Billy & Lou

This is a story about two friends. It’s a story that brought tears to my eyes. Most of all, it’s a story of love, hope and redemption.

Louie Diaz grew up grew up in a strong, supportive family. Dad was a minister, Mom an active pillar of the community. It was a happy childhood. Who would have ever guessed that a few decades later, Louie would be in a downward spiral that would land him in the state prison addicted to alcohol, cocaine and heroin. And his ten year battle was just beginning, a battle that would nearly cost him his life.

William “Billy” Cabrera woke up one morning in his grandmother’s apartment, abandoned by his mother and father days earlier in New York. “I was always angry during those early years” says Billy. A conviction of assault at nine years old led to a string of foster homes and state facilities. “At one point,” Billy remembers “I had been in every juvenile facility in Massachusetts, I set the record!” He finally found a home, a place to belong, in a Lawrence street gang. “They became my family, and nothing beat my drug of choice – heroin. My new home became the Massachusetts Correctional System.”

Prison eventually changed Louie. It gave him a chance to rediscover his values and ignited his strong religious roots. One phrase carried him the through these early years of sobriety – “If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.” He enrolled in an addictions counseling program at Springfield College, started his now famous “bicycle” outreach program and worked as a drug counselor for some of the best drug rehabilitation programs in the area.

Still addicted, Billy was separated from his wife and children and a fugitive in trouble. He walked into a treatment center in Tewksbury and asked for help. Billy became a client there, reigniting a childhood friendship with a young treatment professional, Louie Diaz. Thanks to the support of the LHI Recovery Home, his daughter’s love and Louie’s friendship, Billy has been clean and sober for close to seven years.

Louie is the new case manager in the LHI community re-entry program at the Billerica House of Correction. You’ll still find him riding his bike on any given Saturday night helping street kids find that path back home. Billy became a staff member at the LHI Recovery home. With encouragement from Louie and friends, he realized a life-long dream last year by becoming a licensed barber. Billy’s Barbershop, a true showcase partially designed by Louie, will be a place to” find rest for the soul” and experience the magic touch of a gifted barber. It will be a unique shop, not just for the big screen TVs and areas designed for comfort, but for the unique drop-in resource center attached to the shop for friends who need support. Billy is giving back. .

As we talked, Billy’s eyes filled with tears. “I need to tell you the best thing, I got custody of my daughter and we’re together again. She’s the love of my life and makes me want to be a better father, a better man.”