Meko Lincoln was a promising running back and linebacker while playing Pop Warner for the Edgewood Eagles. But deep down, the Providence native knew that his intensity on the field was at least partially symptomatic of a darkness that was brewing deep within his soul.
Lincoln’s father went to prison when he was just a kid, and he never learned how to deal with the negative emotions that accompanied that trauma. He soon started smoking marijuana regularly with peers. That eventually led to him using crack cocaine while in his early teens.
This lifestyle led him to a one-year sentence in juvenile detention for possession, which didn’t set him on any better path. Soon after he was selling heroin with a friend. The brutal reality of this life caught up with him when that friend eventually died of an opioid overdose in 1989 – a time before knowledge about opioid overdoses was anywhere near what it is today.
Lincoln continued to live life as an addict, which led him to have a daughter when he was 19 who he was never allowed to have contact with. He served multiple prison sentences for crimes committed – all related to his drug use. He eventually became addicted to heroin, and spoke of the struggles that accompany such a life – where trying to quit the drug that you have become dependent on causes intense, unbearable pain.
“These were not things that I wanted to do, or chose to do – this was something that was a consequence of this disease,” Lincoln said in front of cameras at the Rhode Island Student Assistance Services office at 300 Centerville Road in Warwick on Tuesday afternoon. “I failed to talk about all those feelings – and I think, for the most part, coupled with the stigma, it made me not want to admit that I had a problem.”
Lincoln’s harrowing story runs straight to the heart of what Isabelle Boullier – a senior at Pilgrim High School – hopes to spotlight as part of her senior project, which is a PSA that aims to break the stigma surrounding addiction by highlighting recovery success stories straight from the mouths of people who have been through it.
“I'd like to help be the footing in a creating a more accepting world,” Boullier said of her project. “So often, we jump at people who are struggling through mental health, addiction, and recovery that we forget they’re human too… I wanted to understand it more because it can so complex to think about or put yourself in those shoes.”
Lincoln’s story has changed quite a bit from his days as an addict. He is now four years sober, and is a certified peer recovery specialist for the Amos House in Providence, where he tries to help people through the same journey that he endured and, ultimately, persevered from. His perspective is one that Boullier feels needs to be heard, especially in a society where opioid overdoses continue to shock communities throughout the country.
“I can’t say that I didn’t understand what I was doing – because I did. I just couldn’t stop,” he reflected. “And the more I used, the worse I got…It wasn’t a choice, it became something I had to do, because once you stop, then you have to deal with all those feelings.”
But Lincoln also learned a valuable lesson through his recovery, which allows him to accept the reality of his past without letting it dictate his future, and it’s a lesson he hopes to impart on people going through the same challenges.
“Addiction is cunning, baffling, insidious and subtle – it’s hard to break that stigma,” he said. “This is not who you are – this is something that you have done. One of the most important things I’ve realized is how to separate things I’ve done, from who I am.”
Boullier is collaborating with the Kent County Prevention Coalition for the project, whose director Kathy Sullivan is serving as her mentor. The coalition has contracted with a local film production company, Sky Sabin Productions, to produce four PSAs that will be shown at the Warwick Mall Showcase Cinema in December and January. As the fourth and final PSA, Boullier hopes that her project will help inspire others to seek treatment and break the stigma associated with addiction.
“I’m doing a PSA where people who are in recovery are sending an empowered personalized message to the audience. I want to encourage hope and recovery on a topic that is already so dark,” she said. “It takes a village to make change.”