May 06, 2016 at 07:23 PM

A Thank You Letter

By Sarah House

Dear Sarah House,

I would like to take this time to express a few words of appreciation on behalf of Sarah House. After being released from a six year term in Chowchilla State Prison for sales of narcotics, I was fortunate enough to be allowed to parole to Sarah House. Mind you Debbie Mcquade, Residential House Manager, wrote to me regularly reassuring me I would have a bed upon my release. So, unlike most people in prison, I knew I had somewhere safe to parole to. Had it not been for the perseverance of Debbie Mcquade, I would have been homeless in Santa Barbara, living with HIV, struggling desperately to survive and successfully complete parole.

At the last minute, three weeks prior to being released from prison, I was suddenly and mistakenly taken to court in Los Angeles County at the Twin Towers Facility. While there, I was notified that I was overdue for parole and had to be immediately released. It was 3:00 AM in downtown Los Angeles, skid row and I didn’t have a cent to my name. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to meet a Hispanic woman who had her husband pick me up and take me to the Grayhound bus station where Debbie arranged for a prepaid bus ticket to be waiting for me at the desk. Upon arrival in Santa Barbara, Debbie promptly came to pick me up, drove me to Sarah House, the place I will always refer to as “the most wonderful house in the world.” I had no clothes, no personal hygiene items or any of the basic necessities that most people would claim essential in order to function in society.

Now, you need to understand how traumatic this all was after being out of society for six whole years. Cars? You don’t see or ride in cars in prison, let alone buses driving 70 miles an hour! Cell phones? People were talking into what looked like their hands! Phones that sounded like bells, gongs and chimes going off all over the place! You thought the world went fast in 1998? Let me tell you, it really went fast in 2004! Sarah House and a lot of long late night talks with the wonderful staff when I couldn’t sleep at night because it was so peaceful and constant positive advice from Debbie literally re-acclimated me back into society.

On January 1st 2005, I moved into my own apartment. Today, I have a closet full of clothes, a job at Macy’s and a beautiful apartment that overlooks the city of Santa Barbara. Can you even imagine just how awesome that must look and feel after looking at nothing but razor wire and gun towers for six years? I even have teeth! Don’t laugh, it was a really big issue for me. Every time I was told to try something I would reply, “I can’t until I get my teeth fixed.”

What I am attempting to do in this letter is somehow put into words not only all that I have become, but make it known that I wouldn’t have any of this if it wasn’t for Sarah House. As I re-read this letter, these words seem so small in comparison to what has been given to me. The only possible way I can even attempt to repay all that Sarah House has given to me is to make an attempt whenever possible to give back what has so freely been given to me and make myself available not only to Sarah House but to the entire AIDS community.

I will forever be grateful to Randy, Debbie and all of the fabulous staff and volunteers at Sarah House who not only meet your needs medically, but are always there for emotional support, a friendly ear, a big hug or just someone to spend time with, who never make you feel like you’re a burden. One of these volunteers who I now rent my apartment from helped me so much to get my priorities straight in order to be able to integrate back into society. These volunteers come solely out of the love in their hearts, spending numerous hours, cheerfully willing to sit and care for the sick and dying. These volunteers who give their time freely, stopping at nothing, come on a regular basis providing rides to medical appointments, recovery meetings, giving someone a haircut, cook us fabulous dinners and best of all provide fun and laughter when we seem to need it most. Without Sarah House, I would not be who I am today. Thank you again, one and all.

Sasha Benedict

Posted in Resident Stories.


California Hospice And Palliative Care Association presented Sarah House with the 2010 Outstanding Program Award. In a press release, CHAPCA described Sarah House as, “A place of sanctuary and warmth for residents, their families and their staff."