Everyone has a Thanksgiving tradition: the crayon hand outline turkey decorations, the touch football game. Me, I made my famous challah stuffing.

And Kevin Lavin called the cops, as he has every Thanksgiving Day for the past 13 years.

Not just any cops; one particular Alsip police officer named . . . well, I can’t say, for reasons that will become clear.

Lavin is the executive director of Guildhaus, a Blue Island residential treatment center for recovering alcoholics and addicts — or, lately, make that for recovering addicts and alcoholics, as the heroin epidemic has flipped the recovery world around.

“Things have changed,” says Lavin, sitting in his office at Guildhaus, in the shadow of Western Avenue, across from the Cal-Sag Channel. “From 1987 to 1995, there were alcoholics, for the most part, a little cocaine. From ’95 to 2002 it was crack cocaine. Insane. A few alcoholics here and there. Now my demographic is heroin addicts: 80 percent. You know where they’re from? Everywhere. Not the picture you think: 22 to 28, from well-to-do families, good families.”

Guildhaus executive director Kevin Lavin in his office. | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

Guildhaus executive director Kevin Lavin in his office. | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

Abused by a teacher at his Catholic high school, Lavin signed up for the Navy at age 17 and eventually became a hard-drinking trader with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

“It worked for me for years,” he said. “Life of the party.”

Then it stopped working. His brother shipped him off to Minnesota to dry out.

“I went to Hazelden and came here,” he said. “It was a big deal, finally admitting that I can’t not drink.”


That was 1991. Guildhaus had been founded in 1987 by retired firefighter Jack King, one of six brothers, all Chicago firemen — “tough, brawling bastards” in Lavin’s words. Some 13,000 men have passed through the Guildhaus halfway house since it opened.

Lavin’s first stab at sobriety lasted a dozen years. But he relapsed.

“It got so bad in such a short period of time, I wanted to die,” he said.

Lavin decided to kill himself. He got into his Camaro.

“I was drifting down [Interstate] 294 looking for an embankment to hit,” he said. “I found an embankment to hit, so I got off the expressway at 294 and Cicero.”

But intending to kill yourself can make you forget details of traffic etiquette. He didn’t signal; a police car stopped him.

“Listen, I’m not going to jail,” Lavin said. He knew there was a warrant out for him after missing a court date on a ticket.

“Yeah, you have to go in, you’ve got a warrant,” the officer said.

“See you later,” Lavin replied and hit the accelerator, leading police on a high-speed chase from 127th to 95th.

He ended up crashing at Pete George’s Chevrolet dealership at 95th and Cicero.

“I hit a pole, flipped three times, hit an Avalanche.”

The police were not happy when they finally got him.

“I kept screaming ‘Shoot me! Shoot me!’ ” said Lavin, who was beaten instead. “There were 12 or 13 guys, kicking and hitting.”

But the policeman who first pulled him over said, “Get off him, he’s mine.”

“I’m really waiting for a tune-up now,” said Lavin, who was in for a surprise.

“Are you hurt?” the officer said. Lavin replied that he was fine, but the officer told him “You’re hurt, we’ll take you to the hospital.”

“No I’m not,” Lavin said.

“What are you then?” the cop asked.

“I’m an alcoholic and addict, and I can’t stay sober. And I can’t live like this another day,” Lavin told him.

“Well,” the cop said, “you’re hurt, you’re going to the hospital.”

The officer went with him and stayed, talking for hours.

“He talked to me about my kids and said, ‘There are other ways,’ ” remembered Lavin, who finally got clean after that, and remained forever grateful for his chance.

“Every Thanksgiving I call him. He’s just a great guy. He didn’t charge me for fleeing and eluding. He had me for four or five felonies. He threw out the drugs I had.”

Why do you think he did that?

“Because he saw me as a human being that was hurting. He saw me as a father and a decent guy. This guy stayed and talked to me for 13 hours. We talked about life.”

Not exactly a Hallmark Thanksgiving story maybe, but true nonetheless. A time for turkey. And to be grateful for all the help you’ve gotten.

Coffee mugs for residents and participants of Guildhaus programs.

Some 13,000 men have passed through the Guildhaus halfway house since it opened in 1987. | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times