This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Don Nicholson, the house manager at the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake, was sorting through some old papers recently when he came upon a desperate note dated 2011 from a jail inmate seeking help.
He recognized the letter he had written it.
"As I wiped the dust away, the letter on top of the stack made me freeze," he posted on Facebook. "I recognized the handwriting; it was mine. It was the letter I wrote from jail, hundreds of miles away from the mission, asking for help."
As he read the letter, he recalled the person he used to be and his tears fell on the paper.
Nicholson had spent his adult years exploring for oil and drinking alcohol.
As an electronic-instrumentation specialist, he worked for a major oil company in Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Africa. After hours, he drank to kill the pain.
Four years ago, at age 51, he found himself in a jail cell in Vernal for an assault he had committed during an alcohol-fueled blackout. Although he had tried on numerous occasions to quit drinking, he just couldn't do it.
After three months locked away from booze, he prayed to God. "I had some clarity, and knew I had to change the way of what I had become," he said Wednesday.
It was about that time in the Uintah County Jail that he found a brochure on the floor of the day area near his cell. It was from the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake, and it offered help and redemption.
"I held onto it for two weeks. I kept reading it, and I prayed," he recalled. "I tried to get sober for a long time, but no matter what church I went to, it didn't take away the pain that alcohol did."
Nicholson describes that ache and the emptiness it abides as the result of "spiritual poverty."
"I had turned away from God. Spiritually, that manifests itself in many ways," he said. "It leaves a big hole in your heart. I was selfish and hurt those people around me."
The Rescue Mission answered his letter and accepted him into its 13-month recovery program that is based on work, Bible study, chapel service and recovery classes.
He recalls being transported from the jail in Vernal and dropped off in downtown Salt Lake City three months later.
"I was somewhat shocked," he remembered, "because I had never been homeless."
The Rescue Mission is run day to day by the people enrolled in the recovery program, Nicholson explained. When he first took up his duties, he recalls feeling numb.
"I was working the dormitory and I was telling myself, 'I'm not like these people.' "
But as he continued counseling and Bible study, as well as prayer, Nicholson began to re-evaluate.
"It's been a progression. As I got closer to God, my outlook changed," he said. "I realized one thing: They are my brothers and my sisters, and God loves us all the same."
Reflecting on the 4-year-old letter, Nicholson said he is grateful to the Rescue Mission and to God for his love and redemption.
"If I am given a chance to participate in your program, I will do anything to bring about a lasting change in me. To rebuild relationships and patch together my broken life," his letter to the mission reads. "And to not only find, but live in my spirit that I lost along the way. This would be the answer to my prayers."
Among the things Nicholson is now thankful for is the opportunity to help others.
"When I came here, I was fighting for my life. Now, I am fighting for other people's lives," he said. "I feel absolute joy and gratitude that God did for me what he did."