Roderick Tate says it’s never too late to turn to a better direction in life, and he has his own experiences as proof.
The Plaquemine High alum had already descended into a life of crime by the time he was supposed to graduate in May 1987.
Last week, he sat in Sheriff Brett Stassi’s office, where he talked about his new purpose in life.
He served time at the Angola State Penitentiary, alongside state prisons in Huntsville, Texas, and Parchman, Miss.
“I actually got my GED in prison in 1993,” Tate said.
Tate, 53, now works at a faith-based facility in San Antonio, where he helps rehabilitate people — especially young abusers — whose lives have been turned upside down by substance abuse.
It’s a far cry from the addiction that controlled much of his life for 33 years.
“I tell a lot of people that the biggest fight we have is between our ears. It took a long time for my life to spiral the way it did, and it took a long time for me to get out of it,” he said. “I convinced myself that I was at the totem pole…the system was against me, and everyone was against me.”
Tate traces his drug abuse to involvement with (speed) pills when he was 14 and attending Plaquemine Junior High.
This marked his first of many criminal problems associated with a life of drug use and dealing.
“It led to a culture,” he said. “It got to a point where I accepted everything life gave me. I lived there and expected to die there. Fortunately, God stepped in and changed things.”
He was released from prison, but that didn’t solve the main problem.
Tate had freedom, but he was not cured of his addiction.
The prison sentence was not the problem.
“I fell into addiction, and it stagnated me so much that I wouldn’t rack up any new charges other than maybe public drunkenness,” Tate said. “The drugs phase you out where you’re not as aggressive, and a younger crowd took my place.”
The younger generation has taken it down further. This led to him being phased out by drug traffickers.
“It’s not just the drugs, it’s the people that take something away from you,” Tate said. “I knew it was time to move on, and that’s when the bottom fell.”
His criminal record prevented him from getting jobs in chemical plants or other stable jobs. This forced Tate to settle for short-term work.
“It was basically drug money,” he said. “Everything I did, like washing cars in front of my house, was a way of supplying drugs…I was living on drugs.”
Tate said he needed a change.
His grandchildren provided the catalyst.
“I was never there for my kids,” he said. “Drugs took that away from me, and it made me a terrible dad, but I want to be the best grandpa in the world.”
He said he had to do it for himself, after failing his mother, children and others.
Tate sought help for his addiction and stayed away from Plaquemine for over a year.
He returned after the death of his uncle, former Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Alex Germany.
The battle to avoid action has not been easy, Tate said.
“I tell people today that what you want most is what wins. If your desire to be clean outweighs your desire to use drugs, that is what will win” , did he declare.
The ministry’s work in San Antonio helped Tate stay strong.
It is a combination of past experiences and the sense of hope that her faith has provided.
“Most so-called Christians will not go to these areas,” he said. “If you ever see a man addicted to drugs, could you imagine how God can knock him down?”
Tate admits he didn’t expect a life after addiction.
He also doubts he can survive amid the current drug scene and simply the effort to stay well off the streets.
“If you look at the dynamics, COVID and fentanyl, I probably wouldn’t be here…it’s a whole different monster right now,” Tate said. “I’ve been part of the problem for so long. Now I want to be part of the solution.
Tate worries about the situation in Plaquemine. The proliferation of illegal drugs in the neighborhoods, as well as the proximity to Baton Rouge and New Orleans, allowed drug addicts to continue to get used to it.
“Ninety-five percent of people who return to Plaquemine may end up with drugs,” Tate said. “San Antonio has a lot of structure from working outside and doing programs for communities and families.”
Tate said he didn’t want to see the people of Plaquemine fall into the same trap he did.
In fact, he was in Plaquemine to pick up a few people for treatment in San Antonio.
“I don’t want people walking in the same direction as me. But also, the Bible says he who is forgiven is grateful,” he said. “I remember nights spent on the streets, crying out to God to take this life away from him…all the money was gone; all the drugs were gone.
He believes the days when neighbors watched each other sparked much of the drug dealing and abuse.
Stassi said it was a sign that Tate had seen the light.
“What makes the difference is that he didn’t do this to avoid going to prison. When he decided enough was enough, he quit,” he said.
The culture also needs to change with parents, Stassi said.
“What I remembered when I was in school was that if you got in trouble with the principal or the teachers, you got in trouble with the parents,” he said. “Parents should be able to tell when something is wrong… when it’s 107 degrees with a heat index and your kids are going out with a balaclava, that should say something.”
Without a united community, Tate said many more young people could fall into the trap that took 33 years of his life.
Tate said he wanted to see the word “neighbor” restored to the word “neighbourhood”.
“People don’t talk to each other anymore,” he says. “As Christians, we profess many things with our mouths, but our actions must line up with them.”