Fulfilling a Dream
Sam’s hands swept across the keyboard with ease. His booming voice mixed with the music to produce a powerful gospel harmony that soared throughout the chapel, lifting people in the audience to their feet.
Joined by a drummer and backup singers, Sam was the lead performer at Friday Night Lights, a special monthly evening worship hour at the Rescue Mission.
It was a fitting return for Sam.
Thirty years ago, Sam’s girlfriend – fed up with his crack cocaine addiction, his stealing, and enabling her brother’s addiction – packed him a bag and dropped him off at the Rescue Mission. She told him to come back after he got help.
"I just didnt realize how I was hurting people around me. That was never my intention, to hurt anyone."Sam
Raised in Utica, Sam says his parents cared for him, but his father was a functioning alcoholic. Sam developed a love for music as a youth when he took a year of piano lessons with his pastor’s wife and sang in the choir. But he developed a rebellious streak and began drinking and using drugs. At 15, he got into trouble with the law and spent nine months in a group home for boys.
After his release, he moved to Syracuse to live with a friend and began playing music at local venues. When he got the chance to join a band on tour, the 17-year-old jumped at the opportunity.
Sam says he toured across the country on and off into his mid-20s, playing with the likes of Bo Diddley, The Shirelles, and The Drifters. Although he loved music, Sam says the musician’s lifestyle constantly put him around drugs and alcohol, and Sam was unable to resist.
After he finished touring and came home to Syracuse, Sam’s habit got worse.
It wasn’t uncommon to play a gig and then stay out until sunrise. Sam says he often blew his pay on drugs. Sometimes he’d go home and bug his girlfriend for money or resort to theft.
“The drugs had me doing things I never thought I’d do,” he says.
On that day, when his girlfriend brought him to the Rescue Mission, Sam says he wasn’t ready to stop using. But he wanted to get help and take a break. He entered a 6-month rehabilitation program.
"I was doing what I was supposed to do, but I was just looking to finish so I could get out and go back to my girlfriend and work."Sam
“I was doing what I was supposed to do, but I was just looking to finish so I could get out and go back to my girlfriend and work,” he says.
Sam thought crack was his only problem. When he finished his program, he still smoked marijuana and drank alcohol. At first things were good, but it didn’t last.
Sam was still playing music. He convinced himself he could go to a club and just sit at the bar drinking ginger ale. But before long, he started using crack again. As soon as he’d get paid from a show, he’d head off, money in hand, to seek his next fix.
In 1996, Sam returned to the Mission after a 30-day stay in rehab.
The chaplain was putting together a choir and invited him to join after hearing him play. He played piano for the 10-person group and found himself drawn to gospel music for the first time since childhood.
“That was the start of my love for Jesus Christ,” Sam says. “Even when I wasn’t reading the Bible, I was still getting the message because I was singing the songs and I was understanding the meaning.”
Sam began reading the Bible. He found peace playing and singing in the chapel. But he still did wrong on occasion, and recovery was a slow process. After he left the Rescue Mission, Sam says he still used drugs. He sometimes took advantage of the Mission for a bed, a shower and a hot meal.
But as Sam slowly pulled himself up, his faith grew stronger. He played gospel music at local churches. While in a halfway house, he found himself ready to give back. He regularly volunteered in the kitchen at the Mission. Sam says it was the Narcotics Anonymous program, which he began attending while at the Rescue Mission, that finally helped him realize how much he cared about himself and allowed him to quit his habit for good.
Now clean for 10 years, Sam Wynn has rebuilt his life.
He has a relationship with God and continues to play music. And his recent performance at the Rescue Mission fulfilled something of a dream Sam had when he was staying here: to come back someday and use his music to help others like him.