Thanksgiving has new meaning for former gang member, addict recovering at Hiway 80 Mission

Thanksgiving has new meaning for former gang member, addict recovering at Hiway 80 Mission

LONGVIEW, Texas (KLTV) - As we enjoy the Thanksgiving weekend in East Texas, it’s hard to believe that there’s anyone who “doesn’t celebrate it.” However, for one man in an East Texas shelter, his hard life and an addiction shaded the holidays.

Celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday at the Hiway 80 Rescue Mission was a new experience for Californian Benjamin Pennebaker. Not because he was at the mission, but because he never celebrated before.

“Growing up in LA, being around gang members and stuff like that, being in that lifestyle, holidays were something not enjoyable,” he said.

He’s having tattoos removed now from his previous gang life. After starting on drugs at age 8, he knew little else.

“I never really was thankful for life,” Pennebaker said.

He served prison time, and he came to Longview in 2017. At one point, he was hospitalized for attempted suicide, and he was sent to a mental hospital.

Six months ago, he arrived at the mission and that changed everything.

“Literally saved my life,” Pennebaker said. “The relationships the people you meet. The guys you’ve been in here with the staff helped me in so many ways.”

He’s recovering in the mission’s discipleship program, and he really celebrated Thanksgiving this year.

“I got into the program, found the Lord. I’m actually thankful to wake up and be here another day,” Pennebaker said. “I’m thankful every day for small things.”

Pennebaker is also having the tattoos removed to improve his chances of securing employment.

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