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A place preserved from surrounding unpleasantness

By definition, Oasis House aims to help addicts

Staff Writer
Clarification:

In the Dec. 20 print edition of the Desert Dispatch, for this article headlined “Lifesaver,” it was stated Ann Sakal works as an administrative assistant at the OSS office at Barstow Community College. To clarify, Sakal is a student worker.

Updated Jan. 7 to correct Ann Sakal's position at Barstow Community College's O.S.S. office.

BARSTOW • Anita Valencia used to camp out at the cemetery just to be with her friends. She lost 16 of them, all addicts like her, in an eight-month period. In fact, she was such a staple there, the owners of the cemetery wouldn't remove her sleeping bag. The former heroin and pill abuser has since found recovery at the Oasis House in Barstow.

Valencia, 50, has been clean of heroin for five years and pills for two and a half. She credits her recovery to a phone call her daughter made to Larry Shook, founder of the residential treatment facility, in a last-gasp effort to save her mother.

“I wanted recovery, but I didn’t know how to do it,” Valencia said. “I wanted my kids, I wanted my life.”

At the height of her addiction, Valencia was administering upward of seven shots of heroin a day at $20 to $50 a pop. She overdosed three times, has scars all over her arms, became diabetic which, at one point, caused one hand to turn black and lost all contact with her family.

But, at the Oasis House, she said she learned recovery, safety and most importantly — how to be a person.

“I may live with Mr. Shook forever,” she glowed, turning toward him with a sizable grin.

Shook, however, is hesitant to take credit for any of it.

“All this isn’t me. I tell you all this isn’t me,” he insisted. “It’s not; this is a God thing.”

Shook, himself, was once an addict — just another self-described “Joe Blow” off the street, mixed up in drugs and alcohol. It started when he returned home to Barstow after 10 to 15 years in the military, both physically and mentally injured.

Serving as an airborne ranger, Shook fell 286 feet from out of an airplane when his parachute candlesticked. Too scarred to jump anymore and too injured to work elsewhere, Shook found himself in a “pretty bad” state.

But after tiring of the nothingness he felt from incessant drug and alcohol abuse, Shook decided he wanted to break from his then-current life.

“I needed some place where I could go where I could stay clean,” he said. The place would eventually be an old building with a “for sale” sign and a $35,000 price tag. Shook’s mother agreed to fund the purchase if — and only if — he agreed to never do drugs again. He agreed. That was almost 15 years ago and Shook hasn’t since wavered from that promise.

For the last 15 years, the Oasis House has been a refuge, a place of healing, for many of the 28 to 29 residents there, split among the 10 fully-furnished one- to two-bedroom apartments at the two-story complex. They come to complete a 90-day drug treatment program but may stay as long as they need to. Shook said most stay for around one year.

The facility does not operate on funds from the county or the state but, instead, on resident fees of $450 per person and donations from community organizations and New Life Fellowship Church. These fees and donations cover gas, electricity and cable — everything, in fact, but food.

New residents must be off drugs for at least three days and, for the first 30 days, they are not allowed to have contact with anyone in the outside world; potential enablers, as Shook called them. Afterward, they are free to work and many of them do.

Ann Sakal, 23, is a graduate of the program who has been clean for almost two years and now works as a student worker at the O.S.S. office at Barstow Community College.

“I learned to operate in normal society by paying rent,” she said, “by gaining work experience and doing things that normal people do.”

After Shook entrusted her with senior resident duties, Sakal said she was able to convert that office and residential work experience into landing her the job at BCC.

Success stories like Sakal’s and Valencia’s are far from rare, but Shook said they aren’t common enough. He talked about countless women, and men, with children who fail the program and return to their old ways. He and his wife just fostered two kids — one whose father died and one whose parents are both in jail.

“We’ve had a lot of people make it here,” he said, “but sometimes you just can’t save the ones you want to save.”

The economic downturn of the past four years has beared equally as tough times for the Oasis House. The facility is seemingly always on the verge of foreclosure and barely survived just last month. Many of times, Shook has needed to reach into his own bank account. And recent news that the Barstow courthouse will close in May has added extra worry for a facility that works “really closely with the drug court” here.

Still, Shook, remains noticeably enthusiastic about the work being done. When Valencia’s son tragically died last week, he said he and Valencia sat together and just talked it out, as if that’s just what you do.

“This isn’t just a recovery home, dude — this is people’s lives we change here,” he proclaimed. “This isn’t just a recovery home, this is family.”

For more information on how you can help, contact Shook at the Oasis House at (760) 577-1502.


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