Drugs, gangs, prison – it was the life that Vinnie Lillie grew up in.
Growing up in Winnipeg’s north end, Lillie says he had to adapt to his surroundings and the negativity he surround himself with.
When Lillie was still a young, with his father was in prison, he was lacking an older male role model and so he gravitated to older men.
It wasn’t until Lillie entered the prison system himself that he became a member of a gang.
For more than a decade, he was in and out of the correctional system, including three federal prison sentences at Stony Mountain Institution.
Lillie says he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from his experiences in prison. He has a fear of using urinals in public places because he is afraid he will be attacked from behind – something that he says happened to him numerous times while incarcerated.
“At the end of the day, there’s a lot of people in prison that have done bad things but when those cell doors close at night, those true people emerge, those good people emerge and they’re reflecting on their life and I tell you, they’re not happy with where they’re at,” says Lillie on the latest episode of Face to Face.
Lillie ended up literally being beaten out of the gang he was associated with.
His life story was detailed in the 2020 book All Eyes On Me: A True Story of Addiction, Recovery and Hope.
Lillie believes sharing his story has helped a lot of people.
He’s also giving back to the city in other ways.
Lillie works at “N’dinawemak warming centre and is a community outreach liaison with the Downtown Community Safety Partnership.
“I know that there’s a lot of judgement coming from people about the homeless people and how they’re addicted to drugs and they’re addicted to drinking but the truth of the matter is while you’re pointing your finger at these people who are addicted to something and saying why the addiction? That’s not the question. The question is why the pain,” says Lillie.
“The individuals who are addicted and homeless, all of them are suffering severe trauma. And this is the root cause of the addiction and this is the root cause of all of the problems going on in the city, is the trauma.”
Lillie says he hears a common story on the streets of the type of trauma that people are dealing with.
“Sexual abuse is a real big one and a really bad one. I was sexually abused at a young age and so I know how crippling that can be,” says Lillie. “It needs to be talked about more and needs to be expressed and the individuals who go through it need to know that there’s nothing wrong with them because that is the real struggle within that trauma is that you go through it and think that something is wrong with you, you did something to deserve it and you don’t talk about it because of that, the shame.”
Lillie believes repressing things and not talking about them is a poison that will eat you alive.
“We are all born good people and we need to hold onto that. We beat ourselves up for the decisions that we make and we can’t beat ourselves up for the decisions we make when we’re in survival mode because it’s not who we truly are,” says Lillie.