  Gretchen Powe, a former school chum, who lives near Wallace today, says the collapse into narcotics was a common path for many formerly strong, Black men.

"People like Butch, people you grew up with, people you played with, had dinner with - when they got into drugs, you hated to see it."  She says.  "Drugs usually brought out the men's devil side, but Butch still maintained being Butch.  Whatever he did, he did to himself.  He was just hurting, but he was decent."  In 1944, police arrested Wallace for smuggling 20 balloons of heroin in his pockets.  He received a 10-year sentence for possession with intent to distribute.  That's when, he admits, he hit rock bottom.  From prisons came visions from God.

But in a string of lockups across the state, Wallace began to find his faith and his voice in writing.  Art became a way to turn his life around and fulfill his God-given potential.  Writing sculpted a vision and put his blooming spirituality into words.  Now a writer, the former sports star plays down his accomplishments on the football field, saying "I don't understand the fuss."  His game of choice now is chess, a game that requires the ability to strategize and anticipate the future while responding to constantly changing realities.  

In "Life Warrant," Wallace shares his growing personal relationship with God - one only possible if you know yourself deeply and honestly.  To know yourself, he writes, you must know your place.  For Wallace, sitting on a Webster Street stoop, that place is the Hill District where his mother raised him, where dope dealers wooed him away from God, where the police arrested him.  "Before you can get personal with anyone, you best know where you're coming from" he says. 

Today he is at peace.  Despite a rocky journey, Wallace has remained serene, and says his poetry dampens any rage.  The child who refused to participate in the riots sweeping h is neighborhood became an adult, who even imprison, stayed apart from what he called the "riff raff" around him.  He did his time and today toils at a housekeeping job at Mercy Hospital, in order to return at night to the solace of his room and his writing.

The most bitterness he ever displays is to call this a "hateful world."  At the same time, he urges us to "go out and give life a try."  "These times are insane," he writes, "All we have is today.  That's why I'll always say I love you today." 

 


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