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Crimzon Anderson went from 'dead man walking' to a life of hope in Rochester

Adult & Teen Challenge in Rochester helps bring about a miraculous change.

Crimzon Anderson
Crimzon Anderson, who is nearing his one year with MN Adult and Teen Challenge is pictured on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — You wouldn’t have recognized Crimzon Anderson if you had met him this time last year.

For he was, as he recently told a Rochester audience at a recent Faith Expo, a “dead man walking.” He saw only one outcome to the path he was on. When you are 22 and in the death-grip of a drug addiction you can’t see yourself past, you tend not to care about consequences.

He was in despair and pain. His own beloved younger sister, Cora, his best friend in life, had died of a fentanyl overdose two months before.

And so the consequences came.

Last year, Crimzon’s hotel room was raided by members of a drug task force. He was found with a large amount of fentanyl pills in his room. He went to jail, and that’s where Crimzon marked his first day of sobriety, seizing and throwing up, covering every inch of his jail cell with puke.

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He was released from jail on Christmas Eve day, broken and defeated and dead inside. And yet, when he entered the doors of Rochester’s Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge last year, there was a tiny, imperishable part of him that dared to hope. It was a twinge of a feeling, really, and it said, 'What if?'

What if I can have a life?

What if I can live a life of second chances?

What if I can live a life of purpose?

Slowly, Crimzon found the answer to those questions was, yes, he can.

Ten months later, there are both big and small ways to measure the progress that Crimzon has made.

Last year at this time, Crimzon couldn’t play a single game of ping pong without gasping for air at his mom’s house. Today, he is the champion of Adult & Teen Challenge’s informal ping pong tournaments. He also knits.

Yet, on a more meaningful level, Crimzon’s life so far has validated the tiny voice of hope he heard 10 months ago. It is possible to rise above breathtaking heartbreak and grief. It is possible to redirect the self-destructive trajectory of one’s life. Radical, miraculous change is possible with community, faith, vigilance and a restructured life.

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A new young man

Today, Crimzon has relationships with both his siblings. He is a source of inspiration to his own family, some of whom have battled and struggled with their own addictions. He is a couple months away from graduating from the 13-month program. And he has applied for admission into the Teen Leadership Institute in Minneapolis, so he might one day bring help and healing to people who suffer as he once suffered.

“It should be impossible,” Crimzon said when asked about how his life has changed in the last year. “I’ve already said this many times, but it’s all because of him (God). I could have never done this on my own. He pulled me out of the muck and mire and placed my feet on solid ground.”

Crimzon’s life, addiction and recovery also illustrate the unique and destructive challenges that today’s generation of young people face from drugs.

Crimzon Anderson
Crimzon Anderson, who is nearing his one year with MN Adult and Teen Challenge is pictured on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

A recent report from the Minnesota Department of Health identified fentanyl, a powerful drug that comes in innocent-looking pill form, as a factor in most overdose deaths in 2021. There were 1,286 overdose deaths reported to MDH last year, representing a 22% increase from 2020.

Teens in trouble

“Our younger generation is under attack,” said David Hunter, center director for Adult & Teen Challenge in Rochester. “And they’re fighting for their lives.”

Rochester’s Adult & Teen Challenge is a 134-bed program that serves men and women. Several months ago, it had a waiting list for people wanting to enter the men’s program, Hunter said. Currently, there is no waiting list.

“It’s a seasonal thing as well,” Hunter said. “During the summer months, it tends to slow down a little bit because you can navigate outdoors. But in the colder months, especially during the holiday seasons, people are trying to come in and get help.”

Crimzon said he and his sister, Cora, had been partying with “lesser things” when they were first introduced to what looked like an ordinary pill. Both were in their late teens. Crimzon was told that it was Percocet, an anti-pain medication. Neither had any idea that it was the lethally addictive drug fentanyl.

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“When those pills were presented to us, we had no idea what it was,” Crimzon said. “And by the time you start doing them, you become physically dependent on it, where you get sick if you don’t do them.”

Family addictions

Raised in Hastings, Minnesota, Crimzon was raised in a family that offered plenty of warnings about the dangers of drinking and drugs. Addiction had plagued members on both sides of his family. His own father struggled with substance abuse issues and been through numerous treatments. He was in prison when Crimzon was 5 years old.

“He could never stay sober and clean and around us for more than a year,” he said.

Crimzon said he led largely a drug- and alcohol-free life through much of his teen years, aware of the ruin that drugs and alcohol can visit on people's lives.

“Luckily, my mother did not get us wrapped up into any of that, very little with drinking and marijuana and didn’t let it take over her. But (many) of my family members, you could say, are still out there in some form of addiction. So, it’s kind of all I’ve ever seen, and all I ever knew,” he said.

Crimzon said he was preparing for his senior year in high school when he began to use marijuana. The decision stemmed from the ongoing turmoil in his family’s life.

His dad had become a part of their lives again, this time with a new determination to live a life free of substance abuse. He had graduated from an Adult & Teen Challenge program and was starting to attend the Leadership Institute Program. He appeared to have broken free from his addictions.

“I must have been 16, almost 17, when he went into the program, and we let him back into our lives again for the 20th time,” Crimzon said. “And then I remember a month after he graduated, he took off and just disappeared without a word.”

His disappearance shattered the family, again. What Crimzon remembers about that time was watching his two sisters cry but not shedding a tear himself even though his heart hurt.

It was later, hanging out with some friends, that he began to dabble with marijuana and drugs. He discovered that they relieved him of the pain he had been feeling most of his life.

So it begins

“I felt as though everything I’d been feeling all my life melted away,” Crimzon said. “I could literally feel a weight lifted throughout my entire body. And it was just a relief. I thought, ‘This is what I’ve been missing my entire life.’”

Crimzon started partying, drinking and smoking marijuana. His younger sister, Cora, who was Crimzon’s best friend, began to take the same path.

“She started following me right down this path and doing all the things I was doing. And why not? I was Big Brother. I knew everything. She could trust what I was doing,” he said. “So she got into this partying and breaking some laws that got both of us legal consequences.”

As time went on, drinking and smoking marijuana were no longer delivering the relief and highs they once did. He wasn’t interested in using needles or smoking crack cocaine. Then when he was offered what looked like simple pain medication, he took it. It was like the euphoria he felt the first time he tried marijuana, but its effects were a hundred times better.

Up a notch

“What’s a pill, right? Society makes it seem socially acceptable like alcohol. And this is why they press fentanyl into pills to trick young people. So, we were offered these pills and it felt great,” he said.

His sister’s death accelerated his descent.

Crimzon’s mom, Amy Hargis, had given original names to all of her children. Cora, short for Corianda, had been named after the spice Coriander. His oldest sister, Autumn, is named after the season. Crimzon was named after the color.

Both Crimzon and Cora were trying to escape their addictions. Both realized they would need help if they were to be successful. Crimzon tried the short team challenge program in the Twin Cities. His sister had entered a program in Rochester. She only stayed for a week, Crimzon said.

When she left the program, it was one of the few times Crimzon wasn’t there for her.

He said that when an opiate addict takes a break from their addictions and gets sober, they run the risk of overdosing and dying because they think they can handle the same amount of drugs as before. But they’re tolerance level is no longer the same. The dose they once took can prove fatal.

His sister’s death of an overdose sent Crimzon off the rails. He descended into his addiction further than ever before. He said he was taking an average of 100 pills a day. He wasn’t eating. He was urinating blood. He struggled to sleep and when he did sleep, the woman he was with would wake him to tell him he was crying.

From the bottom, up

“After my sister passed, I was doing such a large quantity (of drugs) without really any caution towards my life or my future. I couldn’t see a future at this point. I couldn’t see after or beyond your addiction,” he said.

Then came his arrest, which for Crimzon was a form of deliverance.

“I went to jail, and I dried out in a cell,” he said. “It was extremely painful, all of it. I needed to get as bad as I was to get better. You can never truly heal and get recovery until you have reached rock bottom. So God let me hit rock bottom — and then some.”

Crimzon Anderson
Crimzon Anderson, who is nearing his one year with MN Adult and Teen Challenge is pictured on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Considering how far Crimzon has come, from the pit of despair to a point of hope and a purpose-driven life, it is no wonder that he considers his life a miracle.

“You wouldn’t recognize me a year ago,” he said.

Hunter, the program’s director, has seen Crimzon’s growth in different ways. One telling sign is there is a new light in his eyes.

Hunter said there is a common phrase used at Adult and Teen Challenge to describe the people in its program and the challenges they face.

“We’re nothing but a bunch of grown men with little boy issues. And that little boy that’s inside all of us has to be healed and dealt with. So that the man inside of his can rise up,” Hunter said. “And that’s what I’ve seen in Crimzon.”

Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or mstolle@postbulletin.com.
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