I vividly recall the turning point in my life when I audibly, with a significant amount of volume, voiced the words… “WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO MY LIFE?” You have heard that there are stages to the catastrophes we all go through; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance…I don’t know which stage it is that realism and absolute certainty show up…but it was at this moment, with those words ringing around me, that I realized this was not a dream, it was my life! Until now, I had been living in some sort of haze where everything was not quite real. It was as if I were starring in a role of some sort, and while attempting to navigate my part in the play, I was doing so in somewhat of a subconscious state. But at this instant, sitting on the floor while weeping profusely, holding a single document, the fog lifted and I could clearly see that I was not a character in some narrative. There was no stage or audience and this was no melodrama that would end when the curtain fell and the lights dimmed. This was my new world and little did I know that I would walk with a proverbial limp for the rest of my life.
In the movie “Rocky Balboa” there was a moment that Sylvester Stallone said to his son; “You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as Life!” “Life” had happened plenty in my experience already. I had been through more than my share of victories, defeats, heartache, and pain. I was fifty-three years old with a significant amount of tread worn off my tires. But the previous five decades had not prepared me for the overwhelming emotion that gripped me that day nor could it have adequately prepared me for the road ahead.
I grew up in the small town of Monroe in Northeast Louisiana. I was a bright child with a solid home, raised conservatively in a house of faith by a mother and father who were married for fifty-five years. I attended church and local schools for both high school and college. I was an obedient youth of honor and respect that followed rules and obeyed the law. My circle of friends included the same kind of people and those who weren’t were quickly removed. Drugs were rampant back then, as they are today, but I avoided and even ran from all forms of illegal substances. I wasn’t very athletically inclined in my early years and couldn’t find a sport that I felt very confident with. Eventually, I was introduced to a local karate club and excelled beyond my expectations. I had found my niche. Later, I participated in mixed martial arts, earning two black belts over the years in each of my chosen styles. My interest and involvement in martial arts taught me a strong work ethic, perseverance, esteem, dignity, respect, sacrifice, and determination. Suddenly, I had great self-confidence that gave birth to an overwhelming sense of pride. I was no longer the chubby kid in the 7th grade who wore husky jeans, now I was a lean young man with ability, character and an iron jaw. I was a strong, confident, and courageous competitor, charging from the gate, poised for success regardless of the arena. After attending a local university, I continued my education by moving to Davenport, IA and earning my degree as a doctor of chiropractic. Once finished, I began my career. In my tool bag were the faith, morals, values, and ethics instilled by my family, the character weapons bestowed upon me from my martial arts training, and the intellect stored inside me by colleges and universities. I was a force, well-armed and well prepared with a specific plan which began to fall into place. Soon I would have the world by the tail.
Plans came together and hopes shaped into reality. Business was stable and flourishing so I could now provide for a wife and children. At twenty-six I was married and soon thereafter started a family. During this same time, I formed a partnership with another local doctor of chiropractic in an effort to expand our model of healthcare to the masses. The American dream had become a reality! I purchased our dream home and filled it with a wife and three children. The garage was stored with an array of toys, the office always welcomed patrons and the bank account balances continued to rise. We eventually had multiple clinics in five different states, all before I reached the age of 30. Retirement accounts were opened and investments in the stock market were made.
As life would have it our plans don’t always go according to our wishes. It was only a few short years until our business partnership dissolved. This coupled with some poor investment advice left me and my family financially strained. In our society, there is such a great emphasis placed on money and material that I had followed suit with my priorities. So, like the smoke that hangs in the air for a brief moment after the fireworks show then quickly disappears, so too had my financial security. Being reduced financially is embarrassing personally as well as publicly…but that is the tip of the iceberg as the panic of helplessness grips you and you wonder how you are going to continue to provide for your family in the manner in which you are accustomed. I was paralyzed with worry and compelled to recapture the childlike faith that I had twenty years earlier. I continued moving forward with a strong work ethic and began consulting with other healthcare providers around the country while selling off many of the individual clinics I owned to the doctors who operated them. Valuable lessons had been learned and many of my problems seemed to be behind me. Circumstances can break us down, but we always have a choice: Will this make me bitter or make me better?
In the year 2000, after seventeen years of marriage, blessed with two sons and a daughter, my marriage collapsed. I was given domiciliary custody of our three children and handed the responsibility of raising them as a single parent. Fortunately, I had a wonderful sister and a loving mother to help. Divorce is so common in today’s world, so more than half of the population can relate to this issue. Yet, regardless of fault, circumstance, or commonality, it is hard to walk away from marriage without the sting of regret and remorse, as well as feelings of failure. I was alone, ashamed, and stretched thin trying to navigate the waters of parenthood while making an effort to rebuild my mental, emotional, and spiritual strength. My relationship with and reliance upon God continued, although often blindly, as I could not understand why this was happening to me and I could not see a purpose in a shattered family. I hurt for my children and wondered what effect this would have on their lives.
Jaded and calloused towards dating, I avoided that world for many years as my children and I sought to regroup and regain our lost security. In spite of the aftermath of divorce, the world seemed to improve each day personally and professionally. Our business reached new heights and all that had been previously lost was being returned. My children grew and adapted to a new way of living. They were involved in church and various activities as youngsters should be. I was developing a proficiency in parenting, as we all worked together. We built a beautiful home on 53 acres in the country that was filled with love, memories, and constant activity. I felt God’s grace and unmerited favor on my life.
My brother was a general contractor and, at the time, it seemed like you just couldn’t lose in the real estate market. I was determined to use better judgment and wisdom than I had in previous investments to assure that my family was protected presently and in the future. In an effort to help both myself and my brother, we partnered to finance and manage several real estate ventures together. During that same time an opportunity arose to partner with a medical doctor in a wellness clinic who was leasing space in one of my commercial buildings. With thirty years of experience in the healthcare field under my belt, I could use my talents to consult with doctors and continue my work while never having the burden of dealing with my medical partner’s actual practice. I brought experience in management and knowledge of the business systems to expand our visibility, marketplace, and patient base while we both operated independently. We were ready to take on the Wellness Revolution and make great strides in the industry.
One Friday afternoon in 2005, I responded to a call and rushed to the home that we had built only to find it totally destroyed by a blazing fire. By the time the first responders arrived it was beyond the point of salvation. This ache was worse than the financial defeat that I had previously suffered because this was not a bank account that could be refilled to its original state, this was the home that held my children’s rooms, their belongings, their pictures and their memories. This cost would be an emotional expense to be paid by my sons and daughter, and not one that could be regained or replaced by earning money. It had been so easy to faithful with all the blessings and gifts that I had received throughout my life, but I tirelessly wrestled with the Providence of losing our home. My children were affected so deeply that I struggled and strained to understand how this could happen. All parents want to protect their children and I was still hurting over the pain that divorce caused them. I prayed to be tested, tried, weighed, measured, and given trials but to pardon my children from any emotional distress.
Once my family was relocated into a new home I again pressed forward in an effort to build our life. The years went by as I continued to work and raise my children. One morning in July of 2008 I arrived at my office as usual after a morning workout. It began as a day like any other. Shortly after arriving, I heard a loud bang on my door. I opened it only to find the Federal Bureau of Investigation, State Police and Drug Enforcement Agency standing in front of me…armed and dressed in what appeared to be bullet proof vests. I was interrogated for hours before finally being allowed to leave. Frightened and shaken, never having been in any form of trouble, I secured an attorney. Upon his recommendation, I was to remain silent and allow him to take care of things on my behalf. The judicial process would last for years. I did my best to console my children while fear and stress set in and affected my health, work and personal life. The uproar from the “steroid era” in baseball had gotten the legal system hypersensitive to steroid use and the doctors who prescribed Human Growth Hormone or HGH.
I don’t watch or follow much baseball but you may remember a portion of athletic history where a guy named Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris’ home run record. That was a really big deal because his record had stood for 37 years. Several years later Mark McGwire admitted using steroids to propel his home run power and quite the scandal broke out in Major League Baseball. Big name players like McGuire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, and numerous others were implicated in a scandal surrounding the use of Human Growth Hormone. HGH, is legal if prescribed by a medical doctor and administered under a label approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration. “Off Brands” or generic labels that are commonly prescribed with other drugs are illegal when prescribing HGH. Little did I know that a scandal in a sport where I’m not necessarily a fan or involved with could impact my life, but it was monumental.
My partner had not abused the prescription of the drug but had mistakenly used an off-label brand without knowledge of the FDA regulations. She had later recognized the error and made adjustments to amend the situation years before. Surely, the FBI and DEA couldn’t be after small operations like ours. They wanted the “big players” that were part of Baseball’s “Juice Era” scandal. Even if our company had made mistakes, I had no involvement in the medical side of our business, I was merely a partner in the arrangement. As the owner of the building and a partner in the company, however, I was viewed as a significant decision maker.
In 2009 the stock market was crashing and there was a national housing crisis. The real estate market collapsed and it was a bad time for investments to be heavily leveraged in houses, townhouses, shopping centers, and apartments as ours were. Once again, financial difficulty loomed as everything seemed to avalanche simultaneously. Timing was definitely not on my side.
By now, I realized that difficult experiences and circumstances mold, shape, and refine us. Stability seemed to return and life moved forward. With the unknown of the federal raid and financial insecurity looming over me, I attempted to put the past behind me like an old coat left at the door. I was certainly no stranger to beginning again. Life’s many experiences had made me resilient, given me wisdom, and continued to refine me…one day at a time. I had all but given up on a romantic relationship or marriage. My children were growing up before my eyes and were beginning to be able to take care of themselves. After ten years as a single parent I met the most beautiful, poetic, and all around amazing lady that I have ever known. After two years of dating we were married in January of 2010.
One evening in June of 2010, just six months after our wedding, I sat relaxing with my wife when I received a call from my attorney. He informed me that I had been indicted along with others in the clinic. I was devastated to say the least. As I gazed out my bedroom window, my new bride held me in her arms without saying a word. My expectation was that there would be a long legal dispute, some lawyer fees, a fine, and a slap on the wrist. That should be the extent of the damage to resolve the issue. However, unbeknownst to me, the government was preparing to send a message.
I was determined that if necessary we would take the matter to court in order to get everything finalized and settled once and for all. A trial was rescheduled several times and ultimately set in stone; July 21st, 2012 at the Northwestern District Federal Court of Louisiana. As the trial date approached, a feeling of despair arose within me. I had illusions the trial would be cancelled and the charges dropped, or at least some amenable deal presented to put it to rest, but nothing happened. On Sunday afternoon, the day before my court date, I pulled out of my driveway headed to battle in the fight of my life. As I arrived at my hotel, black government SUV’s filled the parking lot, each full of federal agents. The jury was picked the next morning and the trial I thought would never occur finally began. After two grueling days filled with fear, my concern for family and finances took control. I prayed for an “out.” On that Wednesday evening, in my attorney’s hotel room, I was offered a plea deal to conspiring to illegally distribute Human Growth Hormone. I was informed that if the deal was refused and I didn’t prevail at trial, the ramifications would be far more severe and I would surely serve time. I wrestled, initially declining, but eventually felt there was actually no choice but to accept.
I have fought many battles in my life and have managed to stay the course but this was a different ballgame I was playing. While my intentions were innocent, the facts were evident that the clinic did, in fact, order and distribute an unapproved form of HGH. No one was harmed, patients were satisfied with the care and there was no financial restitution or discrepancy, yet the government felt the need to pursue the case. The thought of being away from my family was more than I could bear. The next morning, I stood before a federal judge, remoreseful, defeated, emotionally naked and terrified as I plead guilty to a crime that I never intended to commit.
In what seemed like a bad dream, I was emotionally distraught, bankrupt and convicted of a felony for a non-violet, non-intentional crime. I felt my life was over. The sentencing was set then rescheduled for February 14th, of 2013, Valentine’s Day! My wife was with me as I stood before the judge and received my sentence based on the federal minimal sentencing guidelines. Twenty-seven months in a Minimal Security Federal Prison Camp would be my penance. I was shocked at the punishment for such as violation. I heard my daughter weep profusely in the courtroom as I realized that this was the Valentines present I would give to my new bride. I was in a permanent state of bewilderment and confusion as I walked outside the courtroom and drove home with my family. A few weeks passed and on March 8th, 2013 I received a certified letter from the United States Department of Justice that instructed me to self-surrender to the Federal Prison Camp in Pensacola, Florida on April 1st, 2013. Holding this single document in my hand I uttered those spiritually awakening words, “WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO MY LIFE?” Somehow in that moment it all became real. The embarrassment covered me like a blanket, the fear suffocated me like I was being held under water, every ounce of pride and ego that I had left was blown away like dust in a wind tunnel. I was caught in a quicksand of desperation and after I was exhausted of all my anger and rage there was nowhere left to turn. I asked God for help because this was far too big for me to control anymore.
My family and I went to the Alabama coast the week before my facility assignment to spend those last moments together. On April 1, 2013, we drove through the gates of my new home filled with fear of the unknown. With tears flowing I hugged them, said goodbye and self-surrendered to the facility authorities.
The first days were nothing less than a horrific nightmare that offered no sleep. The next eighteen months I would spend adapting, working, writing, reading, exercising, walking 5-10 miles per day and talking to, but most importantly, listening to God. One of my greatest faults, one that I am ashamed of, has been a judgmental attitude toward others…the way they dressed, looked or in that current circumstance, what they were accused of doing. I was quickly cured of that. Being placed among my new neighbors taught me how to look for the good. I realized that there is a good in the worst of us and evil in the best of us. I was taught how to accept others as they are and how to love unconditionally. The False accusations I was placed under taught me how wrong I had been in casting judgement on others. Those eighteen months of desolate isolation, surrounded by every type of individual in the country, from hedge fund managers to career drug dealers, washed away my prejudices and taught me even more. Eighteen months of intensive physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual therapy conducted by the Greatest of all Physicians. Eighteen months that seems like a lifetime while going through it and just a moment in reflection. Those eighteen months gave me the opportunity to review and reflect on the half century I experienced before and decide how I will proceed in the half century ahead.
One day while on the track walking and praying, I felt undeniable urge to use my experience to help others reshape their lives as well. I saw so many hurting people who had lost all hope for tomorrow. Many of them made unintentional mistakes. In the end, I realized that it is the direction we are headed, not our intention, that determines our destination.
On September 24, 2014, my wife and family picked me up from the Pensacola Camp and took me home. Although I want to forget those horrible moments spent at that Prison Camp, they are part of who I am now. That experience reshaped me but I will walk with that proverbial limp for the rest of my life reminding me where my strength actually comes from.
With all of the experiences that I have had, it would be easy to say that I have learned to reshape myself. But this statement would be false and prideful. I can boast about none of the work and none of the accomplishments myself. I can only share my experience with you and tell you what was done with the messes in my life. It is my fervent prayer that the eighteen-month pause from the free world that I was given will be put to good use. God led me to take that time and put my thoughts, prayers, and revelations down on paper and organize them instructionally to show others how to walk through all of the positive and negative events of life with perseverance and purpose.
I am far from a perfect man. My life and story are littered with Pride, Ego, Judgement, Prejudice, Self-Will, Anger, and Control. Many, if not all, of the circumstances I found myself in were self-made, though at times I attempted to blame others. Bad things do happen to good people. Drunk drivers hit innocent others and create life changing ramifications. Disease sets in without reason on those who lead healthy lifestyles. People get little to no punishment for crimes that should incarcerate them for long periods of time while others convicted of much less serve long sentences. Innocent people are killed every day as if life has no value. Drugs take the lives of those who have so much potential. Injustice, unfairness, abuse (physical, verbal, emotional), rape, even murder happen daily in our society. Some pay, some don’t…at least not in this life. No one said life was fair…at least not on this earth.
The late John Denver once sang the song, “Some days are diamonds and some days are stones.” This is so true. The days that are diamonds are awesome and welcomed. The stone days, well, not so much. Sometimes we get more stones thrown our way than diamonds. Life is, however, the greatest gift you will ever be given. I learned an enormous amount during my journey. Funny how we can discover good in even the worst of times. The attitude of anyone involved in an unfortunate event is the choice of two options: Bitter or Better?
My story was costly, yet life changing in a positive way because I chose the better route. Don’t get me wrong, the journey wasn’t a cake walk. It was painful, hurtful, and shameful. Forgiveness didn’t come easy for me. Witnessing false accusations and others inflict pain toward you is difficult to close the door on. I have found it to be a never-ending journey littered with diversions and emotional pain from time to time. However, after all is said and done, I still have a deep love for life and this country. I hold the highest respect for law enforcement and no malice resides in my heart, towards anyone. Thankfully, I was able to maintain my professional credentials and am using my journey to help others from all walks of life. The God we serve is the ultimate judge. He can take epically destroyed human beings and make them radiantly beautiful people by reshaping them over and over again through the unconditional love of Christ! True restoration inside and out. That is the good news, made simple.
When I have a challenging day, I stop and give thanks for my many blessings and often look back at the saved text message that I received from my wife on March 1, 2013. “I love you through all of this! I know I have much deeper appreciation of the great man that you are and know I am blessed to be loved by you.” I am still moved when I read how she continued to believe in me and felt she was the one blessed through this bittersweet tragedy. If anyone was blessed, it was I, through her love and support. I am now committed to helping others find their second chance in life. God loves you unconditionally regardless of what you have done or where you have been. That will never change. You can’t control events that may come your way but you can control your response to those events.
Remember, it’s not how you start in life that matters, it’s how you finish. If you are reading this, your life is not over. The opinions of others may affect your reputation but only you control your character. How you finish your life is how you will be remembered. We don’t just serve a God of second chances, we serve a God of another chance. Don’t give up. Your setbacks can become setups for a comeback. You can be restored and you can finish strong!