From addict to tight end
Alton Voss doesn’t have to score a touchdown, catch a pass, or even take another snap for the Grand Valley State University football team to feel like he’s accomplished something.
That’s because the 25-year-old sophomore tight end has already won something back that’s more valuable than any game or individual award—his life.
Voss didn’t have a traditional childhood. He was born in Pontiac, Mich., but moved to Florida with his mother and sister at the age of 3 and eventually moved in with Robert (Robin) Burge.
“I grew up in, I guess you could say, a broken home,” Voss said. “A year and a half later, we met Robin, and from meeting Robin all the way until I was 18, I lived with him and played high school football at Gulf High. That’s when colleges started coming in with offers.”
After his junior year, Voss was ranked as the best quarterback in the state of Florida and the 26th best dual-threat quarterback in the country. He posted 1,600 yards passing and 600 yards rushing during his senior year in 2006.
Not only was he a star on offense, but he also led his team in interceptions and sacks, and he blocked eight kicks. He would eventually decide to attend the University of South Florida on a full-ride scholarship to play for USF head coach Jim Leavitt, where he would be redshirted his first year on campus.
Around this time, though, Voss began experimenting with heavy drugs. He had started smoking marijuana at the age of 12, but just before high school graduation, drugs became a major problem in his life.
“That’s when I tried Roxicodone,” Voss said. “I was able to do it and not become addicted before I graduated, but when I went off to college at South Florida—my freshman year—the second semester in the spring is when I started seeing myself going back home every weekend and just getting high from Friday night until Monday morning.”
From there, his drug addiction only became worse.
Voss decided to move back home for the summer, and instead of just getting high over the weekend like he had previously done, his addiction to prescription pills eventually turned it into an everyday thing for him over a two-week span.
“I was so confused and lost. I just went up to Coach Leavitt’s office and sat down and talked to him and said football is not what I want to do anymore,” Voss said. “I just wanted to be a student, and I quit just like that.”
ATTEMPTING A COMEBACK
Voss eventually was admitted to a pain management clinic. This allowed him to have his own prescription for Oxycodone, Roxicodone and Soma muscle relaxers. He attempted to make a comeback in school and on the field, but if the drugs weren't holding him back, the withdrawals were.
“Still being addicted, I was withdrawing when I was trying to make my comeback,” Voss said. “Eventually I hit a low to where I was shooting up cocaine with a needle, and then eventually I lost my mind.”
Besides pills always being at his disposal, having his own prescription presented Voss with another opportunity—drug dealer.
“I wasn’t working and then I found out for one little pill, I could make $12 off it,” Voss said. “I was getting 360 pills, so I thought this is a lucrative business. So a lot of my friends who were dropping out of school weren’t doing anything with their lives, they fell into the addiction, and I started selling to my friends and I didn’t discriminate to whoever wanted to buy. It was money and I wanted money, and I needed to support my habits.”
Occasionally, Voss would find himself dope-sick, or experiencing withdrawals. On his third or fourth day of dealing with dope sickness, he would occasionally scheme people in drug deals.
“I remember one time I put Advil in an empty bottle and I told this guy this is 100 pills,” Voss said. “Actually it was two 100-pill bottles and for each bottle he was going to pay me $700, so I made the bottles look exactly like you would get at the pharmacy, made the transaction, took $1,400 and I left.”
Voss received 360 pills every 28 days, which averages out to almost 13 pills a day. But for him, that wasn’t enough.
“When my addiction was at my worst, 12 pills a day wasn’t enough,” Voss said. “I remember some days I’d do 30. It got nasty.”
Sometimes Voss would have to wait an extra seven or eight days before he could see a doctor to get his prescription. He called it his “celebration day” when he was able to get his pills.
A TURN FOR THE WORSE
Voss looked forward to celebration day by planning to take as many pills as he could. But on one of his worst days, he managed to outdo himself.
“I remember this day I did 34 pills, and I don’t remember going to sleep,” Voss said. “I remember waking up. I don’t know if I overdosed. I don’t really recall.”
Pills weren’t the only drugs of choice for Voss. For four months, he was shooting cocaine into his body using a syringe. One day, he bought $50 worth of cocaine and shot the entire $50 worth at once, giving him his worst drug experience yet.
“I put it all in the syringe and I shot it up, and I immediately I got my high and seconds later, my heart was like pounding in my chest,” Voss said. “I felt like it was going to explode. Luckily, blessed or fortunate, nothing did happen and I was able to come out of that. That was the lowest that made me reflect on what I was doing with my life and that I wanted to change.”
Voss then began experiencing a manic episode where he believed that he was going to win the lottery. He decided to buy six scratch-off tickets and managed to win six times in a row. The first ticket won him $40, and the other winners were either a small amount or simply just another free ticket.
“I called my buddy who is in Holland and said ‘Hey man, what’s going on? I have this intuition that I’m going to win the lottery,”’ Voss said. “I think he was really concerned, so he called me back a few minutes later and he was like, 'I talked to my Dad and we think it would be a good for you to come up here for a few days just to get away.'”
At the time, Voss had $1,600 in his backpack. He went to the school library and bought a plane ticket and left for Michigan without telling anyone.
After arriving in Holland, Voss was still experiencing his manic episode, which led him to steal a car.
“I went out for a jog, and I saw this Pontiac Grand Am just sitting there and it was running and the guy walked away and it was like, ‘Well, this is perfect. This is for me to take,’” he said.
Voss stole the car and ended up at a local cemetery, but his actions finally caught up to him. Holland police officer Joe Slenk arrested Voss and took him into custody in March 2011.
TAKING FORWARD STRIDES
Defense attorney Jane Patterson assisted Voss in reducing his charges to a misdemeanor. Patterson also knew a guy named Ross Pool who went to CMI Abasto in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for heroin addiction and suggested that Voss follow the same path.
“She presented it to me as a gift,” Voss said. “I didn’t even think twice. I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Voss spent two years in Argentina getting a cure to his addiction. He had his treatment tailored to him, where CMI focused on giving Voss tasks to find it within himself to improve as a person.
“It forced me to sit down and really observe and reflect on how I act because it’s not anything outside of me, it’s internally how I see the world and how I act and I react,” Voss said about his treatment.
Throughout his time in rehab, Voss managed to stay in touch with people from home via email or phone calls. One of those people happened to be the person who arrested him, Officer Slenk.
“About six or seven months into my treatment, he sent me an email because a buddy of mine who is with me in CMI is a neighbor of Joe,” Voss said. “So there was like some conversation where our names were passed and he looked me up online and he saw that it was me and sent me an email saying, ‘Hey, I arrested you. For some reason I feel like I want to reach out to you and talk and see where this will go.’”
Slenk visited Voss in Argentina for a week at the end of his inpatient, which was the one-year mark of Voss’ treatment.
Ironically, Voss lived with Slenk’s parents in the summer, where Voss commuted back and forth from football summer workouts.
Now, Slenk attends every GVSU home game with his daughters and wife to watch Voss, and the relationship between the officer and the former drug addict has continued to grow.
“I hang out with him one day a week at least,” Voss said. “He’s my best friend, really.”
The journey for Voss to join the GVSU football program began two years ago when he and head coach Matt Mitchell began talking over email and phone about the possibility of Voss becoming a Laker.
This season, Voss has seen time at tight end and special teams.
“I heard about him three years ago,” Mitchell said. “I met with some people in Holland and East Grand Rapids that knew him. He wanted to try to get back into the game after some issues. He had to go Division II based on NCAA rules. To look to further his education and his playing career, he thought Grand Valley was the best spot.”
Voss has yet to come across any drugs or have any offered to him since he’s been at GVSU. Surprisingly to most people, he’s able to drink beer but stays away from liquor.
“One thing that CMI is able to do is they make you a normal person,” Voss said. “I don’t count my days. My focus isn’t on my drugs anymore; it’s on my daily life. Now that I fixed the core of me, all the other stuff that used to be a problem is not a problem now. I can drink casually and have a couple of beers and it’s not a problem.”
For the first time in a while, Voss is enjoying his life. With the vices purged from his body, he has something more powerful than any drug—peace of mind.
“I’m not suffering now,” he said. “I’m happy and I’m balanced.” firstname.lastname@example.org