“Spark” a change this new year: Sparks of Hope

By: Terry Simpson
As the new year is beginning, many folks find themselves making resolutions for changes in their lives in 2020.
Some are adamant of their plans, while others doubt they’ll stick with the new plans.
Whether you make an actual resolution or not, most everyone agrees, we all need changes to our lifestyles and what better time to get that started.
One local man, David “Sparky” Sparks, a self-proclaimed recovering drug addict, will disagree with that idea.
Sparks noted that in order to change your life, you have to make small changes every day–one day at a time, not one year at a time.
He noted that this is something that Drug Court Case Manager for Monroe and Cumberland Counties Arlyn Mink told him constantly before finally getting it in his head.
Over the years he has made those changes to his life, yet relapsing here and there, with life events contributing to choices he has made. These choices left him divorced twice, missing out on several opportunities, sometimes feeling like he didn’t have a friend in the world, and even in jail a few times.
Sparks was born in Indianapolis, Ind., and lived there until he was around eight years-old.
He noted that he had a rough childhood, but that he doesn’t want anyone to think that he is using that as an excuse for his addiction. He noted, however, that drugs were a part of his life from a very young age.
He spoke fondly of his mother — Doris Walker. “She was an amazing woman. She was only 14 when I was born, but she did a great job, especially for all she went through in her life.”
When he was just a baby his parents divorced. His mother remarried when he was a toddler, but unfortunately when Sparks was 18 months-old, his step-father, Larry Walker, went to jail.
After that, his mother started dating a man who was physically abusive and he recalled that he would hide when the man came to visit. Eventually, his grandfather shot the man in self-defense of the family. Sparks could tell you many other horror stories of growing up in Indiana, some that would make anyone count their blessings, but he chooses to focus on the here and now.
He did share a little of his life, saying, “We were poor. We lived with my aunt and uncle and we slept on the living room floor on a mattress. It was always cold.”
He cringed in memory sharing stories of almost being kidnapped and of waking up to gunfire in his home. Then he smiled and said, “The only good memory I have of Indiana is my grandma,” his smile fades as he continues, “But she was murdered when I was six years old.”
Soon after that Sparks’ step-dad was released from jail and he moved his family to Tompkinsville. Sparks said that he was around seven or eight years old at the time. He has lived in the area ever since and while life got a little better, things were still not the best. “My dad ran around on my mom a lot and she left him when I was 14 years-old.”
Sparks shared that he has lived a life filled with addiction, noting, “I got in plenty of trouble over the years–when I was good, I was good and when I was bad — I was really bad. There was no in between.”
He stopped for a moment, “But if I saw someone drop $100 in the street, I would give it back to them. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand — they think drug addicts are all around bad people, and some are, but some just have this addiction. Whatever the addiction is — they suffer for it — it affects their entire life. I’m not a bad person, I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
For Sparks that addiction was drugs. He does not like to focus too much on that though, noting that there is a stigma related to drug addicts and recovery. He explained that so many people do not believe that there is help, that people can fully recover. Some feel that its a sickness, not a choice in becoming addicted, but he (as well as several others) are living proof that there is help.
Sparks has been in recovery and relapsed several times with the longest time being for almost five years, and the most recent for seven months. One of those times was just after he returned from Afghanistan, where he served in the Army and was eventually honorably discharged.
He noted that the Army did offer help, but at that time he was too prideful to accept it.
It was only after being arrested again and sent to Drug Court that he finally accepted help. He credits Circuit Judge David Williams and District Court Judge Kristi Castillo, along with Mink for changing his life through that process.
“Drug Court saved me. It is a great program — being in the military helped me to use it to my advantage and make it work for me. It gave me the tools to stay sober,” he said.
Another thing helping with that is the memory of his mother. He shared a story relating how she would always come to visit him in jail, bringing along his youngest daughter, to peer through the glass at him.
“I remember her getting weaker and not being able to lift her up to the glass as much.” He says the last time he ever saw her was just nine days before she passed away.
“She came to visit and told me she had found out she had cancer. The next day I was told I was being sent to prison in Louisville,” he grimaced.  “She died just after that and I still remember the exact amount of money  — $371.77 — they charged me to bring me to her funeral. My son paid the bill and I attended for about 30 minutes in shackles and chains.”
Yet, Sparks gives most of the credit to Judge Williams. He shares how he was standing before the Judge and Williams said, “I don’t want to open up the paper one day and read that you are dead.”
He noted that those words really struck him, “I took that personal,” and he wanted to prove to the Judge that he was different and that was not going to happen.
Instead, Sparks wanted the Judge to open up that paper and see something great about him.
That is when he started thinking, “All I ever do is run, I just run around everywhere.” He shared how over the years he has loved running and sometimes ran up to 15 and 20 miles a day.
“I decided I was going to run to Glasgow to bring attention to the possibility of recovery in Monroe County. I wanted Monroe County to know how serious I was about my recovery,” he said.
“My friend, Karen Bartley— she is my angel — she said to me, ‘What are you thinking? You can’t just run to Glasgow.’”
Bartley helped Sparks when he returned from Afghanistan, when he had a really hard time finding a job.
“I went out to the sawmill everyday asking for a job and she finally asked if I could cook. She found me a job at 4th Street Cafe, which her sister Beth Turner owned. Beth and I became friends as well,” he added.
Sparks shared that both the women were good to him and he counts them among his few true friends. He remembers the farthest he had run, “I told Beth I was going to run to the Crossroads and I would call and have her pick me up. Well when I got there, I felt good so I kept going. I forgot that I didn’t have service in that area and I had to run all the way up that big ole’ hill to Marrowbone. That was 22 miles.”
Sparks noted that perhaps the hardest part of recovery for him is the lack of friends.
“When you are high and you are around others who are high, you think you have hundreds of friends, but in reality, you don’t. There are times now I feel so lonely but I am learning that quality is better than quantity. We lost Beth to cancer but I still talk to Karen every day, she pushed me, checks on me — she’s just a true friend,” Sparks added.
Then he became reaquainted with Dyshel Thompson, Community Health Educator at Monroe County Health Department.
During the time Sparks was attending drug classes and meetings. He explains that he noticed that meetings for the recovering addicts (AA and NA) and meetings for their families (AL ANON) were held separately and he wanted to do something that would bring them all together. He says that Thompson took that idea and ran with it.
“She is just an amazing person. She had come to my group to do a Narcan class and I mentioned my idea of a run to Glasgow to her. She said to me, ‘Slow your roll,’ and suggested maybe starting with a shorter run—a smaller scale.”
“She came up with the title Sparky’s Run for Recovery and I remember thinking, wow, this is really going to happen.
“I wasn’t sure about it being named for me, but I finally gave in realizing it was my idea and the title had a ring to it. We thought that would draw more attention.”
Sparks shared his hopes that the walk would bring those families together, out of a meeting room and onto the streets of Tompkinsville. He also noted as the core group would not be runners, but average people wanting to support those they loved, it was shortened to a one-mile run/walk for the first year.
“We didn’t have a lot of people sign up at first. I got everyone in my group to do it. I paid the fee and that started getting the word out. One by one, the numbers slowly started coming in and we had 132 the day of the walk. From recovering addicts, to their families, along with Arlyn Mink and even Judge Castillo, we turned Main Street blue that day,” Sparks continued.
Thompson noted that the walk, eventually named “Sparks of Hope Walk for Recovery,” held on Oct. 19, with a route down Main Street was a huge success. She added she was amazed that everyone was so cheerful and in great spirits. “Usually at big events like this there is always at least some negativity, but I didn’t hear any that day and I was really impressed by that. It was just such a great day for the community,” she added.
Sparks shared his pride in the event, “I think I accomplished what I set out to. I want everyone, especially kids, including mine—Devin, Shelby and Cali — to know that there is always hope. With any addiction, or anything you face in life, you just have to never give up. If you relapse, you start again tomorrow – one day at a time.”
He continued, “You can always try again and there is always hope. I wanted everyone to look around at the people walking or running — just being there for each other. I wanted all of them to feel that hope and love and be inspired.”
He laughed, “My speech sucked that day, but I hope the speeches Stacy Crews and Billy John Smith shared got across all the things that are in my head that I can’t always put into words.”
No words were needed, however, as he walked along the route with his friend and “angel” Bartley.
“She said, ‘If you can do this, I can too.’ We decided to walk– I wanted to take my time and soak it all in–but she was flying. I said slow down, but I was proud of her.”
Sparks not only noted his friendship with Bartley and Thompson, the love and support of his aunt and uncle Eddie and Sandra Smith, the words of Judge Williams and the hard work put into Drug Court from Mink, Williams and Costello, but gives special recognition to his friend, Tracey Goad in his recovery.
“He is a true friend as well. He got me a job —I work six and seven days a week, so I stay busy. He and I are remodeling a house. I have a routine now. I get up, go to work, work on the house. That’s my friend and you need true friends when you are recovering. I might not have a lot of time left and I am proud I am finally getting it — I am happier now,” he added.
“A lot of people have no idea we did this. I have so many telling me that they wish something like this was done in their area. I really want to get the word out about the next one, which is tentatively set for May,” he continued.
May is still several months away so those interested have plenty of time to train for this event. More details will be released as they become available. However, if your New Year’s resolution is to get in shape, to beat an addiction or just to appreciate the quality of those in your life rather than the quantity — Sparks hopes you have been inspired by his dream.
Sparks added, “Never ever give up hope.”


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