Michael French, an Executive Board Member at Mariners Inn, a shelter and treatment center in Detroit, understands addiction. His father, Dainforth Baker French, was sober for 20 years before his death in 1990, and Michael himself has over 20 years of sobriety.
His grandparents donated a large sum of money to Mariners, and the main building bears his father's name. While Michael attended the groundbreaking in 1995 when he was 25, it wasn't until 15 years later that he himself became personally involved with the organization.
"I was driving downtown on a Sunday afternoon with my children and pulled into the lot to show my sons - ages 5, 9, and 11 at the time, their grandfather's name on the building. Their reactions were extremely fun to watch, and my youngest son, Bennett, asked me when we got back in the car, 'So do you work here dad?' It was like a gut punch. The following Monday morning, I reached out to David Sampson [the CEO], scheduled a meeting, and was on the board within a week."
Its CEO is also very familiar with addiction. "I've had family members caught up in the disease, and I am fortunate enough to have over 30 years of clean time myself," says David. He found his way to Mariners after his sister, who was heavily involved with drugs and alcohol, was taken by an act of violence very close to the center. "That sent me into a truly purposeful, driven way of trying to help people in this community who are struggling with the disease of addiction and to give back in this way."
Mariners Inn was founded almost a hundred years ago and serves men ages 18 and older. People who come in for help do so voluntarily, and a big part of its success is its eclectic approach to treatment. One of their modalities involves using music, poetry, and other types of art, such as painting, to instill a sense of accomplishment, confidence, and pride.
"There's no one way to success," says David. "Instead, there are many avenues and pathways, and one of the ones we've chosen to emphasize is the creative arts. These kinds of activities really support the idea that you're more than who you thought you were when the disease of addiction took over."
Adds Michael, "Most, if not all, of the artwork in the halls of Mariners, were created by men in recovery. Some of our other guys write poetry. They had no idea they had these God-given talents until they came here."
They never get tired of seeing the men's faces light up, especially when they're able to actually sell something they've made. "I have two paintings hanging in my house that were auctioned off at their fundraiser, and people often comment on how beautiful they are," he says.
These creations also assist in the flow of discussions. "In some cases, some of the guys weren't able to verbally talk about what was going on with them until they picked up a pen or paintbrush," says David. "But afterward, they could openly discuss the disease's meaning for them and how these skills will help them stay clean and sober. It's amazing to see the transformation.
"Everybody has a purpose, a gift, and a skill. For me, it's what Purposeful Living is all about. I believe we were created in the first place to help somebody else. You see somebody going through this disease and trying to do it on their own, and they aren't having any success."
Having experienced addiction helps David and Michael relate to these men and their struggles. "It's been very humbling for me," says Michael. "There's no difference between the addiction that the men of Mariners, who happen to be homeless, deal with and mine, someone who came from an affluent family and grew up in a beautiful suburb. Addiction is the great leveler - we are all the same. It knows no class or social hierarchy."
For David, it's about connecting with the people who walk through the doors. "We often say that nobody cares how much you know about the disease and how educated you are until they really know how much you care and that we're going to help them while they're here and after they leave here."
It's also imperative to destigmatize substance abuse and addiction, explains Michael. "One of the barriers to getting sober in the first place is realizing that it's not a crime. It's not this dirty, nasty stigma. A lot is because of what they've been labeled with and what they've been told - that once you're an addict, you're always an addict."
They want these men to know they're worth fighting for and that they're going to try to get them back to being productive members of society. "It's a disease," says Michael. "You can talk about it. I wear my sobriety on my chest like a Superman because I'm super proud of it."
Saving Detroit Families One Father at a Time is another mission of Mariners. "It's actually one of our mission's first and most prominent taglines," says David. "One of the barriers to success for these men was how well they were fathering either their children or someone else's child and what they meant to the family.
"We provide them with some coping skills so that when they go home, they can try their best to regain their place in the family and to hopefully help them realize that this family or this community wouldn't be as successful as it is or as it could be without this family unit."
Adds Michael, "There are some staggering statistics when you read about inner-city crime and all of the other social ills. Many of those crimes are attributed to broken families and fatherless families. Let's break the cycle that has plagued Detroit for generations."
One of their more emotional and joyous events is an annual daddy-daughter dance, which will be held on June 16th this year. "Seeing the looks on these young daughters' faces while with their dads, who they may not have seen for months or years or who they didn't even know was their father is a wonderful thing," he says.
There are many ways to support and give back to this essential non-profit organization, "One of our biggest challenges is our small budget," says Michael. "Over 90 cents of every dollar we take goes into the programs. We don't have big gala parties, we don't have a marketing team, or big splashy advertising and billboards. We're a small, local organization helping the city of Detroit. We need Detroiters and suburban Detroiters to get involved in any way they can.
"Grosse Pointers need a vibrant downtown Detroit, and Mariners is doing its part to help revitalize downtown Detroit. Miracles happen here."
With its current facilities, Mariners Inn can serve 150 people daily in its myriad of programs. The residential treatment program, its flagship and core program, houses 82 men, while its permanent supportive housing program houses 36, and recovery housing program houses 32. Length of stay varies depending on the program and individual situations.
"We were fortunate enough to secure the financing necessary that is going to allow us to greatly expand our operations," says David. An addition, called The Anchor, is being built adjacent to Mariners Inn's current location and will assist both men and women. It's expected to be completed by September of 2024.
To find out more, help support the organization, or find help for your addiction, go to MarinersInn.org or call 313-962-9446.
"Addiction is the great leveler - we are all the same. It knows no class or social hierarchy.”