"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.
I'd read that in 1997, Governor Pete Wilson instituted a "get-tough prison policy" that forced inmates to trim their hair and shave off their beards, long sideburns, and muttonchops. Governor Wilson also banned dumbbells and other free weights from prisons "to keep prisoners from bulking up and becoming more formidable adversaries both in prison and when they are released." But I later learned that the free-weights ban didn't extend to work camps, like the Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown, California. And prisoners not eligible for places like Jamestown found other ways to get strong.
A gentleman who counsels former inmates told me that Tony typified a certain cycle of outlaw life. "These guys have changed their bodies in extreme ways that you or I could never imagine."
Tony told me that in 1988 he took a break from doing drugs and going to jail. He started going to a place in Santee called the Valley Barbell Club.
"Every time I'd clean up, I'd always go back in the weight pile. I'd start working out again. In 1988, I quit drugs altogether. Everything. I quit smoking. I quit drinking. I quit doing dope. But I started doing steroids.
"I started lifting again, and my cousin was power lifting. In fact, he won the nationals a couple times. He was a power lifter, and I started working out with him. I started out at the old Valley Barbell Club. I was off and on there for years. It was maybe 1000 square feet, or a little more. It wasn't that big. I mean, even the mirrors were all broken. It was a nasty place. You could see the outlines of where sweaty, dirty guys leaned their bodies against the walls and mirrors. Anybody and everybody could lift there. I think the main thing about it was that it was 24 hours a day. It didn't matter if you wanted to go work out at 3:00 a.m. Nobody ever came and cleaned the place.
"There were just enormous guys working out there. Absolutely enormous. These guys were as big as houses. Probably 30 to 40 percent were bikers. Long hair, tattoos. I mean, it would be nothing for a guy to be in the Valley Barbell Club and for him to bring a case of beer and work out. That's just the way it was. It was crazy. These guys, they could drink a case of beer and they didn't even have a buzz. These guys were monsters. You don't get that big without using steroids.
"There were a lot of construction workers who went there too. You know, carpenters. They're very vain about being big. It's like my buddy had a T-shirt one time. I always thought it was funny. The T-shirt said, 'Life's too short to be small.'
"So I started lifting again, and after a couple months, well, it takes about eight weeks to start seeing it again. It's all still under there, but you start showing it in about eight weeks. And I knew that [my cousin] used to do steroids, so he got me some Dianabol. Little blue pills. And I started taking those and BAM! I started making gains like I'd never seen before.
"It started out I was going in the mornings for at least two hours. Hour and a half, two hours. You couldn't get it done in any less time than that. Every day. I would be on four days, off one, on four, off one. It didn't matter what day of the week it was. And I would generally go for at least an hour and a half in the morning and then another hour and a half in the evening. I was having to eat 8000 calories a day, at least. Because of the steroids. I would just eat everything in sight. I didn't care. Twinkies. You just eat, eat, eat. And protein was absolutely essential because of the steroids. But I was stacking a lot of steroids.
"I was no longer doing the pill form 'cause of the [liver damage] thing. I heard that was bad. And I had a connection who sold me Equipoise, which was a big 50 cc bottle. And it had pictures of animals on it. It was actually an animal steroid and had pictures of horses and stuff on it. And I was doing all three kinds of testosterone. You had 3 cc in your syringe. You would take, like, 1 cc of Equipoise and 1 cc of testosterone, and then 1 cc of maybe Blasterone and pull that all up in the syringe and pound it in and then, boom! Deep intramuscular.
"I spent hundreds. Hundreds and hundreds of dollars. I was easily spending $600 to $700 a month on steroids, and then another $600 to $700 a month on supplements. A cycle would be anywhere from six to eight weeks. And then after six or eight weeks, you had to go on a ten-day cycle of a thing called HCG, which is a derivative of pregnant women's urine. What it is, you mix it up, and you get ten 1 cc shots of that. What that does is it causes your body to start producing testosterone, 'cause once you take steroids, your body quits producing testosterone. The HCG would start your body producing its own.
"As somebody who was always an angry person, it just got worse. I got acne, a lot of acne, all over 'cause [the steroids] were almost all oil-based. So I'd be breaking out on my shoulders. And I was extremely short tempered. Just like a maniac. And you know how it is when you're laying that weight down. You can get yourself just mad enough to lift it, even if you weren't strong enough. You'd just get mad enough to do it.
"When I cleaned up, I weighed about 160 pounds. By the time I quit that weight-lifting run, I'll call it, which was a couple of years, I was over 245 pounds. I went from not being able to bench-press even 200 pounds to being able to bench-press 405 pounds. My [biceps] must have been 19 inches or better, and my chest was at least 54 inches."
Tony pulled back the sleeve of his T-shirt to reveal the place where pec met shoulder. A web of purple stretch marks, vivid like a fresh tattoo, was etched deeply into pale, loose skin that drooped toward his armpit.
I asked Tony about the self-discipline it had taken to transform his body.
"You have to understand that everything that comes out of my life is all about being selfish, self-centeredness. That's the basic theme. The idea is, if I do inject this, I will get larger so I will look better to these people and they will think that I am really something. And I think that's it. There is no other motivation behind it. It isn't so much that I really, personally wanted to get to a 405-pound bench press. I mean, that's a big lift. That's eight wheels. I seen other guys doing it, and I seen everybody gathering around them when it was getting ready to happen. When I walk into the room, all eyes are on you because here comes 'that guy.' And that's what it's all about. It's all about vanity. It's all about selfishness. It's all about self-centeredness. It's all about 'Look at me, I'm great.' And, so yeah, I was willing to pay that price."
Tony told me that after his "weight-lifting run," he moved to Las Vegas, where he went to jail for a while. He also started injecting methamphetamine. I wondered if his steroid use made it easier for him to shoot up meth.
"Yeah. That thought crossed my mind. I didn't have a fear of needles. I'd already given myself so many shots.
"While I was in Las Vegas, I was using quite a bit. I was probably using one-sixteenth of an ounce a day. I was easily spending $100 a day. One time I stayed up for 20-some-odd days. My weight was down to 150 pounds. So I'd lost around 100 pounds.
"There's no question about it. My whole life was just extremely discontent. Never really happy. Always searching for something to make me feel okay. To make me feel good. To make me fit in somewhere. And that always looked like drugs or sex or whatever I could possibly fill it with. And, truth be told, I know that there's this void in every man's soul, every person's soul, and it's shaped just like God. I knew something was missing, but I didn't know what it was."
Tony has some buddies out at the Fabulous 7 Motel on the far eastern edge of El Cajon. An early-1960s modernist relic, the 100-room motel's huge pool and vast parking lot recall a hopeful era of big families and long summer road trips. That era faded. Fabulous 7 became a favorite of El Cajon's prostitutes and drug dealers. Two years ago, Set Free Ministries, an Anaheim-based organization whose motto is "Strictly for the Hardcore," took over the place. Set Free is associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, and Fabulous 7 is now at any given time home to almost 200 recovering drug addicts and former inmates trying to piece their lives together.
Spanky is one of Tony's buddies. Five foot nine, 220 pounds, Spanky has the breadth and depth of a small refrigerator. His forearms are Popeye-size. On the muggy afternoon I met Spanky, I arrived too early at Fabulous 7. While I waited, a young woman in a bulky black parka sat in front of one of the motel rooms. She stared at me. Her hair was dyed jet black. She'd powdered her face pale white. Her chin and cheeks left chalky smudges on the collar of her big black coat. She'd outlined her eyes with thick black mascara. Sweat or tears had caused the mascara to run. She puffed on a cigarette pinched between forefinger and thumb.
I was relieved when Spanky appeared. But he, too, wore his face as a kind of mask. He had the closed, immobile expression and the almost military stiffness I associated with gang members.
"I've reaped what I've sown," Spanky told me.
We went and sat in a coffee shop attached to Fabulous 7. The waitresses recognized Spanky. They called out to him by name and waved at him and smiled. His expression, which had been unreadable, relaxed.
"Doesn't it come natural for man to want to get in trouble?" Spanky said when I asked about his past.
"Was it peer pressure, or was it just my own choosing? I'd have to say it was my own choosing. You know, my parents did a very good job with me, and I was the one who chose to do what I did. In my high school years I kind of settled down a little bit. I had the same girlfriend for my three years in high school, and she ended up marrying a cop when we graduated. A Los Angeles sheriff. And I got to say now, looking back, I was so obsessed with her that I just decided to become the outlaw. That's what I decided to do. When things don't go our way, we say, 'I'll show you. I'm gonna just beat myself in the head with this hammer.' And of course the drugs became an integral part of my life. Even though I had a lot of friends who probably used a lot, I can't say they were addicts or alcoholics, because at some point they just grew up and they stopped. But I had that addict thinking. And it's not the chemical, it's the thinking. And I just couldn't stop. I just got deeper and deeper and deeper into it."
Spanky told me he was 52 years old and that he grew up in Long Beach.
"My first run-in with the law, I was ten years old. It was the shore police. I'm glad my dad was out to sea. I had a newspaper route there on the Navy base. And me and a friend were going through these bomb shelters they had down there then. We went into one. We were hunting for centipedes or scorpions or something like that. Horny toads and lizards. We made some torches, and we ended up gutting the whole inside of that bomb shelter. But we didn't mean to do it. We didn't do it on purpose. Then I got arrested for drugs when I was 16 years old -- then it was marijuana. By the time I was 16, I was popping pills. Even though I got a late start, I was using methamphetamine and heroin by the time I was 18 years old."
Who introduced him to drugs?
"Oh, that's a hard question. I'd have to say I introduced myself.
"In high school, I played baseball, and I could swim real good. I did box a little bit. I was in Little League, Pony League. I think back in the '60s, you know, the drug culture was cool. We never realized that it was going to lead us to where it ended up leading us. But would that have changed anything? I don't think so."
In Spanky's retelling, his incarcerations seemed to blend together.
"All my jail time is probably 12 years out of my life. In and out, in and out. I was doing a life sentence on the installment plan.
"Every time I ended up in jail or prison, that's where I belonged."
From what I could make out, Spanky did his first "serious time" in Oregon.
"I was partying with a motorcycle club up there and dealing with them. Again it was methamphetamine, although I was using heroin up there too. Me and the vice president of this club were the only two heroin addicts in the whole town of Salem, Oregon. You had to go up to Portland to get [heroin]. You had to commute. About a 40-mile drive. We'd go to great lengths to get our drugs. In Oregon, I got sentenced to a few years. I was probably out in half that time. So I caught another term in California for grand theft auto. And then I caught a second term. The longest I was in was probably the last number. That was probably close to two years straight, but then as soon as I got out, I was back and forth, back and forth on violations. That probably covered about five years."
Other than addiction, the only constant in Spanky's life was exercise.
"You start out, you know, in county jail doing push-ups and sit-ups and all of that. Then you hit the yard, and you start getting to the weights. Usually you'll have somebody who will help you. And then you get stronger and you start getting bigger. The stronger and bigger you get, the more you go after it. At fire camp, you have to have a certain amount of strength and endurance. They call it PFT, which is physical fitness training. At [Sierra Conservation Center], you have to run a mile and an eighth in less than 8 minutes and 30 seconds. You have to run it every day for a week. But before you run that you got to do 10 minutes of mountain climbers. You've got to do 50 push-ups, 50 crunches. You've got to do a military press -- 75 pounds over your head, 25 times. And a dead lift of 75 pounds 25 times. Then you run that mile. I was almost 40 years old when I went through that.
"I really started working out in a serious way in Oregon. I probably worked out maybe an hour a day. This is with free weights. Actually, I'd work out, like, three days on and take a day off. Actually, the longer the time I did, I'd do different routines. I'd do a push/pull routine, which is like chest and triceps, and then back and biceps. Then you get bigger and stronger, and I didn't have to go out there and hit it as much. When I would go [back to prison] I'd start a little bit lighter. I'd be 'sucked up,' we called it. In fact, I'd be so sucked up that I'd have to step through the shower twice to get wet. Yeah, you'd be out for a month, and I could tell you everything I ate in a month would have probably fit on one plate. When you're chasing that dope, man, you don't have time to even eat."
I asked Spanky what he meant by "sucked up." He said it was slang for the weight loss associated with addiction.
"Right now I weigh about 220 pounds, but when I was using I'd get down to around 150. It was like that, back and forth.
"Depending on how hard I was druggin', I could lose 30 or 40 pounds a month.
"Usually, the way it would work was that you'd detox in county jail. After a few weeks, you would pick up your chain and go to Chino and do your violation. And then you'd just start eating like a hog. So, with working out, it's called muscle memory. It just all comes straight back. You lose it and it comes right back.
"At one point I was 210 pounds with a 33-inch waist. I could bench-press 360 pounds. I would do 100-pound dumbbell presses on the incline. My best lift was not a bench. It was a 205-pound curl. And I used to back-arm about 200 pounds on a lying-down triceps extension. I used to tie 100-pound dumbbells to my legs and do dips."
Did prisoners go to all this effort because they feared sexual violence?
"It's more a fear of general violence. There's not a lot of sexual things that go on in the men's penitentiary. It does happen, but very, very rarely. As you know, in the penitentiary in California, the racial lines are clearly drawn. So pretty much you're protected from that. But you also can be violated by your own. That happens, but it happens more in the women's pen than it does in the men's.
"Getting strong, you've got that peer pressure. You've got guys out there who are getting really strong, and if you have to bump heads with one of them, you want to at least be able to approach that strength."
How did guys eat enough to fuel that strength?
"Where there's a will there's a way. Just about everybody has got access to the kitchen because most of the people who go to the penitentiary or go to jail are going to end up working in the kitchen. Those that don't work in the kitchen, you know, have got hookups with their homeboys, the guys that they know from the streets and all that, or people that they've done time with in the past. So, in jail, food is something that, unless you're in the hole -- and I've been there, too, and done that -- it's not hard to eat good.
"They get a lot of eggs, although they're powdered eggs. But, you know, eggs is eggs. And you get a lot of dry, powdered milk. Actually, they feed you really good. You'd be surprised. But you want to bulk up with the carbohydrates. Muscle tissue needs protein, but you don't need mass amounts of protein unless you're not eating any carbohydrates, and then you need it for the fuel. The bottom line is that lifting weights won't do anything. It's the food that builds you up and makes you strong. They eat good enough in jail. They probably feed them 2500 calories a day, if you just eat three regular meals. Fire camp feeds better, man. I'll tell you what, that fire camp I was in, Jamestown, I mean, the governor came up there to eat. And the food was like that all the time. It was good. It's better than a lot of restaurants."
Spanky told me that he'd been clean for only about seven or eight months. He said he was living in Long Beach when things went wrong.
"I was in my garage in Long Beach, strung out, just wondering, 'How am I going to get out of this trap?' I was on heroin, about to lose my house, and one of the pastors from Anaheim Set Free came out to my garage and told me about [Fabulous 7 Motel]. Now I didn't call that guy or anything, but I feel that God sent that man to me."
Spanky looked so solid I asked if he'd been exercising. He told me that behind the motel there was a complete set of weights.
"In fact, I started working out here again, and I started getting real big again, but then my veins started coming back and I said, 'This is not a good idea.' "
I must have looked puzzled.
"I'm a heroin addict," Spanky explained. "Seeing my veins bulge wasn't a good idea."
I'd never considered that veins bulging on muscles might be associated with anything other than strength. I asked Spanky what made him so fragile.
"Remember I told you about when I was in high school, that girl that shattered my heart? Maybe I was committing suicide slowly. The fact of the matter is, that's a common feeling with most addicts and alcoholics. It's not the fear of dying, it's the fear of living. I was afraid to live.
"Addicts don't want to face life on life's terms. For us to find perfection in this world, it's just not going to happen. This world is not perfect. We can thank Adam for that."
A few days after I met Spanky, Pastor Miles Johnson led me out to the lot behind Fabulous 7 where Spanky saw his veins bulge. Shadow Mountain Community Church donated to Set Free a complete set of free weights and strength machines that Shadow Mountain no longer needed. The machines and racks of dumbbells and plates sat on sheets of cardboard and strips of old green carpet laid over bare ground. Some yards away, past a chain-link fence, traffic rushed by on Interstate 8.
Pastor Miles, Set Free's program director at Fabulous 7, is about 5´9´´ and has the compact muscularity of a running back. Shiny black curls frame his high cheekbones and square jaw. He looks as if he might have been his high school's homecoming king.
"I graduated from Madison High School in Clairemont," Pastor Miles told me. "I was on the fitness team, but I didn't play any other sports. The fitness team is where you do push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, the 300-yard dash, and the broad jump. I scored the highest in the push-ups, the pull-ups, the broad jump. I did pretty good in the 300-yard dash. I was pretty good at all of it. I was number two in San Diego on the fitness team.
"What got me to working out when I was in the 11th grade was that I was always a leader in sports or in the groups. I was never a follower, I was always a leader. And I got into an argument with this guy, 6´5´´, 280 pounds. I said, 'Man, you better be quiet before I kick your butt.' And he said, 'All right. All right.' But then I realized that if we'd actually gotten in a fight, this guy would have mopped me up! I realized that it was only because of my persona that he backed down. So that's what made me go to the gym and start working out. I could bench press 120 pounds in my junior year. When I graduated I was benching about 310 pounds."
Had Pastor Miles always been religious?
"I went to several churches as a youth. My mother was a single parent, and so at my house if I didn't go to church on Sunday, then I couldn't go outside and play. And that hurt worse than a spanking. So every Sunday I was in church. I went to Bethel Baptist Church for a while. I went to Christ the King for a while and I became an altar boy there, but I was never indoctrinated into the Catholic faith. But the father there really had a thing for children, so me and him really just took to each other. When I was, like, ten I began to go to a Lutheran church that had a fantastic youth program. A predominantly white church. And I was involved with Campus Life when I was in high school. In high school I met my first wife, and she went to Church of the Living God, a nondenominational church, and so I began to go there. It was at Church of the Living God where I was really involved in church. I became a Sunday school teacher. Every second Sunday was Youth Sunday, and I would be the one giving the Word on Youth Sunday. I always have been fascinated with the Word of God. Always have been.
"I had a strong faith in God. When I was in the 12th grade, I would carry my Bible to school with me, and every day before class I'd be studying scripture. Every day. In fact, that's what attracted my first wife to me. She would see me sitting at this place called the Whistle Stop, which was right behind the school. I'd be there with my cinnamon roll, milk, and Bible, every day."
Pastor Miles's athleticism, his good looks, his faith, made me ask, "You never had a period in your life when you screwed up?"
Pastor Miles smiled.
"No, I did," he said. "I spent 15 years addicted to crack cocaine.
"All I can tell you is that God has always had His hand on me. I started using in about 1985. Me and my first wife separated. I was 25 years old. Because of the separation, and the depression, I turned to drugs rather than turn to my Lord, like I should have. I spiraled in that world of addiction for 15 years. I quit 1000 times only to start 1001.
"I was in a state of depression, and in the community where I lived there was a lot of recreational use of drugs. Over in the Encanto area. A lot of my friends were into it. I was depressed, and they were trying to help me out, 'Here, try this.' And I tried it one day, and the high was just so overwhelming. All I can remember is that after about three hours I wasn't dwelling on my depression and my separation from my wife. I kind of took to crack like a fish takes to water. I was smoking it out of a glass pipe. I started off using maybe $40 or $50 a day, but it ended up in the hundreds of dollars per day. Well, I figured out that I couldn't afford to use it, so I started selling it. I was one of those user-seller-type guys.
"I can remember going through about two and a half ounces, smoking and selling. And the guy that I used to buy it from, he said, 'You can call me anytime, day or night.' That's how much I was spending on drugs. I would use some, but I would sell some so that I could buy some more. Smoke up maybe three-quarters of my profit money. It's a lot of profit. Say you buy a half ounce and it's six hundred dollars' worth. It only costs you $300. So you got $300. Well, I would smoke about $250 of that or $200. Sell the $300 and make about $350 or maybe $375. In a given week, I would buy anywhere from $5000 to $15,000.
"I was obsessed with the drug, so everything was about the drug. I would wake up in the morning, and it was about, 'Who am I going to sell to?' It was all about the drug. I was also addicted on lifestyle. Because I always had the sack to sell, I was 'the guy.' I was 'the man.' At 3:00 a.m., when the dope man won't answer his door, I was out there. So you get hooked on the drug and the lifestyle and being the guy with the stuff."
What happened to his body when he was using?
"I was always very thin when I was smoking. Now I weigh 205 pounds. When I was using I weighed around 150 pounds. I was small and sucked up. After I started going to jail, they always had weights and stuff. I always worked out. I would get all looking like the picture of health. But after I'd get out, in a matter of weeks I'd be back to 150 pounds. It takes no time at all."
Pastor Miles told me that he started going to jail in 1989. As with Spanky's retelling of his past, Pastor Miles's account of his arrests and incarcerations seemed a jumble. He told me he couldn't remember exactly how many times he'd been arrested and gone to jail or prison. Listening to him, I realized he wasn't being evasive. Drugs distort an addict's perception of time and of the world around him. The confusion I was hearing was an accurate report of how Pastor Miles's mind had recorded events during this period of his life.
"I was in jail a total of about five years," he said. "And every time I was in jail, I was working out."
Pastor Miles's memories of weight lifting were clear.
"I was always very strong for my size. I remember being at [California Rehabilitation Center] in Norco, and it has a weight-lifting contest. For my weight class, I was the strongest man in the penitentiary. I weighed 174 pounds, and I benched 380 pounds. I did ten months there the first time in about '94 and seven months on my violation in '95. I won the award the second time I was there. The strongest guy, he benched 450 pounds, but he weighed 325.
"I worked out every day. Maybe two hours a day, probably five days a week. Every other day, you worked different muscle groups. One day you do biceps, triceps, and shoulders, and then chest and back."
I asked Pastor Miles if it was difficult to go cold turkey in jail.
"No. You might sleep for the first couple of days, but I never spent anything other than just being lazy for the first few days in jail. Slept a lot. I never got physical withdrawals or no mental withdrawals or anything like that. And there's crack in the jails and in the penitentiaries. But I chose not to mess with it while I was in there.
"I would say within the first two weeks, I always went immediately to the weights. Sometimes I wasn't out long enough to lose all my strength. Like I remember the second time I went back to CRC, the first day on the yard I was able to lift seven quarters. That's seven quarters on each side. Like 350 pounds or something. So my stays on the outside got shorter and shorter as I got more involved and the police got to know me. See, when they know who you are, if you don't change areas, they know to jack you up and they might get lucky."
I asked what guys did to get strong after Governor Wilson removed the dumbbells and free weights from the prisons. Pastor Miles said that prisoners were resourceful. For example, they filled garbage bags with water and wrapped them in their shirts and used them as weights.
"You do the pull-ups, the push-ups, the dips. We jog. But you're still working out. Just not with weights."
I told Pastor Miles I had a difficult time squaring this tenacity with the mess he made, time and again, of his life.
"As I look back, I see that I began to love my wife more than I loved the Lord. I would do for her before I would do for the Lord. And that's idolatry. That's the same place that the nation of Israel found themselves in time after time after time. And in order to allow me to know that I cannot love the thing created more than the Creator, God allowed me to give myself over to the created things, and it was nothing but misery and sorrow and brokenness. And I've come to know from personal experience that nothing, nothing can be for you like your relationship with the living God can be for you."
Why had Pastor Miles so idolized his first wife?
"She was my first love. The first woman I ever made love to. She was it. The high school sweetheart thing. We lost our virginity to each other. We got married, we had children. I projected what I had in my heart for her as what she had in her heart for me, and that just wasn't true.
"I got started with crack because of the depression and the emotional wreck that I was in. The separation of me and my wife. The crack just kept me from dealing with those issues. I would get so involved in being high and selling drugs and running the streets that I never dealt with issues. Like, I have a daughter from my first wife, and she didn't know her dad for the years I was in my addiction. And whenever I would dwell on that, man, it would really break my heart.
"Let me tell you. January 2000, during the millennial change. I was in my T-shirt and boxer shorts, on my rack in prison. That was the defining moment in my life, when I really made it up in my heart and my mind, 'Hey, I'm not going to give nothing this kind of control over me. Most people never live to see a millennial change, and here I am locked up in prison.' So I determined in myself, 'Never again.'
"I got out and I did good for about two and a half months, and then I started using again. In my usage this time, I was sitting there, getting high, and I looked around at the activity and the environment I was in. I realized I was going back to prison. That was the time when I cried out to God, and I said, 'Lord, I need You. I can't whup this, and if You don't do anything in my life, it's gonna be a waste.' I was in the alley in between Orange and Polk. You know where the church used to be on Estrella and Orange? That used to be where Set Free was. I was at the other end of the alley getting high. I walked down the alley after I prayed to God and cried out to Him for help. This guy in the back of the church said, 'Hey, brother! You don't have to live like that no more. We got a ranch in Cabazon where Jesus is, and He can change your life.' It was like God answered my prayer immediately. I asked what I had to do to get to [Set Free's ranch]. The guy said, 'Be here Sunday at ten o'clock, and they'll take you.' So I was there on Sunday at ten o'clock. This was May 14, 2000."
I hadn't stopped to think how much time Pastor Miles had lost. His addiction began when he was a young man.
"I'm 44," he told me.
"My goal is to bench 400 pounds when I'm 45 years old. I used to have 19-inch arms, and I want to get back to 19-inch arms. I got my little goals that I'm shooting for. It'll probably take me about six months."
Did taking pride in his body compromise his faith?
"I remember where I came from. It doesn't matter what kind of body I got. I know that there's nothing good about me. Now, working out gives me self-esteem, but one of the main motivating things to go to the gym is my wife loves the body. She likes how I look when I work out. So that's part of going to the gym. And I feel good about myself. I don't want to be the guy with the big stomach. To me the closest thing to the fountain of youth is daily exercise."
We talked for a while about genetics, about how some people can abuse their bodies for many years with little apparent consequence. Pastor Miles hadn't lost his health, but he had lost 15 years. I asked if he felt regret.
"No. Those 15 years gave me the ability to love everybody. That's something I didn't have when I was a youth pastor. Those 15 years taught me more about being a Christian than my previous time in the church. One thing I can remember seeing when I was out there in my addiction was that there was no love. I always knew that and felt that. There was no love for one another. There was the love for the drugs and the love for the money, but there was no love for the fellow man. And I just couldn't take that in my heart. That wasn't me. And so I learned to love all people. I lost my prejudice against the addict. Naturally, I was one of them."
Ponytail is one of the addicts whom Pastor Miles loves.
"I felt a warm sensation. It spread from my chest all the way out" is how Ponytail described to me what happened when, while trying to avoid arrest, he swallowed a Baggie containing seven grams of crystal meth.
"Big ol' alligator sweat balls started falling down off my head. And my hand came up and started slapping me in the face. I grabbed my hand and tried to stop it. When I grabbed my hand with my other hand and tried to stop it, my hand was still slapping me in the face. My other hand couldn't even hold it down. I said, 'I think I'm starting to OD.' I said this to some so-called friends of mine. They acted like they didn't hear me.
"I was in a coma for ten days. I died three times."
Of the guys I met at Fabulous 7, Ponytail was the biggest. Six foot two, 220 pounds, broad-shouldered, long-legged, 39 years old, he looked like an all-around athlete.
On the late afternoon I met Ponytail, Pastor Miles found an empty room at Fabulous 7 where Ponytail and I could talk. Ponytail's long day working construction had left his shirt and pants dusty. Flecks of what looked like plaster had settled in his tight, long cornrows. Despite his size, Ponytail was shy and hesitant. He loosened up, relaxed in his chair, when I asked what sports he'd played.
"I went to El Cajon Valley High School. Played football, basketball and ran track. I was a wide receiver and defensive back. Played forward in basketball. Made All-County events in track -- long jump, triple jump, pole vault. I was really athletic. I also was in drama for four years in high school. Singing and dancing.
"Basically, I did all these activities in high school trying to get to college. I really wanted to go to college. I felt that the only way to really change my situation in life was to go to college and get an education. But I'm dyslexic. I pick up on things real easy, and I'm very fast, but I can't express it in words. Like spelling it...that kills me. I remember being in school and taking a test and knowing the answer but not being able to write it on paper. This used to frustrate me. When I was in high school, they used to give me the grades 'cause I was real good in sports. And came a time my senior year when they were telling me they wanted me to claim hardship and play one more year and they would get me a scholarship to any university I wanted to go to.
"Although it sounded very nice, I knew that unless I learned how to spell, I would flunk out of college.
"So I told them I wanted them to teach me how to spell. It's not that I don't know the answers. I knew the answers, I just could not put them on paper. You give me a multiple-choice test, I'd ace it. And they would tell me not to worry about that, just go to school and do what they were telling me. I felt like they were taking advantage of me. In reality now, I know that they were trying to help me. I didn't agree with it, but they were still really trying to help me.
"And me thinking I know so much, I decided, 'Well, if I'm so good, I can just leave high school.' My senior year, I left and went to Foothills Adult School. I was going to go to junior college, spend one year there, and then go on to the university. But when I got out of high school and started attending Foothills, I started working. Had my own place. Met my son's mother and got her pregnant. That's when I left college. I decided, 'I will be a responsible father, 'cause my father was never there.' I wanted to do the right thing. My mom raised five kids by herself. I didn't want to be like my father, as I said. I wanted to do the right thing.
"Unfortunately, I was in love with my kids' mother, but she wasn't in love with me. It was more of a security thing. After about six and a half years of living together, it became very clear that we weren't going to make it. So we separated, and when we separated she gave my kids to my brother.
"I became a single parent three months later. My son was three years old, and my daughter was two years old. And, so, I'm a single parent trying to do the best I can, but it was really on-the-job training. At that time, there weren't too many black men who were single parents. A lot of times I would go and try to seek any kind of help, but they wouldn't take me seriously because they were really kind of shocked that I was even trying to attempt raising my kids on my own. I tried to explain that I was raised without my father. I promised myself that I'd be there for my kids. It was tough trying to be a single parent. My kids were great kids, and they are great kids. I wasn't always the best father. I leaned on my own understanding many times in being a single parent.
"I've done everything. Sold drugs, you know. I always grew up around the gangs and the streets. But I always tried to keep that away from my kids. My kids never saw me out there selling drugs. They never actually seen me doing drugs, but they knew I did drugs 'cause I never lied to them."
When Ponytail said, "I always grew up around the gangs and the streets," I remembered what he'd said about the sports he'd played and the dancing and singing he'd done at El Cajon Valley High School. I remembered that he'd said, "I felt that the only way to really change my situation in life was to go to college and get an education." I wanted more details.
"I sold some drugs in high school. My mom didn't know it, but I would sell weed. I'd sell pills sometimes and give my mom the money and tell her that I'd mowed some lawns."
What kind of pills had he sold?
"Just the little pills you get in High Times magazine. They weren't really drugs. But when you're a young kid, a high school kid, you tended to believe that they were real drugs. I tended to believe that they were.
"I got caught once at El Cajon Valley High School for some of these pills. They weren't illegal, but I was expelled for the remainder of the year and I had to go to continuation school for the following year. Well, that continuation school was Chaparral High School. While I was at Chaparral I had weight training in the morning, then I was a teacher's assistant in weight training, and then I had a regular class for my last hour. Well, the first two classes were two-hour classes. So I was lifting weights for four hours during the morning and then in my regular class for an hour. But I had a B-plus average throughout the whole school. I was in the upper 5 percent of my school.
"I could run and I would never get tired. For example, I would jog to Santee Lakes with no warm-up. I used to be able to just run forever. And then I used to love working out. I used to crave it. I'd work out at school for those four hours, come home, do my housework or whatever, and then go play basketball, and then work out at night with a couple friends of mine."
I started to see that what I'd thought of as a lack of self-control in the lives of Tony, Spanky, Pastor Miles, and Ponytail was something else. The power that allowed Ponytail to lift weights all day and "just run forever" also allowed him to swallow a Baggie containing seven grams of crystal meth.
Ponytail explained that he'd been selling drugs for a long time when this happened. Until then, he'd managed to avoid serious trouble. But a disagreement with a landlord led to his being separated from his children. He had to leave them with their mother. Ponytail wanted them back. He needed to get the money together for an apartment where they could all live together. He invested in three pounds of crystal meth. He bagged it all up, set some aside for his own use, and hid the rest in his stash. He'd just tossed his Baggie of crystal meth on the coffee table of the place where he was staying when he noticed shadows cross the window.
"I look out the window without moving the curtains, of course, and I see the cops at my door. And there's a whole bunch of them, like seven or eight cops. I don't know how many there was, but there was a lot. I had just enough time to grab the dope and put it in my mouth before the door swung open."
It was a case of mistaken identity. But to explain who he was, Ponytail had to talk. When he tried to talk, "The bag almost flew out of my mouth."
"And these cops looked at each other, looked back and forth at each other, and pushed me on the couch. Now I'm sitting down and they're leaning over me, asking, 'What did you say your name was again?' They're looking at my mouth, waiting for me to say something. And I'm a single parent, raising my kids. And I'd had my kids all the way up until they were seven and eight.
"So I'm sitting there with these cops in my face, and they're looking at me, waiting for me to say something. And I remember thinking, 'Hey, you can either open your mouth and give these cops this dope and go to jail, or you can swallow it.' I looked back and forth at the cops, and I remember thinking to myself, 'I'm not going to be in jail my kids' first Christmas away from me.' So I swallowed it. And I swallowed it. It almost choked me going down. The cops, their eyes bulged. This cop looked at me and he said, 'Okay, we got to be going now.' "
The next day, the Baggie ruptured inside Ponytail.
"To get high on crystal meth, you need maybe a quarter gram. I had seven grams inside me. At the hospital, the doctors told my mother that although I had the outside body of a 21-year-old, my insides were the insides of an old man."
This happened, Ponytail told me, before the "armed robbery."
"I've sabotaged my life many times.
"I was signed up for Kelsey-Jenney Business College, and one thing led to another. I took the test, passed it and everything, was all set up to go to class. They told me the only thing is you've got to have a suit, and if you don't have a suit you can't start the class. I didn't have a suit.
"So, I'm at the park and I'm so frustrated. I'm not going to let anything stop me from going to this Kelsey-Jenney Business College. This was Sunday. I had to start school on Monday. I was 29 years old. I was out with a friend of mine. He was like a brother to me. He was telling me that it was his girlfriend's birthday and he didn't have nothing to buy her. And I said, 'Yeah, I know what you mean. I'm supposed to start school tomorrow, and they told me I can't start school if I don't have a suit. And I don't have no suit.'
"At the time, even though I had done drugs a lot in my life and everything, I never really got in trouble. I had no felonies at the time. When my friend told me his situation and I told him my situation, we sat there drinking and talking. And he said, 'I'm ready to do a robbery.' And I said, 'You know what, man? I'm thinking about doing one too. We'll just do one just one time, get some money. I'll buy my suit, you buy your girlfriend something. After this, we won't see each other.'
"That was the stupidest thing I've ever done in my life. One of the stupidest things. I've done plenty more. And I went to jail. He went to jail."
Ponytail and his friend held up a convenience store and walked away with only $400.
"I went in in '95 and got out in '97. I got out in '97, and I didn't get the DUI until February 18, 1999. They gave me 11 months flat. I've done time at Donovan and Chuckawalla."
Ponytail told me that even after Governor Wilson removed the dumbbells and free weights from prisons, inmates were so driven to exercise that they not only lifted bags of water and sand, they lifted each other up and down. They'd get beneath the incline board that they used for sit-ups and have other guys sit on top of it.
"And we'd bench-press them.
"This was effective, especially when you're using deadweight, which is what we would call people, because they're just sitting there. You're lifting them up, and if they move, it makes it even harder. So, you've got to balance and lift. It was nice. It was a good workout."
Ponytail's time in prison and jail led to a life that was, he said, even more chaotic. He tried many times to put his life back in order. Something always went wrong. He ended up homeless. His daughter disappeared. He lost touch with his son.
"I started using again. I was injecting in my veins. I wanted to die; I'm not going to lie. I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown."
One day he found himself at Fabulous 7.
"I was so lost in my own addiction and everything. All night I had been carrying this bag with three X-rated movies in it, a change of clothes, and some dirty magazines. The life of a drug addict.
"I walked up to Pastor James and I said, 'Sir, I'm hungry and I'm tired, and I don't want to go do nothin' wrong.' And he says, 'Are you willing to go to church?' I go, 'Yeah, I don't mind going to church.'
"And from that point on, we went to church. And I remember during church I just kept crying. Sitting there and tears were coming down.
"Oh, God is a wonderful God.
"That was almost one year ago. I did work out when I first came here, but I stopped because I was glorifying my flesh instead of my spirituality. I'm going to start working out again, but my spirituality must come first. I was doing the dumbbells and the bench, and I was doing curls. I know how to do the different parts of the body so I can work out and get a real nice physique. But God put it on my heart that when you begin to work out the body, you're feeding the flesh and glorifying Satan in a lot of ways.
"To be honest, I feel like God gave me a new lease on life. He gave me back my life. Part of giving me back my life was giving me my new health again. I want to be healthy. It takes a lot of work to get back to where I was at. But it's in His time, not my time. I'm going to get back into it, but I'm going to do it slowly. When I started working out here, I really started doing it like I'd never stopped. Three, four times, sometimes five times a week. And that's not good.
"As long as I'm seeking the Lord first, I can work out without glorifying my body. I still wrestle with my flesh. I can't do nothing alone."