CROSS RIVER, N.Y. – Two decades ago, C. Thomas Carson was sleeping underneath a bridge in the Bronx.
Homeless and addicted to crack, he had resorted to collecting bottles and cans to fuel his drug habit. One night, when he was just about to go to sleep, Carson was suddenly compelled to get up and gather more bottles and cans. His journey took him almost five miles, netting him $10, money he planned on spending on drugs. However, when he returned back to his makeshift campsite beneath the bridge, everything was on fire.
“If I had been there, I would have been incinerated,” he said. “I knew at that point that there was something more to my life.”
Carson immediately called his father and began his journey to sobriety. More than 20 years later, Carson is happily married and serving the town of Cross River as its Postmaster.
“I really shouldn’t be here,” he said. “I was shot at, I was stabbed, beaten. I am just blessed to be here.”
Carson’s road from homelessness to town Postmaster began in New Rochelle during the ’50s and early ’60s. His father was a Baptist minister and his mother ran a catering business, and they worked hard to provide their children with a comfortable middle-class existence.
“I was a good athlete and a good student,” Carson recalled. “But when I was 16, I got involved in drugs and alcohol. And that ended up lasting 25 years.”
During his years of addiction, Carson cut himself off from his family, including his then-wife and young daughter, Ashley. When he began his recovery, he slowly began to mend those fences, seeing his daughter on weekends as he worked flipping burgers in Pelham. After about six months at the burger place, Carson met a man who owned a machine shop.
“He said, ‘You seem to have something on the ball.’” Carson said. “’Would you like to come work for me? I’ll pay you $2 more an hour than what you’re making.’”
Carson took the offer and began training as a machinist. At the same time, he started looking for ways to help others avoid the dangerous road he had once tread.
“I just started going back to church and being involved and looking for ways to give back,” he said. “So, I went into youth fellowship and prison ministry.”
It was at the church that the next miraculous event of Carson’s life began to take shape.
“One day in church, someone said to me, ‘There are many streams within people, and we believe there’s a book in you!’” he said. “So, I started writing a book.”
That book, “A Journey Through the Shadows of Death,” was self-published by Carson in May of 2006. A harrowing recounting of his struggles and how his family and his faith helped Carson beat back his demons, the book pulled no punches when talking about his addictions and failings.
“In the book, I write about a lot of things that I needed to atone for,” Carson said. “And one of them was this passage, ‘I’m clueless as to whether I have a son or daughter. And I often think about this and my prayer is that this book will open doors to set the record straight once and for all.’”
Five years after the book’s release, Carson received an unexpected phone call.
“The woman on the phone said that that book had a profound effect on her,” he said, “and she’d like to discuss it.” As they talked, the woman gave Carson her name, Morgan King. Carson, recalling that he’d once had a relationship with a woman named Tonya King, wondered if she could be his daughter. King confirmed that Tonya was her mother and that she had found his book on Amazon and picked it up after her fiancée noted the family resemblance between her and Carson.
“So, she ordered the book and said, ‘If he mentions me in the book,’ then I’m going to call him.’” Carson recalled. “And I had my telephone number in the book. So, I mentioned her; she called me.”
As his family relationships were being healed, Carson’s career was also coming together. In 2013, he applied for a job with the Postal Service and began working overnight shifts running the machines at the Mid-Hudson processing plant. In time, he became a mail carrier and then transferred into sales. Ultimately, however, his goal was to get into customer service, and, in October 2016, he was named Officer in Charge at the post office in Cross River.
“When I first came here, people said, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re such a breath of fresh air. You’re smiling, you’re helpful,’” he said. “And I said, ‘Well, that’s one of the reasons that I work for the postal service is to serve.’ And they immediately embraced me and took me in as if I were a member of the community, even though I live in Rockland County.”
Two years after his appointment, the community picked up rumblings about Carson’s possible transfer out of Cross River and immediately took action. They started a position that garnered 400 signatures and sent it to everyone from the district manager to Carson’s boss. “That, along with my work ethic and the way I was running things, led to me becoming Postmaster here in Cross River,” he said.
Today, Carson’s life couldn’t be happier. He and his wife have been married for 20 years and he has a wonderful relationship with his family, including Morgan, who works as a dental hygienist in Charlotte, N.C. And he continues to serve the community of Cross River with a smile on his face.
“It’s awesome because I know all of the families,” he said. “I know everyone’s name. You know that sitcom from back in the ’80s, ‘Cheers’? ‘Where everybody knows your name’? I make a point of greeting everyone by their name. So, when they come in, I know who they are, I know what number P.O. box they have, and they’re like, ‘Hey, Tom, how are you?’ And that is just the small town feel that I love.”