the following are excerpts from two articles published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2004
June 1, 2004
James Noriega didn't know he'd sold drugs to an undercover police officer until the day he was baptized.
Recognized by a member of the congregation who happened to be an officer, Noriega was escorted from the church, his face still dripping.
It wasn't a setup, Noriega said, unless you appreciate the Almighty's sense of humor. It was karmic payback, his life catching up with him -- and his own yearning to put despair behind him.
Like many of the homeless and formerly homeless men who come to Seattle's Union Gospel Mission legal clinic, Noriega had been seeking legal advice, but hoped for transformation. Like many others, he has found both.
"Meth made me someone I wasn't," says Noriega, 37, who went to prison for a year, instead of the five years he might have served, helped by Union Gospel Mission's legal clinic and a substance-abuse program run by the faith-based mission.
Noriega can relate. When he was in the Kitsap County Jail serving a sentence for a warrant "I didn't even know had been issued," he had time to reflect on his newfound faith and life.
Noriega had prayed to be reunited with his wife. A rigger at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, he never wanted a divorce. But she had found someone else.
When she got the children, he discovered drugs. Then he discovered unemployment. He hit the streets, still masking pain with meth.
"She couldn't -- and didn't -- claim domestic violence or anything like that," Noriega said. "It came
down to the fact she didn't love me anymore. I loved my kids. My heart was broken. I quit going to work ... I didn't have anything, yet I was supposed to pay $900 a month in child support."
The legal clinic has helped Noriega, now a counselor with the mission, repay child support, get out of debt and start anew.
On New Year's Eve last year, he married a woman he met through a Christian dating service and "has a chance to be a dad again" to her 10-year-old daughter.
"God works through the cracks of our lives," Noriega said. "I've learned not to be afraid of cracks."
Nov 25, 2004
James Noriega had found it once, before divorce sent him into a drug-fueled tailspin that ended in a Pioneer Square park one cold December night.
The chain of events that landed Noriega at the same shelter was set in motion in 1996, when his high school sweetheart and the mother of his two children divorced him. His whole identity was wrapped up in being a husband and a father, and when that disintegrated, Noriega lost his grip.
"I just never really got over the divorce," the 38-year-old said.
Drugs became a salve, and Noriega was soon in the throes of a serious methamphetamine addiction. At its peak, he was using about $100 worth of drugs daily. He lost his job at a Puget Sound shipyard. The felonies followed, and the former family man, who'd never had so much as a parking ticket in his life, ended up in prison.
After being released, Noriega turned to family members and friends. But he was a liability, and no one would take him in. One chilly night in December 1999, he found himself sitting on a bench in Occidental Park -- the same bench he'd walked by years earlier on his way to a football game with friends. A homeless man was there at the time, praising the Lord. What a pathetic sap, Noriega thought to himself.
There he was, in the same place, with nowhere to go. Noriega noticed a line of men outside the nearby mission and walked over. He soon met Ostertag, who was in a dorm on the same floor. They became friends, graduating from the program the same day and joining the shelter's paid staff together two years ago.
Noriega moved out of the shelter then, but the two continued to work and spend time together. When Noriega took on his current position as a case manager for the shelter's drug recovery program, Ostertag stepped into his former role, working with men newly arrived at the shelter to place them in programs and provide referrals to other community agencies.
The pair has the sort of friendship, Noriega said, forged by shared experience.
"There are some definite depths of our souls we share," he said. "We grew up together, basically, in a new life -- muddled through it, fell on our faces, day after day, in a good way, trying to get it right."
And finally, it seems, they have