One Man's Journey from Drugs and Prison to Faith and Family...
“I had to do it (meth) in order to feel normal. It started out social and ended up behind closed doors because I didn't want anybody to see me. It wasn't me, it didn't feel right, I knew it was wrong. I was the one preaching to everyone to not end up like me, like I had just chalked it up and life was already over. I was 22.” – Clay
This story was probably the most moving story to me yet. I think it was because I felt guilty that my perception of him was so wrong. I suspect that if you walked by Clay your first perception of him would be like mine: this guy has it all together and has a little bit of an intimidating air about him. The only thing that probably ever happened in his life was a girlfriend breaking up with him. There is a reason for the quote, "Don't judge a book by its cover." Clearly I'm not the only one that has wrong perceptions! Ha! Even with the perception I had of him, I knew deep down that everyone has a story and I was excited to hear his.
He grew up going to school at La Vega and was considered upper middle class, and maybe a little spoiled. He was blessed with more things than most. He partied some in high school and dappled socially into drugs, but he really wasn't “that guy.” It was all for fun. He was nervous about what to do once high school ended, and didn’t really seem to know what he wanted. He graduated high school and started college.
He was close to his mom and he felt she was the only one that really understood him. She battled breast cancer and was a survivor. She was a strong woman. She had even gone back to college. It was her 40th birthday and out of nowhere she had a seizure and unexpectedly passed away.
Clay was only 20 years old. It devastated him and turned him numb. Vivid memories of her lying in the casket haunted him. He grieved and grieved hard. They were so close that he described it this way: "We shared the same wavelength. It broke me when she passed."
After she passed away, he used his mom being gone as a crutch. He started hanging around the wrong people, started partying more, and started doing drugs more than just socially. It became an everyday thing and before he knew it he was using meth daily and hiding behind closed doors because he didn't want anyone he knew to see him like that. This wasn't who he was and he knew it, but he was in too deep.
He watched on his home security camera screen as an arsenal of police cars pulled into his drive. He heard their feet pounding and heard them tear the door down. He rushed to the bathroom, where he lay on the floor with his hands up. He felt like this was it, and said out loud, “It's over for me.”
He never had a record; he was considered a good kid. Everyone told him, "You'll probably just get probation.” And he believed it. Sure that he would get probation, he walked confidently into the courtroom. But out of the judge's mouth came a different sentence. Sixty-three months in prison for possession with intent to distribute, as well as aiding and abetting. A felony on his record forever. He was trying to do the math in his head and he just started bawling and almost collapsed. At the time, he didn't realize that prison would be one of the best things that ever happened to him.
Sitting in his cell and pondering over life, he started realizing the friends and girlfriend he had weren't really friends at all. He started realizing the things that really mattered. And he was happier inside than out! He said, "I prayed to God, ‘I know I don't want to do these five years, but if You want me to do these five years, then I will make the best of it.’"
He was moved around to different facilities but ended up in a low-security prison camp, which used more of an honor system. There were 400 people there, some in the same situation as him, never intending to be a druggie but ending up there. At that prison camp, they chose several of the best behaved and would send them to work at a ranch that helps children with disabilities. He was chosen and was excited for the opportunity. Leaving the prison camp for four hours a day was a learning experience for him. He was able to talk with regular people, including women, who weren't inmates. It was there that he thought he found love, but instead found a true learning experience. I like to think it was a test before entering the real world, one that he needed.
In that prison camp, he learned from many of the men in there. It's where he grew his biggest wings to one day fly. And fly he did! He was released into the “outside world”, which has so many challenges. It was scary for him. Trying to find a job with his background was hard. A friend that had done time and survived in the outside world, suggested being a waiter because it helps build social skills. He went to several places but no luck. He then walked into La Fiesta and talked to a manager there. He was upfront like he had been with all the others, but this time he was given a chance and it was under that agreement. (Just another reason to love La Fiesta!) He knew this was a chance and he didn’t want to blow it. He worked hard and continued to thrive in the outside world. He found he loved working there.
He soon met a beautiful girl who also worked there and they fell in love. While at La Fiesta he met many people, and one of them was a banker who frequently dined there. He waited on him regularly and built a relationship. The banker told him, “Clay, you need to come work at the bank.” He knew his past but took the chance. Because of Clay’s record, it turned out he couldn't work there, but the banker did loan him money for a ring! He married his true love. Life was going well, but eventually Clay wanted more than the restaurant life.
One day, he was talking with his cousin and he told him how he had opened up an iPhone repair shop and how the money was surprisingly good and suggested he open one up in Victoria. Victoria was the town his mother passed away in, and Clay was not quite sure he wanted to go back there. But something inside him was telling him that God wanted him to go. After much prayer, he and his wife packed up their bags and headed to Victoria. They opened a cellphone repair shop there. It grew quickly and soon they hired employees. They then opened another one in Rockport. It was in Rockport they decided to invest in real estate and bought their first home. They went on to purchase three rental homes. They loved real estate so much they decided to sell their shops and continue in real estate. Within the first year they closed 12 real estate deals, surpassing the goals they had set.
They soon ventured back to Waco, as it had always been home. Together they have passed many of their goals. During this journey, they learned that prayer changes things and that they will always continue to pray out loud together as a family. They determined that their life would not be built on material things but making memories every day through the simple things in life. They would cherish each day as if it were their last, with gratitude and love.
Along the way they had a beautiful daughter, which opened his eyes even more to his story in life. A past that he had been very quiet about, embarrassed about, he now felt led to share so others, especially young people, including his daughter one day, will know that there is hope. There is life even when you are at your lowest, there is forgiveness even when you feel you can't forgive or go on. Sometimes it's the hardest things we go through in life that turn out to be the best things for us. It is in the choices we make, and who we decide to be.
Clay made it clear that his success in overcoming a life of turmoil isn't about "having it all figured out." We will never have all of the answers. Clay wouldn't be where he is today without the continued support of God, his wife, grandparents and a handful of mentors who believed in him when he was uncertain whether he could believe in himself.
If you haven't read the story about the homeless man, "Birthday cake on the Corner and Tears on the Camera," I suggest you read it. It ties into this story so much. Such similar situations, yet they both chose different paths.
I know some of you have asked me to share the location I'm at each time I interview..This one was at Dichotomy, it was a good visit while sipping iced coffee. I am thankful to Clay for sharing his story, I hope it has inspired you as much as it has me.
Until next week,
The Waco Storyteller