In 2014, I’d long since left my drug addiction and criminal history behind. Seven years had passed since I’d last used methamphetamine, eight since I’d last been arrested. That arrest had come courtesy of the FBI. I’d shown up at their offices, as I often did, to complain about the conspiracies against me—said “conspiracies” being a result of ten years’ meth addiction, the resulting psychosis. There’d been a bench warrant out for my arrest, dating back to when I’d broken into my relatives’ home and stolen valuables to pawn for drug money. The Bureau had no choice but to take me into custody.
Such was my life at the time.
Flash-forward to 2014. After incredible struggle and hard work, I was on top—from outside appearances, anyway. Earning the equivalent of a six-figure salary, living in San Francisco’s Mission District, etc., etc. I’d function at my biotech job, squeezed in amongst co-workers and managers who treated me well—performing tasks, meeting/exceeding expectations. Evenings, I spent in the gym, working towards certification to instruct Krav Maga (an Israeli form of self-defense, similar to martial arts). For years, I’d been pursuing my life’s dream of becoming a writer.
Yet a lurking malaise haunted me, peeking around the corners of my privileged existence. Sure, I was doing some good things…but I often couldn’t leave behind the feeling that I was slogging through, rather than living for, the working days and personal passions.
Have you ever felt this way…do you feel this way now? The feeling, life is great…isn’t it? You’re doing fine—excelling, even—but when you snap shut your laptop at the end of the day, or the doors slide closed on your commuter train home, you can’t shake that nagging voice, asking you…what could be missing?
I’d been dealing with other issues, too—ongoing mental health challenges from my meth addiction. Yet ultimately, my problem was, my life lacked direction. I’d not found resolution to a central question: How could I best put to use all I’d been blessed with?
I’d been blessed with a lot. I’d escaped one of the most drastic consequences of my poor decisions—long-term incarceration. Through the course of my two decades of addiction and criminal activity, I only spent a total of about two-and-a-half months behind bars. None of my times intoxicated behind the wheel had led to arrests (or, thankfully, injury accidents). The narcotics trade I’d fueled left many others imprisoned, but not me. Even the various “victimless” ways I’d cheated and lied—on taxes, health and unemployment insurance, and through consumer fraud—rarely resulted in full ramifications.
In 2014, when my biotech employer closed their doors, laying off almost all employees (me included), it seemed clear: the world of cubicles and conference rooms, generous though that world had been to me, was one I needed leave behind. I’d been doing some volunteer self-defense coaching for a Boys & Girls Clubhouse. I decided to “start a nonprofit to keep kids off the streets.” A noble idea, to be sure. But impractical to the point of unfeasibility.
Someone introduced me to someone who introduced me to Defy Ventures. Soon enough, I became a Defy Entrepreneur in Training (EIT). My mentors, coaches, and fellow EITs helped me turn my Krav Maga passion into a business. I taught self-defense as a corporate learning event/team building exercise (believe it or not, it really works!). My client list grew: Cisco, Google, LinkedIn, Slack. Defy grew, too, and I came on board as a full-time employee.
Yet something more remarkable happened. As I worked closely with my fellow EITs, my experience at Defy taught me, among other things, to reexamine my criminal history. I came to a certain realization (Warning: the following may sound laughably obvious)…see, I used to believe the reason I was never a violent criminal was because I made better decisions than persons who committed violent crimes. I really believed that. Yet as I interacted with my fellow EITs, came to know them as human beings, it dawned on me: I never committed violent crimes, because I never “had to.”
When I was selling cocaine, for example, I was doing so as a college student, my tuition paid for…as was the rent on the apartment I sold drugs from. Had that not been the case, I would’ve still made the decision to deal drugs…but been forced to do so from the streets. Violent crime, with me as the perpetrator or victim (or both), would’ve almost certainly followed. As would’ve incarceration far in excess of my two-and-a-half months.
As I began working closely with my fellow EITs, I began to understand: Excepting for birth circumstances, they were very similar to me.
I became friends with Curtis Norris. From childhood, Curtis had been exposed to violence and racism. He and his father were attacked by dogs at a Martin Luther King, Jr. rally; he witnessed the KKK tar and feather a man in the streets of his town.
Had I been educated the way Curtis had, instead of being put on my path to wearing cap and gown after my paid-for college education? My life likely would’ve taken the same turns as his (he spent a decade in prison after causing the death of a friend).
Today, Curtis is the Founder & CEO of Metro Mobile Power Wash. He graduated Defy and took first place in a Business Pitch Competition, earning $15K in grants.
His life has direction.
Thanks to inspiration from EITs like Curtis, today my life has a compass. It directs me to use the unfair advantages society gave me, to help level the playing field for others. I pursue a career (writing) that fulfills me. Whenever possible, I spend weekends and days volunteering in prisons, working with incarcerated persons to help them transform their lives, the way Defy helped me transform mine. Once a week, I co-facilitate a Toastmasters-style group in a women’s unit of county jail.
Believe it or not, the same FBI that arrested me? In 2019, they recognized me with a community service award, in large part for my work with Defy. The Bureau flew me to their Washington D.C. headquarters, where the FBI Director personally presented my award. I was one of 57 Americans to be so honored. You can read about it in my article in The Washington Post.
Whether your life needs a whole new direction or simply a slight shift in your current one, consider getting involved with Defy Ventures: As a volunteer, donor, or EIT. You’ll join the many, many others—myself included—who discover yet another excellent way to put to good use, all we’ve been blessed with.
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