A Former Homeless Drug Addict Clung to Creativity to get Sober and Productive
The founder of Jeenewoosh clothing brand, Nathan White, battled mental illness, drug addiction, and homelessness before launching a youth empowering label. Now he is determined to help others to avoid misery and a bleak future by giving his suppo
From doodles to an inspiring clothing brand
Nathan White, 48, splits his time between working as a construction contractor and developing the Jeenewoosh clothing brand. The brand is distinct with its street art style. Nathan never did graffiti as a street artist, but he always admired its colourful style and messages.
Nathan enjoys scribbling in his notebooks and transferring his doodles onto T-shirts, baseball caps, and trainers. His brand name - a variant of the word ‘genius’ - was doodled out too.
During lockdowns in the UK, Nathan has been working on the final touches of his Jeenewoosh website. “I want to inspire people to achieve their dreams and life goals. Life can be hard sometimes, and I want to share my experience to support others,” Nathan said. Bleak memories of years spent with heavy drug addiction, failed rehabilitations, and homelessness have motivated Nathan to develop his business.
Drugs as a substitute for love
Nathan White was not given the best start in life. When he was three years old, police stormed the house, and Nathan was taken away from his parents’ care. That was the last time Nathan saw them. The boy had severe malnutrition and spent a year in a hospital regaining strength.
His grandparents raised Nathan. It was not a happy home. His abusive grandfather often punished Nathan, and the boy usually avoided going home after school.
Time at school was also challenging: schoolmates bullied Nathan, and he kept failing at every subject. “I was constantly daydreaming. I could not focus on any subject,” he said.
He never graduated or received any professional qualifications. At age 12, he started working and had many low-paying jobs: paperboy, gardener, waiter, and kitchen chef.
He got into drugs, hoping to escape the “torment of the mind” - self-loathing and pain of rejection. “It felt like being hugged by my mom,” he said.
Until his late thirties, his life swung from drug-infused numbness to sober periods.
Homelessness threatened life
Nathan remembers the four coldest months spent living without a tent, a blanket, or a sleeping bag in the Ballard Lake Woods near New Milton in the winter of 2010.
“Every night, I would fall asleep crying, for I did not know if I would wake up the next morning,” Nathan said.
Once a new day arrived, Nathan would lay awake for a couple of hours, trying gently and carefully to move his neck, hands, and legs. He needed to "thaw out" his frozen body for every sudden movement hurt. “I would lie for hours on wet leaves curled up near an old fallen tree. Every movement was painful. Wet clothes cut like knives, and I had no place to dry them,” shared Nathan.
Once warmed up enough to stand up, Nathan would start his journey to town. He made this slow and painful journey to spend a couple of warm hours at Milton Town Council. “The kind council ladies would offer me a cup of tea and a biscuit. They saved me, ”he said.
Nathan never begged on the streets and survived on food donated by a local church. He stored cans in his “pantry” - a small groove under the fallen tree that served him as a shelter at nights. Nathan could not heat his food by lighting up a bonfire in the forest, and just for survival, he mechanically ate tasteless cold beans, shapeless ham, and mixed vegetables out of tin cans.
"When you are homeless, you feel so broken that you do not think about survival skills. You can't think logically, and you do not ask friends for help. You just want to hide," he said.
Twisted fate: abuser's ashes in a plastic bag
Milton Town Council helped him find a place to live, and Nathan slowly started his life journey upwards.
But it was not homelessness, hunger, or life-threatening wintry nights that made Nathan question his choices. Life as he had it bear little meaning to him, and a vicious cycle of numb emotions, rejections, tiredness, search for drugs, and meaningless existence started wearing him off.
“One day, I went to look for a tree to end all this, but I could not find a good one. So I left it for another day,” Nathan said.
But two tragic events irreversibly altered his decision.
He has lost two of his most loved people in one week: a childhood friend and a cousin. Both committed suicides. “I realised I needed to live to honour their lives,” Nathan said.
He slowly started weaning himself off heroin, cocaine, and other drugs by gradually using smaller dosages.
“I was tired of waiting for a drug dealer who might not show up; I was tired of desperately trying to get money for the next dose; I was tired of looking at my damaged veins,” he said.
Nathan shut his apartment door to drug dealers and those who needed space to get high. He stayed motivated by watching inspirational videos, doing guided meditations, or listening to affirmations, or relaxing music on YouTube.
Despite many rejections, failures, and disappointments, Nathan never lost hope or became a bitter man. “I am not upset that my life turned to be this way. I am just sad. The only resentment I had in life was towards my grandfather, and I did everything not to be like him. I wanted to help others in similar situations to avoid all this suffering. There is always hope,” he said.
Destiny brought both men to a closure grotesquely. The old man suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. One late afternoon, when Nathan went to visit his grandfather at the care home, he felt that for a second the old man recognised him. Nathan looked at his helpless, fragile body and foggy eyes. He barely could recognise his abuser. “I forgave him,” he said.
When his grandfather’s body was cremated, Nathan was asked to bring the urn home. He had nothing else but a basic plastic shopping bag on him. “It was the most surreal walk in my life. I was carrying my abuser in a plastic bag,” he said.
Creativity and colour gave life direction
Creativity, love for colour, and meditation gave strength to Nathan to change his life.
“Creativity is my mindfulness, my meditation,” he explained. “In essence, when you create, you forget your troubles and pain. Therefore, during the creative process, the mind becomes silent, because a person focuses only on the project,” Nathan said.
In 2001, after eight months in rehabilitation, he volunteered at All Saints Hostel in Portsmouth. “I worked on the summer programme with young people. Some of them were vulnerable youth, and I could recognise my story in them. Working at this summer camp, I discovered my passion for empowering youth,” Nathan said.
Now he wants to show others that there is always a way out of any difficult situation. He is concerned that there are not enough places for young people to spend their time after school. “We need more youth clubs for children to be creative, to work on different projects, and find the support they might lack at home,” Nathan said.
He hopes that sales of his products will fund youth programmes in his home area.
P.S. Nathan was “suggested as a story” for a local community website, and I agreed to interview him. It turned out to be one of the most heart-touching conversations I had in a long time. I kept thinking about my daily worries and comparing his life experiences to mine. I have to admit, some of my problems seemed quite insignificant. I still wonder what kind of inner strength a person must possess to get sober, to re-integrate back into society, and to remain positive.