"At the time it was cross tops and black beauties. Not yet the methamphetamine."
"I was caught up in the first DUI sweep in San Diego. I had my picture on the front page of the Union-Tribune. One year on Christmas morning I was San Diego's 'Most Wanted.' That was actually for contracting without a license. This was all drug related."
Tony, 42 years old, thickset, clean-shaven, ran a hand through his thick brown hair. He bounced his left knee up and down while he talked. In the garage beside his El Cajon carpentry shop, mechanics wrestled with car parts. Across the way, a blue gantry crane rolled back and forth on its tall white track. The sky was low. Tony had painted his shop's office dark gray. On the wall above his desk, he'd taped a sheet of yellow paper on which he scrawled a note to remind himself to pray for a friend's business.
"I actually started getting in trouble well before high school. I remember stealing beer out of my dad's refrigerator when I was about nine or ten years old. Coors. It was the first year they came out with the little cans. Remember the little cans? The little tiny cans? Yeah, I stole a couple of them out of the refrigerator. We were living in La Mesa at the time. I remember drinking them and feeling it. I was out in the front yard, rolling around in the grass, and the beer felt pretty good. I liked it.
"I was a bad news bear. I was actually diagnosed with attention deficit disorder when I was probably around six or seven years old. In fact, I was probably one of the originals on Ritalin. My mother took me off of it after a while 'cause I was very tired on it. I guess after seeing somebody so hyperactive for so long, it just kind of pained her to see me just kind of drowsed out....
"I'd say from the time I was 12 or 13 years old I was always robbing liquor out of the liquor cabinet. The first time I used marijuana I was in fifth grade. I was growing up in Santee. We lived in Santee and then we moved away. We moved around a lot. My dad was buying and selling houses. In Santee during that time, it was all drugs everywhere. That was back in the days of the $10 lid. It was the drug culture. Everyone was doing it. I was using regularly by the time I was a freshman in high school.
"I really wasn't crazy about the weed, but speed, well.... At the time it was cross tops and black beauties. Not yet the methamphetamine. That came in a couple years later. The meth came in around 10th, 11th grade. That's when the meth really started. And cocaine. It went from cross tops to cocaine. Cocaine was, like, the thing to do then until around 11th grade. Then methamphetamine came in. And it was awesome.
"I started exercising during my freshman year. Lifting weights. I threw the shot put and the disk for a while. I was exercising and using, but the using was more like a weekend thing. It wasn't like an everyday, consistent thing. We were more like weekend warriors. Then, once high school was over, I started going on those runs when I would use for months. Eight months at a time. We'd go on yearlong runs. And then, of course, something would happen. You'd go to jail, you'd get cleaned up, you'd come out. It was a cycle.
"Back in high school, I was 5´11´´. I must not have gotten any bigger than 170 pounds. Right now I weigh 228 pounds. In high school, on the bench press, I was hitting 315 pounds."
Tony told me that after he finished high school, he and several friends moved into a five-bedroom house in Santee. They offered what sounded to me like a 24-hour drug buffet.
"We were slinging every kind of dope you could think of. At one time, on the weekends we would always have mushrooms, cocaine, methamphetamine. There could even be some of them were selling heroin. We had everything. Oh, yeah. If you needed it, you came there. I mean, that's all there was to it."
I asked Tony how much money he spent on drugs during that part of his life.
"Five hundred dollars to $600 per week on the cocaine. And this is 20-plus years ago. The methamphetamine, it was always just pennies, it seemed like. Fifty bucks. A hundred bucks. It depended on how much you were sharing. All the money wasn't really coming out of our pocket, man, 'cause we were selling the methamphetamine to pay for it. We never made any money. We just did a lot of drugs."
And what about other costs associated with drug use?
"The first time I went to jail I was maybe 19 years old. It was actually a product of the drugs. Mostly for traffic stuff. I'd get a ticket, and I didn't care about anything so I'd just let it go. I remember the first time I went to jail, I was, like, 19 and I had 15 failures to appear for traffic citations. After that I was arrested about 20 times. If I had to put all the jail time end to end, it would be quite a while. Probably a couple years. I never had a violent crime. Drug possession, under the influence of a controlled substance. Then once I'd get a charge, there would be all kinds of probation stuff you're supposed to do. And so it was violation after violation after violation."
I spoke with Tony because I was interested in what happened to buff criminals after they got their lives back on track. I was interested in their extreme self-discipline and extreme lack of self-control. I wanted to know about the interplay between outlaw life and building muscle.