Through Delaware’s Narconon, Ex-Junkie Helps Addicts
By BETTY BORROUGHS
At 23, Jerry Riggin is an ex-marine, an ex-junkie and an ex-con.
And he’s proudest of the “ex” he can put in front of “junkie.”
For today, a year since his release from Delaware Correctional Center, Gerald P. (Jerry) Riggin is second in command of the new area Narconon unit, temporarily based at 26 N. Delaware Ave. in Smyrna.
As a rehabilitated addict himself, Riggin feels both qualified and obliged to help others achieve the same through Narconon, a national program for the prevention and control of drug abuse.
And that is precisely what Jerry is doing – and probably will do the rest of his life or, at least, as long as the need exists.
But Narconon, as Riggin explains, does considerably more than reach out to those already victimized by drugs.
Its functions are four-fold.
First is its institutional program in prisons.
Then there’s the Narconon new-life program which helps people complete rehabilitation after they get out of prison.
Third is Narconon’s community services which cover a wide area and include educational courses for the public, speaking engagements before drug-abuse groups, schools, civic associations, etc., and other social services.
Finally, Narconon Delaware is an area office which coordinates these three programs and serves as liaison between them and Narconon U. S. – and the state.
As assistant director of Narconon for this area, Riggin is involved in all phases of the program, particularly community services.
On recent completion of the Narconon training course, including an internship in Washington, Riggin joined the staff of area Narconon director Jack Melhouski, formerly of Boston.
Working out of the Smyrna office, Melhouski and Riggin have launched a comprehensive program in Delaware.
The current emphasis is on education.
Courses, open to the public and taught by Riggin, started the weekend of Nov. 16-17 at St. Anthony’s Community Center, 9th and Scotts St., where they will continue indefinitely on weekends.
Following Narconon guidelines, the course covers a wide range of studies - from the anatomy of the human mind to advanced communication.
Instruction is aimed at improving performance in all life situations by helping individuals overcome obstacles and achieve their full potential.
While hard-core users can not be handled in this course, Riggin says, persons with problems - drug or others - will be accepted.
As Riggin puts it, “Everyone has problems.” Other courses are planned, to be conducted weekdays and pursued at “your own speed.”
The Melhouski-Riggin Narconon team also is working on establishing a half-way house where ex-prisoners may complete their rehabilitation, thereby facilitating their return to society - jobs, homes, family.
Despite reports to the contrary and cuts in funds for drug-abuse rehab programs, Riggin sees no decline in the problem–nationally or on the local level.
And he has seen plenty in his young life – at home, in school, as a Marine and in jail, where he got hung up on Narconon and found a mission in life.
“I have no desire to do anything else,” he says.
He has dragged down the road to drug addiction, experienced its degradation and devastation and has no wish to turn back.
It all happened in the course of 5 years.
At 18, as a high school dropout, he joined the Marines in February 1970. He had his boot training at Parris Island, S. C., and also served in California before shipping out with the 3d Marine Division to Okinawa.
It was there that his real troubles began. Drugs were easy to get on Okinawa and they seemed to serve a need. He got hooked on heroin.
After less than 2 years in the Marines, Jerry was discharged “as a junkie.”
Perhaps the only thing he gained from the service was his GI high school-equivalent diploma.
Jerry, the oldest son of live children, says his youthful problems are not uncommon among teenagers of respectable, middle-income families.
He wasn’t making the grade at John Dickinson High School, or at home, for that matter.
“I was mixed up. Didn’t know what to do with my life,” he recalls.
So he dropped out of school in his junior year and, after working for awhile for a Prices Corner department store, he enlisted in the Marines.
Looking back, he says that while he couldn’t settle on a career, “I guess I did have ideas of ‘saving the world’.”
But young dreams are easily shattered, instead of ‘saving the world’, Pfc. Riggin ended up nearly destroying himself.
His return to his family and civilian file was anything but proud.
He had this habit he had to feed and he took what seemed the easy route - first, forgery, then armed robbery.
His arrest for forgery was in April 1972 (soon after his return from overseas). He was tried in December of that year and because it was a first offense, he was placed on probation for 5 years.
Less than two months later he was arrested again, this time for armed robbery. He spent a week in jail, was released on bail and transferred to the Veterans Administration Hospital at Elsmere.
At arraignment, he pleaded guilty. While awaiting sentence, Jerry was treated first as an in-patient and then an out-patient of the Drug Abuse Unit at the VA Hospital.
The hospital’s drug-abuse program was phased out this fall, much to the dismay of Riggin and others concerned. It was at the V.A. Hospital’s DAU, as he refers to it, that Jerry Riggin was helped to see the light and grapple with his problem.
In fact, he was well on the road to rehabilitation when his sentencing came up in May 1973. This, he believes, had a bearing on the light sentence in view of the seriousness of his crime.
He was sentenced to 2 years and 5 years for probation violation (later reduced). Thus began his second stay at the Delaware Correctional Center al Smyrna.
He says he felt he had been dealt with fairly.
“I never considered what I did a minor crime,” he says. “It wasn’t something I planned but I actually hurt someone.”
Riggin himself suffered minor injuries in the holdup attempt at a tire outlet on Kirkwood Hwy. He demanded and got $200 from the cash register. In the scuffle and chase that followed, Riggin says he slugged his victim with his pistol, Then, after losing his gun, he says he was cornered and captured behind the shop by the owner and two other men.
In jail, Jerry learned to play the guitar, continued his rehabilitation with the Narconon unit there and, he says, “had a lot of time to read and think.”
“I realized I was going to have to change. I could see what was happening to other people and that drugs had a lot to do with it.”
Although he doesn’t minimize his own crime, Riggin says his jail experience made him aware that “a really small percentage of prisoners actually are criminals. Many are there because of drugs or the burglaries and other crimes they’ve committed to get drugs.”
He firmly believes that with “a little training and rehabilitation, some of these people could be perfectly fine individuals.”
After serving 6 months Riggin was released from the Smyrna jail on Nov. 25, 1973, the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
During the past year be has worked at several jobs, been rejected from at least two because of his drug-prison record, and steadfastly maintained his Narconon connection.
His decision to dedicate himself to Narconon was perhaps the easiest and – he is convinced – the best he ever has made.
He had been working for Larry’s Homes on U. S. 40, servicing installations in mobile homes. He enjoyed the work, liked his boss and was satisfied with the pay.
But there was this other calling and he knew it was right.
And today Jerry Riggin is a changed man - in appearance, in approach to life and in personality. He is well-dressed, clear-eyed and has confidence in himself and in Narconon.