Sometimes, life’s stories are more compelling than any fiction.
Kevin Zdrill’s new book, which was released in October and is published by FriesenPress, is titled All Eyes on Me. It is subtitled A True Story of Addiction, Recovery, and Hope.
The non-fiction book is about Vincent Lillie, a young man Zdrill met a couple of years ago at the Pan Am Boxing Club in Winnipeg’s Exchange District, where the two work out.
"It was a chance meeting," Zdrill, who lives in southeast Winnipeg, told the Lance. "Before one of the classes, I was getting ready and Vincent was there quietly putting on his hand wraps. He introduced himself, and then I kept running into him in the following weeks. Over time, he began to open up about his life, and he’d enlighten me a bit more and tell me about his life’s journey, including the time he spent in prison and his struggles with addictions."
According to the book’s description on amazon.ca, the story of Lillie’s life "starts with the destruction of his family at the hands of his father’s sexual abuse, worsens with his school’s discriminatory segregation of him, and deteriorates further with every drug he does, every crime he commits and each of his incarcerations."
After learning more about Lillie’s life, Zdrill was inspired by his willpower and determination, which he said shows the strength of the human spirit. On his road to recovery, Lillie — who currently lives in Elmwood — has become a mentor and speaker, helping others to become the best version of themselves, Zdrill said.
The schools Lillie has visited, to date, include Elmwood High School, Gordon Bell High School, Hugh John MacDonald School, and Niji Makhwa School.
"I was drawn to the fact he wanted to give back to the community, and get into schools and talk to kids," Zdrill said.
Eventually, Zdrill broached the idea of documenting Lillie’s story, and Lillie "jumped at the idea," he said.
Zdrill said the process for the book began the best part of two years ago, when the pair started meeting up at the Winnipeg Free Press Café for an hour once a week, when Lillie would share his thoughts, experiences and insights.
"The fist time we met Vincent’s mom came along, and it was wonderful to have his mom there. Then, the two of us basically spent the next six months meeting. And from there, came the writing, so it was pretty much two years in the making, but it was a labour of love," he said.
In terms of the personal responsibility he felt being entrusted to tell Lillie’s story, Zdrill said he was "very humbled." He said the first part of the book is essentially a chronology of his subject’s life, and the second part focuses on what he’s been doing in the community and how he’s been giving back.
"Before COVID-19, he was able to get into some of the schools and do presentations to the various grades, when he’d speak about is life experiences and the struggles he’s been through."
The book is foreworded by social justice advocate Mitch Bourbonniere, a director of service at Ogijiita Pimatiswin Kinamatwin (OPK), which works with some of the city’s most vulnerable individuals.
Go online at alleyesonme.zdrill.ca for more information.
The Lance community journalist
Simon Fuller is the community journalist for The Lance. Canstar’s senior reporter, he joined the team in June 2009 to write for The Sou’wester, which was then the new paper in the Canstar family.