Walter Patton on the left and his mother, Tracy Patton on the right in front of NAACP banner.
Walter Patton and his mother, Tracy bring experienced based therapy to their Central neighborhood. Credit: Provided by Walter Patton

Tracy and Walter Patton are a mother and son duo from Central who share a common vision: healing. While they operate in separate spaces, their work is intertwined. They both help people move beyond trauma.

Tracy arrived at the Signal office first for a recent visit and settled in. When Walter entered, he immediately wrapped his arms around his mom. After they embraced, they were ready for the interview.

Tracy is a woman in recovery. She used her own experience to create Survived to Live, a non-profit for women in recovery.

“I am in recovery for the rest of my life from crack cocaine,” she said. “I went to prison for passing bad checks to take care of my family and to be able to smoke crack.”

Keeping a promise

While in prison, Tracy vowed to change her life. She became anchored in her faith, and cites that as one of the things that got her through those tough times.

“I went to eight different prisons in two years,” Tracy said. “God took me on a journey. When I was in prison, I promised God I would help assist women in all aspects of recovery because he gave me a second chance.”

When Tracy was released, she began to get involved. After getting jobs at the Hitchcock Center and Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, Tracy decided she wanted to do her own thing.

“I was at the Hitchcock Center for two years,” she said. “I then went to CMHA and worked part time helping residents who come in to find jobs.”

While at CMHA, Tracy began to recognize a major problem: drugs.

Many of the residents who came in looking to find jobs were high, she remembered.

She wondered: “How could they focus on building structure and foundation in their lives if they’re high?”

With the belief that people were not truly job ready because of drug addiction and wanting to do something about it, she walked away from the job at CMHA.

“I took up my CDCA (Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant),” Tracy said. “I need to be able to provide resources to women in all aspects of recovery. It’s my passion. I eat, sleep, and dream about this work.”

After passing all her certifications, Survived to Live was born. 

Learning from loss

Tracy’s son’s story is quite similar. When a devastating event occurred in Walter’s life, he decided to make a change for the better.

“I lost my best friend at the age of 17,” he said. “He was 16 when he was shot and killed in front of Lonnie Burton [rec center].”

That was almost 20 years ago. Walter said the shooting left his community devastated, and he and his friends turned to unhealthy methods of coping.

“We started drinking, smoking, and even utilizing sex to overcome those traumas,” he said. “I had never sought out therapy or professional help after the shooting.”

Walter knew that wasn’t sustainable, so he decided to take action.

Although he didn’t trust finding help outside his community, he took a chance with a therapist in Cleveland. Walter started feeling stronger. He decided he would take what he learned in his therapy sessions and help his friends.

 “It was just a thought,” he added. “I didn’t think that anyone would be on board.”

But they were. Once word got out about what he was trying to do, a licensed therapist loved the idea and joined him, and Ghetto Therapy was born.

Tracy and Walter Patton
Tracy and Walter Patton

‘Why I do what I do”

Walter and Tracy both name each other as their inspiration for doing this work.

“Nobody is perfect, right?” Walter said. “Everybody has their flaws. The closest thing to perfect is my mom. She never gave up on me. My mom sacrificed her freedom by trying to take care of me and my brother.”

Tracy Patton comes from a family with a rich history in Central, and she is very proud of it.

“It’s an honor for me to talk about where I come from because that’s what created who I am today,” Tracy told Signal Cleveland. “My grandmother was there for 30 years. My mother was there for 17 years. I’ve been there for 20 years now.”

When asked what her favorite thing about Central is, she shared that it offers a space to grow.

“What I love is that it gives an opportunity for people that can’t do well for themselves right now to be able to grow and embrace the process of growing, to move further in their life,” she said.

Tracy glowed with energy as she talked about Walter and how he has been such a powerful influence in her life.

“My son is a servant of the Lord,” she said. “He’s consistent. He keeps going.”

As long as Walter keeps going, Tracy said, she has no plans to let up anytime soon.

“He always says to me: Mommy, you inspire me. That’s why I do what I do.”

Ready to do more

They both look forward to a bright future as they plan to continue to expand their reach and services.

“I want to start a financial literacy program, a book club, and maybe some kind of game tournaments where residents can win a stipend,” Tracy said. 

Walter expressed an interest in finding a permanent space to host Ghetto Therapy.

“I’m in year three of this work,” he said. “By year five, I want to have a brick and mortar in Central. I want to be stationed in one place.”

As Tracy left Signal Cleveland, she offered a few more words of wisdom and encouragement for the community.

“We have to bring the generations together,” she said. “Older and younger people.”

She believes that we can all learn something from one another, if we come to the table with an open heart.

“The older generation lays the foundation, the younger generation keeps it going,” she added. “We have to have that younger energy. I’m 58. You get to a certain age and you become burned out and tired, but you still have that wisdom to pass on that comes with living. That means a lot.”

Survive to Live

Survived to Live is a non-profit created by Tracy to help women in all stages of recovery to live a sober and productive life. The organization has helped more than 100 women to date.

She walked Signal Cleveland through what day one would look like for anyone seeking her services: “First, I would greet her with empathy. Then I would do an assessment to see exactly what her needs are. After the assessment, I can start working to make sure that her needs are met. If I can’t meet her needs, I will assist in making sure she gets the resources she needs.”

Services provided include:

  • Recovery Housing
  • Peer-Support
  • SUD Counseling
  • Intensive Outpatient Groups
  • Partial Hospitalization Programs
  • LGBTQ+ Recovery Services
  • Referrals to Behavioral Health Services
  • Homeless Shelters for Men, Women, or Families
  • Residential Treatment
  • Recovery Housing Resources
  • Financial Support
  • Health and Wellness Community Events

Ghetto Therapy

Since 2018, Ghetto Therapy has provided free therapy in the Central. Upon arrival, guests are greeted personally by Walter. A hot catered meal is provided weekly. Attendees are able to take time to enjoy their meals and socialize with one another. The therapy portion then begins, which includes:

  • Reiki Therapy
  • Spoken Word
  • Shared Experiences 
  • Massage Therapy
  • Sound Bowls
  • Art Therapy 
  • Yoga 
  • Mediation
  • Foot Detoxing
  • Music
  • Games

The weekly therapy sessions are free and open to the public. Themed nights center men, women and teens. Last month, Ghetto Therapy hosted its first LGBTQ+ night, and those events will now occur every two months.

“It was important for me that everyone has a night where they feel like, ‘I’m special, this is for me,’” Walter told Signal Cleveland.

He said he particularly looks forward to teen night.

“The teens were coming in with their parents, and a lot of times the parents were talking about their teens during the sessions,” he said. “I thought to myself, the teens don’t have a space to vent about their parents or other issues they may be going through. That’s how I came up with teen night.”

Signal background

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Community Reporter (he/him)
Najee has been a Cleveland Documenter since it started in 2020. He joins Signal Cleveland from a role as an organizer with New Voices for Reproductive Justice. He leads the Central Community Listening Team.