FEATURE STORIES

Redeeming a Lost Cause: 
The Rick de Medicis Story


by Brenda Huff
September 2009

 

Rick de Medicis was once a hard statistic. In 1995 he was arrested on felony charges for writing bad checks and spent 66 days in a county jail. The series of bad checks were written to support a rampant, out-of-control, crack cocaine addiction. Maybe you could have called him a victim of the War on Drugs, or perhaps a slave to his own vices, or simply a lost cause. This is Rick’s candid story.  It is one of redemption, of God’s transforming grace in the wake of years of wasted addiction.

 

The Early Years

Rick de Medicis was born into a military family. His father spent 32 years in the Army and he remembers moving frequently in his early years. His father was a big, strong man, and a hard worker. Rick was the youngest of eight children. His father wasn’t the type to say “I love you” or to demonstrate affection. He was in the fourth grade when his family settled down in Warrenville, South Carolina, a small, rural town near Augusta. His father’s family came from this area. Rick still lives there today with his own family.

He recalls being “dragged to church every Sunday morning” as a child. He has a prominent memory of attending a youth Bible camp at Myrtle Beach at age twelve. One evening, campers were invited to come forward in front of the group, and “get saved,” he says. He stepped forward and repeated verbatim the sinner’s prayer in front of the group. It was a strange experience for him because he was told that by repeating these “right words” he was now “saved” and going to heaven, but he really didn’t feel any different.

Rick’s addictive behavior started at the age of thirteen. He began smoking cigarettes. By age fifteen, he was introduced to marijuana through a brother’s friend and became a user.  At age sixteen he had a fake i.d. and bought alcohol regularly. By the time he graduated from high school in 1982 at the age of seventeen, he was drinking daily. His thirst for alcohol grew so great that he would go out to his car and drink hot beer in the morning that was left over from the night before.

Three months after his high school graduation, Rick married his sweetheart, Angee. He was eighteen and his bride was seventeen-years-old.  One month after their marriage, he joined the U.S. Navy. He was trained as a machinist mate. During his five-and-a-half years in the military he continued drinking alcohol and tried acid a couple of times. He was discharged from the Navy in late 1987. 

 

Addicted to Crack Cocaine

After his discharge from the Navy de Medicis’ drinking got worse. In 1989, the same year that his daughter Cecelia was born, he was introduced to crack cocaine. Crack became enormously popular in the mid-1980s due in part to its almost immediate high and the fact that it is inexpensive to produce and buy. He described the drug’s effects as being very powerful and scary. 

Crack is reported to deliver an intensity of pleasure beyond the bounds of normal human experience, making it highly potent and addictive. He used it once and thought, “I’ll never do that again!” Yet, two years later, in 1991, he was given the drug by an acquaintance and he began using again. After trying it a second time, he was hooked.  For a couple of years, he used crack cocaine twice a week.

It was during this time that his father’s health declined due to multiple health problems. He had a stroke that left his right leg paralyzed, and later his right leg was amputated below the knee. This left his once very active and virile father an invalid and eventually at home under the care of his mother.

In early 1992, de Medicis went to live with his parents for seven months to help his mother care for the many needs of his father.  At the end of that year, his father had a heart attack and ended up in the ICU where he died. Three days before his death, he told his son Rick that he loved him and asked him if he was saved. Though unsure himself, de Medicis assured his father that he was saved. 

From 1993 to 1995 the addiction grew worse. He says that on Thursday he would get a paycheck and by Friday he was broke. He was totally preoccupied with the drug. Crack cost him steady work, and de Medicis found himself going from job-to-job. Because he worked in construction, he was always able to find a job and have money to support the drug habit—up to a point.

In 1995 he was arrested on felony charges for writing several bad checks. The checks were written to support his insatiable appetite for crack. He spent 66 days in the Ashley County Jail in Hamburg, Arkansas, and was released on three year’s probation after his incarceration. He was ordered to pay fines and restitution for the bad checks he had written. Having been drug-free during his time in jail, he had a false sense of control over crack cocaine upon his release and immediately went back to using. 

Rick de Medicis was using the drugs to fill a void. “I was looking for love in all the wrong places, and the drugs were a temporary fix,” he says.

The addiction spread like a malignancy taking over his thoughts and every waking moment. He found that, try as he may, he couldn’t stop. What de Medicis had thought he could control now controlled him. The crack was a hard task master and one that de Medicis became desperate to be freed from. He felt that his life was pointless. He attempted suicide twice. The first time he put a revolver to his head, but couldn’t squeeze the trigger. The second time, he purposefully stole drugs from a drug dealer hoping that the man would shoot him, but he didn’t. This was his “hitting bottom moment,” he says.

In early 1996, de Medicis was admitted into a 28-day drug rehab program through the Veteran’s Administration (V.A.). By this time, crack had ravaged his body. His six-foot, three-inch frame carried only 138 pounds. The day before he was supposed to be discharged in his final group session he was asked what he would do the next day. He answered honestly. He said he would use again just to see if he was over his addiction. Crazy as it sounded, this made perfect sense to him. That prompted another 28-day stay at the center. By the end of the second stint, he learned how to lie and he was discharged.

After completing the V.A.’s drug rehab program, de Medicis attended Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or even Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings six to seven days a week for two years. He recalls a never-ending cycle of relapses, usually falling before the 90-day mark. He accumulated a huge stack of white chips (given at the one-day sobriety benchmark).  Looking back, he says he was relying on programs, rather than God, to help him.

 

Turning Points and Redemption

On the night of January 17th, 1998, de Medicis bought $300 worth of crack cocaine. He returned to an ATM machine that same night to get more drug money and found that the proverbial well had run dry. He had made too many withdrawals for the day. For the first time, he sought out his wife, and confessed he had been using again. This was a turning point for him: It was the first time he was honest with his wife about his drug use, and it was also the last time he used crack.

Soon afterward, at a NA meeting, a girl kept talking about ‘Jesus’. That seemed a novelty to him and he was curious about it. He felt prompted to go to church with his wife and daughter. He was working in Columbus, Georgia at the time, three hours away from his family. In the early spring of 1998, he began driving home on Saturday night to Warrenville, to attend church with his family on Sunday mornings. 

Initially, he was very suspicious of the people at Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Beech Island, South Carolina. They seemed too nice and friendly. He felt a little uncomfortable. Over time, de Medicis began to accept the genuine care and friendliness of the people at the church, and he and his family became regular attendees. 

In May of 1998, he was on the worksite as the superintendent of a construction team. They were scheduled to pour concrete that day. Because of rain, wet soil conditions, and an extended forecast calling for continued precipitation, he sent his men home. He told them to come back the following Monday. It was Tuesday.

With work on hold, he drove to Warrenville to spend the week with his family. Normally, de Medicis wouldn’t have seen them until the weekend. That evening, he attended a revival at their church. During the altar call at the end of the service, something stirred in his heart. He almost got up, but didn’t. Driving home that evening, he found it hard to stay on the road, and he had trouble sleeping through that night. 

Wednesday evening he returned to church. This time, when the altar call was given, he got up.  He was 34-years old. “I Surrender All” was being played on the piano.  He had been clean for five months from drugs and alcohol. He had quit everything but his cigarettes.

De Medicis found himself asking God, “What more do you want?” He felt like he had already given up so much. “God’s spirit spoke to me and it said, ‘That’s not enough.’” God wanted it all, the good and the bad. He was asking for all of de Medicis, a full surrender of himself to the Lord. He said, “Yes.”  This differed from ‘being saved’ at the camp as a youth. This time it was a heart conversion rather than just a young boy going through the motions. He says that on this day, May 20th, 1998, love found him. 

 

A New Man in Christ

That evening, driving home, de Medicis tossed his cigarettes, his first and last addiction, out the window of his truck. Now he wasn’t alone in his struggle to keep sober. He had God’s power in the process. Life didn’t change instantly at that moment. Over time, with the Lord working in de Medicis’ life, his desires and thought processes changed.

“I became a new man with a new lease on life,” he says.

Once he accepted Christ, his father’s concern about him on his deathbed took on new significance. His father had asked him if he was saved. At the time, the question meant little to de Medicis, but now he realized that his father truly had cared for him: The question was worth saying ‘I love you’ a million times. He finally believed that his father had deeply loved him. This realization brought great healing to him.

One of the most significant changes in his life since committing his life to Christ is that he has learned how to love. Being filled with God’s love has allowed him to extend love to his family and to others as he was never able to before. This has especially impacted his marriage which he has seen grow stronger and better in the last decade. He and his wife, Angee, have even been leaders at couple’s retreats.

William ‘Tiny’ Mathis, who heads the prison ministry (PM) at his church, asked de Medicis to be a part of the team. Miraculously, even with his past jail time, his paperwork was approved through the South Carolina Department of Corrections, and he agreed join the PM team.

De Medicis goes out with the team three times a year, and has been to five different prisons in his area. He believes that half the guys in prison realize why they are there and genuinely want to change, and the other half are in denial. His message through his testimony is that God can change inmates. In fact, The Rock of Ages Prison Ministry will soon be starting a chapter in South Carolina, and de Medicis hopes to become involved with them as well in order to visit more prisons with the positive message of Christ’s transforming love.

After he surrendered his life to Christ, he had a growing desire to know more about God.  In 2000 he gave up good paying job with a company truck and benefits for a $12-an-hour job and the chance to attend Bible college. He attended Victory Baptist in North Augusta, South Carolina, under the leadership of Dr. R. Larry Brown, and graduated in 2004 with a four-year degree. During his second year at the school, he felt God’s calling on his life to become a pastor. He preaches and witnesses whenever he can, to whomever will listen.  

 

Pressing On

Today, de Medicis is an acting assistant pastor at his church, Amazing Grace Baptist. That is a far cry from his county jail days. He vividly remembers sitting on his bunk bed talking to his cellmate. His cellmate said he wanted to be a deacon in his church when he got out of jail. De Medicis had no idea what a deacon was back then. From the limited vantage point in his jail cell, he “never guessed” that he would “someday be working in a church,” he says.

In 2005, he went to the First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana to its annual Pastor’s Training. He and roughly 7,000 other pastors and laymen from around the country and abroad converged to be taught, trained, and encouraged in ministry. He returned again in 2006 and was introduced to Reformers Unanimous (RU), the fastest growing Christian-based recovery program in the nation. 

When de Medicis learned about RU, he knew where God wanted him. He and the senior pastor of Amazing Grace Baptist, David Hixon, attended the RU regional conference in Florence, South Carolina soon afterward. With the endorsement of his pastor, the idea for an RU ministry was presented to the church leadership, and it was approved.

He began heading the ministry in November of 2006, where he has faithfully been on Friday nights for the past three years with his wife, the program’s secretary. He has rarely missed a night for fear that the program wouldn’t be there for someone in need. Hixon calls him a man of conviction and dedication.

The number of people attending the RU meetings varies from 15 to 20, but has been as high as fifty. Those in attendance have come from myriad backgrounds: Some come from homeless shelters, some are on probation. De Medicis has seen the program make a huge difference in the lives of people. He is working on and hoping to have referrals sent to him for people on probation who are court-mandated to be in a recovery program. He has that much faith in the program and in the power of Jesus to transform lives that have become unmanageable because of addictions.

His past has uniquely qualified him to minister to those with addictions. “If I had not gone through what I did,” he says, “I would not be able to identify with others I am trying to help today.”

According to Hixon, “Rick reaches a whole group of people that I cannot because of his experience.”

Hixon attributes the RU program to expanding awareness within their church to the real and pervasive problem of addictions. The program has helped decrease judgment about and increase understanding of the nature of addictions. Hixon talks in particular about a homeless man from Augusta who was initially picked up every week to attend the meetings. This man, now back on his feet and living free of addiction, is able to minister and bless others within the program.



Back from the Dead

De Medicis is now such a different person than he was as an addict that, at times, he has trouble convincing inmates or addicts that he was once facing predicaments very similar to theirs.

“That person is so far removed from who he is today,” he says. From his appearance to his speech, to his lifestyle and his outlook—all has changed. His life is very satisfying, and he says, “I truly feel God has me where he wants me at this time. I do know in the future he will use me elsewhere, but I do not think it will be anytime soon.”

He has seen his life restored in every way and has seen God turn to good the things in his life that the devil intended for evil. Today, de Medicis and his wife have been married 27 years, and his 20-year-old daughter is in college. He lives a comfortable life. He is stable and reasonably happy. He is richly blessed in more ways than he could ever have imagined in his former crack-addicted existence. 

He doesn’t believe the adage, “once an addict, always an addict.” Rather, he believes that through the power of God, one can be delivered from the bondage of addiction. This has been his personal testimony. By all accounts, it is a wonder that he did not end up dead or in jail. Instead, his life has been transformed and redeemed by the decision to wholeheartedly follow Christ. 

To anyone stuck in an addiction, feeling like there is no escape and nothing to live for, de Medicis says, “I know what it’s like to feel like there is no way out, but I’m glad to say that I know for a fact, there is one way out. And what is so great is, it is available to anyone that wants it, it is totally free, and it is always there for you.”

This is what he hopes to pass on to others with his ministry. No matter how far gone one is to an addiction, no matter what kind of lost cause he or she may be, there is always hope in overcoming through the power of God.

                                                         

Editor’s Note: There are many faith-based recovery groups nationwide. For more information about Reformer’s Unanimous, go to their website:  www.reformu.com .

 

Rick de Medici and FamilyRick de Medici and Family

Reporter’s Notes
More than two decades have passed since the Reagan Administration escalated the War on Drugs.  Since its inception in the 1980s, arrests for drug-related crimes have skyrocketed.  According to federal data, there were 581,000 drug-related arrests in 1980; The number climbed to 1.89 million in 2006 [1]. In particular, there is much controversy over increased arrest rates and convictions of nonviolent drug offenders. Critics have blamed the program for the steady increase, and now surging populations of incarcerated individuals in jails and prisons nationwide.  The statistics are staggering:

According to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), our nation’s prisons and jails held more than two million inmates for the first time on June 30, 2002 [2].  This record number of prison inmates was driven by get-tough policies that mandated long terms for drug offenders and other criminals (Associated Press).  Our current US prison and jail population has reached a record high in excess of 2.3 million (BJS).  The number of people in federal prisons has seen the greatest growth:  From 2000-2008, the population has increased 44.3%.  During that same period of time, state prison populations have increased 12.8%. More than half of the federal prison population is composed of drug offenders, compared to about 20% in state prisons [3].  According to a 2002 survey of men and women held in local jails, 68% were found to be dependent on drugs or alcohol or abusing them [4]. 

The primary reason cited by inmates for commission of drug-related crimes is to obtain money for more drugs. In 2004, 17% of state prisoners and 18% of federal inmates said they committed their current offense to obtain money for drugs (BJS). The highest rates of drug-related crimes fall into the categories of property damage and theft.

America has taken the lead as the world’s jailer, outdistancing every other country, including China and Iran.  This has created a significant fiscal nightmare for our penal institutions. Among its other effects, the War on Drugs has definitely spotlighted the epidemic use of illegal drugs in our nation.  The numbers attest to the reality that drug use/addiction is a common denominator among a majority of jail and prison inmates. 
References-

  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/
    05/06/us/06disparities.html

  2. http://www.ojp.usdoc.gov/bjs/
    abstract/pjim02.htm

  3. http://www.racewire.org/archives/
    2009/04/new_prison_and_jail_
    figures_sh.html

  4. BJS, Substance Dependence, Abuse, and Treatment of Jail Inmates, 2002, NCJ 209588, July 2005.