A tale of redemption

This is a book worth reading that has been too long overlooked.

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

I ONCE WAS LOST: A TRUE STORY. Paperback. By Fred Moore. 265 pages. Price varies.

 Fred Moore knew he was a golden boy. He grew up in East Winston, the predominantly black side of Winston-Salem, in a middle-class family, with a mother who never let him doubt that he was college bound. Above all, he believed in himself. Sure, he did a few dumb teenage things, and tried a little weed and alcohol, but all the guys did that. No harm done

So when he started college at Hampton University in Virginia, he felt destined for great things. Before long, he had made up his mind to be a doctor. And for a while, things went as planned. He graduated with a degree in biology education, so that he had a fallback if somehow the dream of being a doctor didn’t materialize. Not that he thought there was any chance of that, of course.

After college, he didn’t immediately get accepted at med school, but he could deal with that.  He was off to N.C. State University in Raleigh to enter a graduate program in physiology while waiting to reapply. He knew he probably should work a little harder, but he wasn’t about to give up having fun – especially fun with girls and drugs.  Things would work out.

Sure enough, the next year he was accepted at the medical school at UNC and come fall he was off to Chapel Hill. Life was great.

So how did Moore wind up spending most of his adult life homeless and alone, in and out of jails and prisons, never fulfilling his dream?

The short answer is crack cocaine. The longer answer is what makes this book so important and insightful. In sometimes excruciating detail, Moore clearly answers the question of how someone with so much potential can have everything go wrong.

It’s almost as if we have two narrators: the intelligent, educated, articulate one, and the street-talking dude trying to be cool. Eventually, the aspiring doctor loses out.

With painful honesty, Moore describes his descent into coke and crime. He tells us how he broke his mother’s heart and betrayed just about everything and everyone important to him.

When he arrived on campus at Hampton, Moore, despite those few teenage escapades, was naive and inexperienced. When other kids told him getting a little high made your mind sharper, he believed them. When they said, oh, this isn’t really addictive, he believed that too. He was having such a good time. When they told him it was OK to sell a little, to friends, he thought that was cool. When, arrested for the first time, he got off lightly, he knew once again that his life was charmed. …

Somehow, he was always sure that God’s grace was protecting him. He felt invincible. “Can’t nothing really bad happen anyway… I could do no wrong…’

But, of course, he was doing wrong, and before long it caught up with him.

After years of spiraling down, losing jobs, getting arrested, his luck ran out. From 1998 to 2007, he was in prison in North Carolina.

When he got out, he was clean, and ready to start over. Parks Chevrolet in Kernersville took a chance on him, giving him his first job in 15 years. He stayed there until the recession hit the next year. Then it was back to school, eventually earning an associate’s degree in applied science/biotechnology at Forsyth Tech.

Besides helping him get off drugs, his time in prison had enabled him to redirect his spiritual journey, to come to a better understanding of God’s grace in his life. Today, he is the music director of one church and also regularly plays piano at another. He does a good job of describing his deepening understanding of what his relationship with God was and what it should be. The book title’s reference to the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace” is apt.

Moore’s book is not without flaws, mostly one that’s common in books published today – a lack of good editing. There are times when his transitions, or absence of them, are jarring, taking the reader temporarily out of the narrative. At Hampton, he abruptly mentions his apartment, but we never knew he’d moved out of the dorm. The first we learn of his not getting into medical schools when he graduated from Hampton – surely a major setback – comes when he mentions attending N.C. State while waiting to reapply. When a writer knows his story so well, it’s difficult for him to notice such lapses, lapses that are easily corrected. Everybody needs a good editor.

All in all, though, this is a remarkable book, a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks it’s OK to do just a little coke or fentanyl or oxycontin or whatever’s going down at the moment. It’s also a valuable book for those who, like Fred’s mother, are struggling to understand and deal with a loved one who seems hopelessly lost.

The Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County and the North Carolina Arts Council did well to get it into print. I just wish a publisher or organization would reissue it at an affordable price so that more people could benefit. Copies are hard to find and often expensive. I Once Was Lost has been out 10 years now, but it hasn’t had the attention it deserves.

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