How I ‘Kicked’ the Drug Habit
A HEADLINE across the front page of the Youngstown, Ohio, Vindicator of December 6, 1968, read: “LIBERTY POLICE NAB 18-YEAR-OLD YOUTH FOR SELLING LSD.”
I am that youth. The court sentenced me to ten months in the Trumbull county jail. However, I was out after thirty days, and was soon back in business “pushing” (selling) drugs. I needed the money to support my own drug habit, which included all sorts of drugs, particularly LSD.
Yet I had a long way to go to reach the depths to which heroin addiction often sinks one. In all, I was in jail more than two dozen times; three times I was put in a mental hospital. More than once I was stripped naked, locked in a padded cell, and left to undergo the agonies of withdrawal—“cold turkey,” as it is called. The last time I was taken from the cell and admitted to a hospital in critical condition; the last rites were even performed. But I pulled through and was convicted on burglary charges, finally being sent to the Mansfield unit of the Ohio State Penitentiary.
Yet that is all behind me now. I have overcome drug abuse. It has been over three and a half years since I last touched drugs, and I am confident that I never will again. This is because I have found a real answer to drug abuse.
Before telling about this, however, let me describe briefly my early life. Perhaps it will provide clues as to circumstances that often lead to drug abuse. Then, if you should notice such a pattern developing in your family, action may be taken to correct matters before it is too late.
Spoiled from Youth Up
My parents were divorced in 1951, when I was just eight months old. A battle followed, and, oddly enough, my father obtained legal custody of me. An arrangement was made for me to see my mother one day a week. When mother remarried, the battle continued, each side trying to impress me the most with material things. As a result, I became very spoiled.
Then mother gave up trying to “buy” my affection. She had begun progressing in a home Bible study with Jehovah’s witnesses. Soon pot- and pan-throwing, fighting, smoking and other bad habits began to disappear. On my visits, she and my stepfather would take me with them to meetings for Bible study. When returning home I would tell my dad the things I learned. But he did not like it. His relatives urged: “You should take him away from his mother. Jehovah’s witnesses twist the Bible—they’re crazy!”
So a concerted effort was made to turn me against my mother. I was enticed with expensive gifts, and my father allowed me to do about whatever I pleased. Thus, one day when my mother came to pick me up, I told her: “Mom, I don’t want to see you again.” She turned to my father, and said: “John, you coached him to say that, didn’t you?” I was nine then, and it was many years before I saw mother again.
Dad remarried in August 1960. Spoiled indeed I was, and I made life miserable for my dad and stepmother. Yet never did I receive a spanking or any firm discipline. I had started smoking on the sly when I was seven, and when I was ten or eleven I would get drunk. Also, I sniffed glue, and experimented with marijuana. My undisciplined upbringing and early drug abuse twisted my thinking.
When I was about thirteen, a girl snubbed me, so I threw gasoline on their driveway, lit a match and scorched the garage. Dad paid $800 in fines and expenses. I was also caught shoplifting at about this time. But troubles were just beginning.
Sexual Immorality and Jail
While a sophomore at Liberty High School I was caught with a girl friend in an embarrassing situation in the girls’ rest room. I was expelled from school for two weeks. That summer I burned my “straight” (conservative) clothes in the backyard as a protest. My stepmother and dad were furious, and cornered me in my room. I grabbed a tear-gas gun and “shot” dad, then dove out the window. The police were called, and officer Fred Faustino pulled me from the roof and placed me under arrest. That was my first confinement in jail.
Later that year my girl friend’s father caught us in bed after school. We all ended up down at the Liberty police station. But the very next day I was involved again with this girl at her house. How little regard I had for authority, or what anybody said to me! Two weeks later, when the girl’s uncle tried to interfere, a young friend and I planned to murder him, but it did not work out.
I had become a long-haired rebel, a real troublemaker. Yet I was searching for something, something to grab hold of, some type of future. I wanted to be someone, to have attention. I began to think marriage was the answer. Our parents discussed this but decided we were too young and were only infatuated.
So we made plans to run away, and in February 1967 we did, heading west with $420 of stolen money. Our journey ended abruptly when we were apprehended in Los Angeles and flown back to Ohio. Waiting police handcuffed me and took me to the Trumbull county jail, where I spent two weeks.
Now no school around would have me. Only by begging was my father able to get me admitted to the John F. Kennedy Catholic High School in nearby Warren, where I completed my junior year. While there, I became more deeply involved in drug abuse. That summer I was arrested for breaking and entering several homes.
My senior year was a disaster. Checking school records recently with principal Frank Lehnerd, we discovered that I had been absent seventy-five days! In February 1968 I hid my girl friend in my room for three days, thinking our folks could thus be pressured to let us get married. But all I got was three months in a correctional institution in Columbus, Ohio. I was released in time to take my final exams, pass them, and graduate from high school.
At my first opportunity I encouraged my girl friend to leave home again and take a bottle of aspirin to fake a suicide attempt. I thought this would surely convince our parents that we loved each other. Crawling home, vomiting blood, she was finally turned against me when her mother said: “He doesn’t love you; you’re just his puppet. He wants you six feet under.” I was never again with that girl, but this tragic affair sank me even to lower depths of depravity, spurred on by deeper involvement in drugs.
Sink into Drug Addiction
I was not yet a real addict, but was a heavy user and a pusher. I even went to New York to pick up drugs. Finally, a concerted police effort nabbed me—I sold drugs to a plainclothesman and was picked up with the marked money on me. That is when the front-page headlines reported my arrest. But my dad employed a good attorney, and I was out of jail by January 15, 1969.
Soon I was pushing drugs again, making plenty of money. But I needed it, for I had started “mainlining” heroin—putting it directly into the vein with a syringe. For a few months I was spending $40 to $50 a day for drugs. Dad tried to help me. He got me jobs, but I held them only a few weeks. I was so addicted I would “shoot” drugs right at work.
This was not difficult to do. I carried the drugs to work in a compartment in my ring. Then I went to the bathroom, and, using a syringe, I injected the drugs right into the vein. But to make sure to get every bit, I would pull back, filling up the syringe with blood, and shoot again—doing this up to ten times or so!
Then I would be off. I would get a “rush”—as if all of a sudden I had been dropped off a building. Then I would get limp—even the hair of my head felt limp. The whole idea of being an addict is to get as many “rushes” as one can.
At other times I would “speedball,” shooting a mixture of “speed” (methedrine) and heroin—an “upper” and a “downer.” Then one’s body doesn’t know what to do—relax or speed up—it is just in a turmoil.
When one takes LSD, there is an entirely different effect. While on it, I used to think I could do anything, that I could be God and control my own destiny. Joe Schovoni, my attorney, recently told me that once while on LSD I really scared him when I told him that I could take a baby right out of a pregnant woman. It is terrible what drugs cause one to think and do. In all, I took well over 200 LSD tablets.
For over a year I lived just for “kicks,” “shooting” drugs, living with girls, and trying to avoid the police. I lived in one dirty place after another, ‘going from rat hole to rat hole,’ as dad aptly described it. The police even accused me of robbing my dad’s home. My “buddies” cleaned him out of thousands of dollars’ worth of property. In August 1969 we took off for the infamous Woodstock festival, where I peddled multiple vitamins as LSD and made a lot of money. Climbing up the scaffold next to the stage to get a good view of the performers and the crowd, I remember thinking that everyone seemed drawn by a mysterious force.
Shortly after returning home I began to reap what I had been sowing. I hit absolute bottom, and barely survived.
It was September 5, 1969. I was really “strung out,” needing drugs in the worst way. So I broke into a drugstore in the little town of Vienna, outside of Youngstown. Scrambling inside, I collected various items—but then sirens! Trapped by the police with drawn guns, I broke down mentally, running toward them screaming, “Kill me! Kill me!”
They charged me with breaking and entering. Bond was set at $5,000. I was then taken to the familiar county jail. I had been there so often that they actually had my name inscribed over one of the cells! I was stripped naked and thrown into the tiny padded cell, a place so small that I could not stretch out lengthwise. There I began going through withdrawal. Recently Harold Post, the jailer, showed a friend and me the cell, and said: “I thought you would just lie there and die. I didn’t want anything to do with you.”
I cannot blame him. I was absolutely rotten! I rolled in my own urine and excrement like an animal, climbed the walls and beat at the vinyl padding. As Post recalls: “He was begging, I mean really begging, he was on his knees begging. But he wouldn’t take the medication offered him.”
Sheriff Richard Barnett was there at the time, and when I visited him earlier this year he recalled how critical my condition became: “You wouldn’t take any oral medication—you were a wild man—you’d just spit it out. So rectal suppositories were prescribed, and I had to insert these in you.” However, when I did not improve, I was taken to Woodside Receiving Hospital, a mental hospital in Youngstown.
At four in the morning my dad received a call from a nurse. She said: “Your son is sick, he needs your help . . . He’s dying.” Dad immediately got in touch with Dr. Bert Firestone, and he had me transferred to St. Elizabeth Hospital. There I was in critical condition for days. Dr. Firestone assured my father that they would try to pull me through, but that he could not guarantee I would live. St. Elizabeth’s hospital records report: “This patient was admitted . . . because of severe withdrawal symptoms due to the use of narcotics.”
Dad posted $5,000 bond, and in three weeks I was released from the hospital. But the experience did not cause me to change, even though I promised dad over and over again that I would. I still had long hair, and was soon back on all kinds of drugs. You may wonder why a person keeps going back to drugs, even after horrifying experiences like heroin withdrawal or bad LSD “trips.”
Well, when I got to feeling better I would start thinking about girls again, “kicks,” and all my associations—hippies, “free love” people, motorcycles and running around. My amplified type of music further played on my base desires. Then I reasoned in my heart, ‘Oh, there is nothing really so bad about doing it again.’ However, my last several LSD “trips” got progressively worse. Finally, in desperation, I called my mother, closing a gap of many years. My stepfather, an elder in the congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses, arranged for me to have a Bible study where I lived.
Rocky Road to Recovery
I had my first Bible study with one of Jehovah’s witnesses in March 1970. Also, I visited the Girard Kingdom Hall. I had on black leather bell-bottoms and round granny glasses, and my hair was long. I wanted to prove that Jehovah’s witnesses were just like everybody else, just as hypocritical. But I was impressed. They showed real interest in me, and they all had the same answers to my questions. Yet my heart was not really touched, for that night I went back down to my old hippie haunts and “shot up” heroin again.
However, as I continued to study off and on, I realized that what the Bible teaches is the truth. Still, I could not, or, at least, I would not break away from drugs and my immoral way of life. Then, the last weekend in April, I had a horrifying LSD “trip.” I “saw” my girl companion decompose on the car seat next to me. The ugliness and terror of the experience is indescribable. I thought it was the end—that I would surely kill myself. But I called on Jehovah God, using his name, begging that He help me.
Even though it was 3 a.m. I called the Witness with whom I had been studying, and he reassured me that Jehovah would help me if I was really serious this time about changing. I vowed that I would never take drugs again, and I never have. There is not a day that I do not wake up and thank my Maker for helping me to survive those experiences.
My trial came up the following week for the drugstore burglary back in September. Since public opinion was against me due to my record of repeated crimes, the judge sent me to the Ohio State Penitentiary for an offense that could carry a fifteen-year sentence. I began serving my time a few days later. Really this was a blessing for me. Why?
Because it gave me time to meditate and study. I analyzed my life, and realized how fruitless and destructive it had been. I begged Jehovah to forgive me, and told him that I wanted to do his will with all my heart. I totally immersed myself in a study of the Bible, with the help of the publications of Jehovah’s witnesses. Then, toward the end of June, through the efforts of my father, I was released. About two weeks later, on July 10, 1970, I symbolized by water baptism my dedication to serve Jehovah God.
I now began seeking out former close associates, not to take drugs with them, but to explain to them why I changed, and how I was able to do it. I felt a responsibility because I had started so many of them on drugs, and they had been my customers. I must have contacted at least three hundred former friends, and I feel that some will eventually respond to the Bible truths we discussed.
One of the first persons I studied the Bible with was one of my main drug customers. I had taught him how to “mainline” heroin, holding his arm and hitting his first veins for him. His family was so impressed by the change that I had made that they also participated in the study. However, he continued walking in my old footsteps. Thus far at least six of such former cohorts have died of drug-related causes. But another former associate did respond to my efforts. It was unusual how we met again.
I was calling from house to house in the ministry and had just turned away from a house when a long-haired fellow came running up the driveway. After introducing myself, he almost immediately asked: “What did you say your name was?” When I repeated it, he said: “No, you can’t be, you’re not the one from Murray Hill Drive!” He looked familiar, but I could not place him until he said his name. Sure! Together we had planned to murder my girl friend’s uncle. But he refused to believe who I was until I pulled out my wallet to produce identification. My appearance had changed completely.
I eventually started a study with him, and he progressed in Bible appreciation, quit drugs, and was baptized early in 1972. That summer we told our experiences at the district assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. We also have had the opportunity to speak to classes of students about the drug problem and why they should avoid drugs. Youngsters who knew about my past involvement in drugs asked teachers to arrange these talks.
For example, in November 1972 we spoke to six classes at the Mahoning County Joint Vocational School. Over 600 students in all were present! They were extremely attentive, and accepted over a hundred books and about a hundred magazines that explain further the faith and hope that enabled us to overcome drug abuse. On December 5, 1972, I received a folder with five dozen letters from these students. They were very appreciative, yet most of them said that they could not believe we had really been so deeply involved in drugs. No one could make such a great change, they felt.
Documenting the Change
That is a common opinion. For example, the Seattle School District’s chief security officer, Charles O’Toole, asserted: “There is no return (cure) from drugs.” Also, the chief of the Narcotics Division in Youngstown, William A. Friednamer, told me that in all his years of dealing with drugs he had never seen a heroin addict stay off drugs for more than three or four months. “But now there is you,” he added, almost in unbelief.
It is understandable, therefore, that many might be skeptical when reading my story about overcoming drug addiction. For this reason, earlier this year I made visits on dozens of persons who had dealings with me as a drug addict, including police officers, probation officers, jailers, judges, attorneys, psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, and so forth. I told them why I had come to see them and asked for their comments.
Most simply could not believe that I was the same person. They all, of course, knew my name—it was notorious. But on occasion I had to produce identification to prove that I was really the same person. Nearly all wanted to know: ‘How long have you been off drugs? How is it possible? What made you change?’ I was grateful for the opportunity to explain.
The Real Solution
Denny Corodo is one of the police officers that I visited. He was in on my arrest at the drugstore break-in. He is now a captain, and is devoted solely to giving talks to high schools and other community groups about drugs and the drug problem. “You’ve really changed! I can’t believe it!” he kept saying as we talked over the past. “You’ve had something happen to you, something that affected you mentally, some realization of some kind.”
I told him that was right, that I had come to appreciate that I was accountable to my Creator. And this realization did not just reach the mind, I said; it sank into my heart. A desire to serve God has crowded out of my heart immorality, drugs and all such things, and it has provided me the motivation and strength to do what is right.
Also, on March 1, 1973, I had an appointment with Dr. Firestone, the physician at the St. Elizabeth Hospital who cared for me during withdrawal. When I came in, he exclaimed:. “I just can’t believe this is you!” He then asked if he could bring in other doctors on the staff who were acquainted with my case. They, too, were amazed at the change I had made. “How did you get out of this mess?” they wanted to know.
I explained that I came to realize that I was not the maker of my own destiny. Too many times I had ended up on dead-end roads. I had run on my own standards; I had felt like I was God and could make my own rules and do whatever I wanted to—just pursue pleasure. But then, I said, through a Bible study, I came to have a healthy fear of my Creator. Also, I could see that there is a group of people who really live according to what the Bible teaches, and that these are Jehovah’s witnesses.
“What is so special about Jehovah’s witnesses compared to other faiths?” I was asked. I explained that by studying the Bible with Jehovah’s witnesses I was able to see clearly God’s grand purpose for mankind. For example, what the condition of the dead is, the certain hope of the resurrection, and how this earth will be made a paradise under the rule of God’s kingdom. It is faith and conviction regarding these things, I said, that has enabled me to overcome drug abuse.
I told the doctors that I had examined other religions, including even Buddhism, and that I had been raised a Roman Catholic. But there is simply nothing solid in these religions—no conviction, no real hope and faith in the Creator, Jehovah God. For this reason they have been unable to provide the necessary motivation for young people to give up drugs.
For nearly three years now I have served as a full-time pioneer minister of Jehovah’s witnesses. And I have found that I am not the only one who has made such a big change in his life. I have come to know many true friends who, after studying the Bible with Jehovah’s witnesses and coming to an appreciation of their Creator, have broken free from the drug habit. If these can do it, you can too, if you are a drug abuser. Practicing the true religion is clearly an answer to the drug problem!—Contributed.