As told to Missy Reid
I signed a Division I football scholarship and later completed Airborne School with the Army. In college, I was a youth minister, student government president, an all-conference defensive end, and I just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history and political science. But I don’t have the right to vote. That’s what a heroin conviction will do for you.
People debate whether or not weed is a gateway drug. I don’t know about all that. Maybe it isn’t a gateway drug, but it’s a gateway, all right…to a lifestyle. A lifestyle fueled by arrogance and a false sense of power.
But you see this tattoo?
Not this one covering track marks, but this one. “No Regrets.”
I really don’t have any.
My mistakes define the person I am: the same person who survived three ODs to sit here now, clean, to tell you about it and to help others avoid a similar path. My life now is not all about me; it’s more about other people. I just know God has great things planned for me because I should be dead right now.
It began in fourth grade when I started smoking weed and drinking. Yeah, I know. It’s hard to believe. At the time, I was living with my grandmother —my mother had been deployed to Bosnia with NATO’s Peace Mission—and we lived in a pretty rough neighborhood in south Florida. My mother came home two years later, and by that time, I was using cocaine and selling weed. And I was also becoming somewhat of a local celebrity because of football.
This was a terrible combination.
In middle school, people expected me to be the next Tommie Frazier. And that came with special treatment. I had my first drug offense then, but it had nothing to do with the three ounce-a-week marijuana habit I supported by selling three times that much. It was for selling No-Doze at school. I got suspended for a couple of days and was told for the first of many times: “Keep it quiet. Don’t embarrass the program.” So that’s how it works, I thought. Just play the game, and everything’s fine. So I did.
I was somehow able to do it all—play football, go to school and sell drugs. Everybody wanted to be my friend—whether it was for football or drugs—so I kept taking huge risks and getting away with it.
As a sophomore, I blew off my first scholarship offer because I thought I was way too good for that school. That’s when I worked at Kmart to convince my mother that my money came from there. Actually, a lot of it did, because I was selling weed there, too. My junior year, I was named a 4-star prospect and the Orlando Sentinel had me ranked Florida’s #63 player. Offers started rolling in, and my head just exploded. I was so full of myself and thought I had it all figured out, but I was actually spiraling out of control. By the time I was a senior, I went to football practice but never to class. No one seemed to care, as long as I showed up on Friday night.
I visited lots of universities, got into bar fights, got the “keep it quiet” speech and ended up signing with the University of South Florida. There, I didn’t go to class and didn’t think it mattered. It never mattered before, right? But what I did do was steal from a teammate and was charged with felony grand theft and burglary. While the charges were pending, I worked as a pizza delivery boy and sold drugs while I was at it. I was untouchable—or so I thought—so I’d just wait it out until they let me come back. And they did. Charges were reduced, and my scholarship was still good. But they wanted me to pay an outstanding housing bill, so I basically said to hell with that and joined the Army.
I found out that most guys there wanted to have an experience like I was looking for: do drugs; have fun; don’t get caught.
After finishing Army Airborne School, I was in Fort Bragg going through the same routine—doing and selling drugs—when I went out to meet a contact who wanted cocaine. I was arrested immediately, charged with felony possession with intent to sell and deliver, and sat in a detention center for 80 days until charges were reduced. With my commander’s help, I avoided a dishonorable discharge and instead received a general discharge under honorable conditions. Once again, I came out smelling like a rose.
I found myself back home again, this time using and selling heroin. At 21 years old, I had a three gram-a-day heroin habit, which was the amount I could afford not to sell in order have the so-called good life. I had a 63” TV, an apartment paid for eight months in advance and every video system known to man, and all I did was sell drugs all day. I had just lit up a blunt, thinking about my awesome life when a SWAT team swarmed in on me, zip-tied my hands and charged me with trafficking heroin.
Even then, I thought I was on top of the wave. The humbling part came hours later, when violent withdrawals set in and I learned I could face 30 years in prison. But this time, no one came to my rescue or told me to just keep it quiet.
Nobody cared about my football career.
In seven years being clean, I’ve built a new life on the foundation of the old one. I don’t regret that I made all those bad decisions because otherwise, I wouldn’t have gone to prison where I met an amazing mentor who introduced me to the Bible. I wouldn’t have gone to a junior college where I could be involved in campus government while ministering to at-risk youth and growing to appreciate the value of higher education. And I wouldn’t have found Union College, where I completed my degree and my football eligibility as a team player rather than a headlines-maker.
It’s been a humbling experience. People here know my past, recognize my potential and believe in my future. And there’s no question—it really looked bleak at one time.
My last huge break ended up being a good thing. Charges were reduced from trafficking to possession, and I was released after 136 days of time served—long enough to be an eye-opener and short enough for a second chance.
Some may argue that I’ve had many second chances, but I don’t think so. All the other times, I was enabled to find new ways of doing the same ole thing without getting caught. This time, I became empowered by faith to stay sober and tell my story to people who need to hear it.
And I do it every chance I get.
This story originally appeared in Facing Addiction in Knox County, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky.