PHOENIX — Chris Allen has seen the depths of where addiction can take you.
When I last spoke with Chris outside his home four years ago — shirtless and probably high — he was a “broken” man. A man whose addiction, and the chaos it created, was on display for the entire world to see.
Neighbors on his north Phoenix street had grown tired of his drug house. Some set up cameras and microphones to capture evidence of the everyday mayhem. One posted the videos on YouTube.
I noticed and did a two-part story.
It aired on the opening night of the 2017 NBA finals in front of a huge audience. [More on this later. Read on.]
“I was gone, lost in life,” he said. “At 13 years old, I started heavily in drug addiction. That was my life... We make our own choices. It led to a life of complete misery, and death, and destruction.”
Four years later, Chris Allen is a different man.
That was clear during our recent sit-down interview at the Phoenix Rescue Mission, where he currently lives, to discuss his path to recovery.
First of all, Chris is sober and has been for 18 months. Second, he has a steady job for the first time ever. And third, he said he’s committing his life to faith and helping others.
“I just take it a day at a time,” Chris said. “Make sure to stay as spiritually fit as possible. I don’t like to look far into the future. It’s hard not to future-trip sometimes. But I’m grateful to know I can do that and have some plans.”
His caution is rooted in past failure.
Chris knows even the best laid plans mean little if addiction takes hold again.
The day after our 2017 story, he was arrested.
Chris told me on-camera he recently used drugs, which violated his probation.
He was sent back to jail.
During that time, some home investors, who saw our report and saw an opportunity, offered to buy the home from Chris and his father for cash.
After he got out of jail, Chris’s father gave him the rest of the money — $70,000.
“He blessed me with all that money,” Chris said. “Within a month and a half, that money was gone because of my addiction, my co-dependency issues. And I was homeless for the first time in my life.”
A few months on the street later, Chris said he found his bottom.
Where? A bus stop. When? Easter.
“On Easter morning 2019, my life changed forever. I was passed out on a bus stop on 19th Avenue between Cactus and Peoria. And God put it on a woman’s heart, and if she would see this, ‘Thank you from the bottom of my heart.’ You saw a man who you thought was dead on the bus stop and called to do a welfare check. And that’s the day my life changed forever. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Chris was arrested again. He had drugs on him. But that arrest would also be the turning point.
After another jail stint, Chris was sent to the Salvation Army before getting into the Phoenix Rescue Mission, which he credits for saving his life.
The Phoenix Rescue Mission is an Arizona faith-based non-profit that helps hundreds of men and women overcome homeless and addiction.
And in the fourth-floor dayroom of the mission’s dormitory, Chris talked about how the non-profit helped him control his addiction, prioritize his life, and lock down a job.
He said he’s also now working to help counsel those like him.
During our interview, Chris thanked me for giving him the opportunity to re-tell his story. A chance to show the public he’s no longer the man I broadcast in front of tens of thousands of people.
“I hated what I’d become,” he said. “I needed to have some kind of purpose, and I thought maybe having a couple of people come live with me, half of them from off the streets, made me feel like, ‘OK I’m doing something good.’ And I wasn’t. I was just enabling and causing chaos. I wouldn’t want anyone to experience that guilt, shame, and misery that I was in in life. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.”
Chris also spontaneously turned and faced our camera directly to say sorry to his former neighbors.
“I would like to apologize to all of my neighbors on Juniper Avenue. It was not my intention to bring harm on our neighborhood. But like I said, I was very lost... I hope and pray that all of your families are doing well.”
Throughout the interview, Chris referred to his past self as “lost” and “broken.”
And that’s another reason — a personal one — for why I wanted to sit down with Chris and talk to him again.
When he thanked me, I felt guilty. It’s a feeling that’s grown since the story.
Why? Here’s what I told Chris.
DAVE: You know I work on really big stories, typically. And what happened in that neighborhood wasn’t per-se a major, big investigation. These neighbors have this video. It’s dramatic. It’s made for TV. And in a way I feel kind of guilty. I don’t know. Would I still do the story? Yes. Would I do it differently? I would. I think that maybe it was exploitative. Looking back, you were someone who needed help.
CHRIS: Yes. Absolutely.
DAVE: I’m not sure I would call you out in the same way if I did that story now.
In recent years, a lot of news outlets have made considerable changes with how they cover crime, especially minor and non-violent ones.
A common example: Many news organizations no longer publish daily or weekly mugshot galleries. At ABC15, we ended the practice a couple years ago.
So looking back, was the way I handled the story and treated Chris Allen really all that different?
And yet, Chris remains surprisingly gracious. He told me not to feel guilty. He told me his actions had consequences.
He’s right. But so do mine.
Journalism has the power to make positive change, fix systemic problems, expose abuses of power, and right wrongs.
It also has the power to inspire and share stories of hope. And sometimes those stories come from the most unlikely sources.
DAVE: People are going to see this story and they’re going to see a guy, no thanks to me, humiliated.
CHRIS: Oh, David.
DAVE: You know, humiliated. Someone who caused trauma for the people in their neighborhood, someone dealing with a hell of a time in their own personal life. I mean, not only were you at the bottom, we put you on TV. But people are going to see this now. And what’s you’re hope? Is it, that people see some hope?
CHRIS: Exactly…And that would be one of the biggest blessings to know that maybe one person who thinks they’re too far gone might see this to know you’re not too far gone.
Well said, Chris. Good luck.
Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.