JOLIET – In 2000, when Michael Pinnick faced a 15-year sentence in the Illinois Department of Corrections for drug-related activity, he got down on his knees, told God he was tired of living like a wild animal and begged for help.
Today, Michael, 52, of Joliet, has days where he asks his wife Iris to help him out of bed, fatigued by chemotherapy. But Michael is too busy with his Done with Drugs Foundation to lie around feeling sorry for himself. His fifth-annual Back to School Fair is Saturday.
Michael credits God for opening the doors to rehabilitation and recovery from substance abuse 14 years ago. Now that he is battling stage 4 lymphoma and stage 2 lung cancer, Michael isn’t about to give up on the God who hasn’t given up on him.
“My relationship with God is still at a 10,” Michael said. “He’s still using me. He still has work for me to do. He’s using me to tell of his goodness.”
That goodness is manifested in Michael’s life. Since his recovery, he’s begun the foundation, wrote and self-published a book about his experiences, “Out of the Darkness and Into the Light,” started an annual Christmas party for children living in poverty and – through his foundation – managed two halfway houses in Joliet for women.
In the past, that heart for God and community didn’t exist in Michael. Sexual abuse from a neighbor when Michael was 5 led to alcohol and marijuana dependence by the time he was 8, Michael said.
“I thought this was the magical cure,” Michael said. “No longer did I think about the abuse, because I was now being controlled by something else. I was seeking drugs and alcohol to take away the shame and pain and guilt.”
Up until 2000, Michael said he had been to jail 48 times and prison seven times; he also had been shot and stabbed, he added. Although Michael sometimes could stop using for months, he always went back to it, he said.
He was not even helped when his father, Mitchell Pinnick of Joliet – who was dying from leukemia in 1988 – sent him to treatment. In fact, when Michael saw how devastating the cancer was to Mitchell, Michael’s first thought was, “I need a beer.”
“I finally got arrested again,” Michael said, “and two police took me from the Will County Jail in handcuffs to my father’s funeral.”
Besides God and spending time in a treatment facility, Michael had another positive force working in his life. Michael’s wife, Iris Pinnick, 48, met Michael at a Chicago club in 1996.
Although Iris said she liked Michael’s bad boy persona, she liked something more – Michael’s eyes. These, Iris said, clearly showed another Michael, one he so desperately wanted to let out.
“He didn’t want to be like this,” Iris said. “He wanted to be a regular man.”
Having a woman like Iris in his life was new for Michael.
“What attracted me to her was that she was a good woman, educated, and I didn’t want to lose her, but I was always the one splitting up,” Michael said. “I didn’t want to bring my madness into her life.”
Ironically, Michael took his cancer diagnoses more calmly than did Iris, who was a medical assistant/precertification agent for Heartland Cardiovascular Center in Joliet. That surprised Michael, since Iris was accustomed to such news because of her work in health care.
“It scared me to see her cry,” he said.
Learning he had cancer meant Michael had to work his way through forgiveness. Many family members have died from cancer, including his brother, Dennis Pinnick, in December 2013. Michael said he was sick with vague symptoms for a year before anyone considered cancer.
But instead of dwelling on what happened, Michael is focused on what is happening: receiving cancer treatments, cheering on other cancer patients through a support group, and being God’s light wherever he goes.
He recalled passing one of Joliet Onoclogy-Hematology Associates’ locations in days past to get a cup of coffee, smiling encouragingly at the patients undergoing treatments and saying, “God loves you. Have a blessed day.”
“Now I’m sitting in those chairs,” Michael said, “and people are coming up to me and telling me to have a blessed day.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Done with Drugs Foundation “Back to School Fun Fair”
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Mt. Ebal Missionary Baptist Church, 221 Cameron Ave., Joliet
ETC: School supplies, food, entertainment. Raffles are $1.
CONTACT: Iris Pinnick at 815-274-3130