In 1994 Sechelt author Diane Foley took on a challenging career as manager of a halfway house in Nanaimo on the wrong side of the tracks. Big Sab, as it was called, was a home for men who had been released from prison after petty crimes usually involving drugs. Foley talked with them, cooked for them, laughed and cried with them, and threw them out of the house when they went off the rails.
The story of her years spent in the company of society’s most vulnerable is told in her recently published book Off the Tracks (Prominence Publishing).
These are not portraits of one-dimensional ex-convicts with substance abuse. These are fully formed characters trying to cope with life in all its despair and temptations. Meet Scott, the snappy dresser, or Lewis, one of the first clients, or the crusty Old Codger. Gordie, the ex-biker, was the contact from the John Howard Society for prisoners, and he supported Foley in her job. Even Shiner, the husky dog who liked to play around town, brims with personality. The book is drenched in humour and compassion for those who fall off the wagon, but it conveys a strong anti-drug and addiction message.
How Foley came to be the men’s surrogate “mother” and why she stayed in that role is a story in itself – based on her love for Larry, the man who involved her in the job. He is content to visit the halfway house and romance his sweetheart, but he waffles about divorcing his wife, much to Diane’s regret.
“How some people just seem to circle you and never once touch your soul and how others become part of your life,” writes the author. The men became her family and her memories of this motley crew are as fresh today as they were in 1994.
Off the Tracks was edited by Betty Keller with cover design by Mark Garbett and is available from Amazon.ca and at Talewind Books in Sechelt and Reasons to Live in Gibsons.