Episode 48: Jesse Perez
The former East L.A. gang member has been dodging bullets for years – sometimes literally sometimes figuratively. Though he walked away from his criminal ways years ago, he opens up about the mindset that made that life seem like a good choice, the high that comes from being shot at, dealing with tragedy, finding God and what it felt like to be a Chicano in 1970’s Los Angeles.
Paul: Welcome to episode 48 with my guest, Jesse Perez. I’m Paul Gilmartin. This is The Mental Illness Happy Hour, an hour of honesty about all the battles in our heads; from medically diagnosed conditions to compulsive negative thinking; feelings of dissatisfaction, disconnection, inadequacy, and that vague, sinking feeling that the world is passing us by. You give us an hour; we’ll give you a hot ladle of awkward and icky. This show is not meant to be a substitute for professional, mental, medical, fancy advice. I, uh, I’m a standup comedian—those of you who are used to listening to the show notice th-th-that I’m now refraining from saying I’m just a jackass who tells dick jokes. Um, I’m apparently a little bit more than that. So, uh, uh, think of it less as, uh, the doctor’s office and more, uh, as the waiting room that hopefully doesn’t suck.
Um, thank you for, uh visiting the website, checking out the forum, filling out the surveys. God, I love reading what you guys write on surveys. It, uh, it’s just endlessly fascinating and comforting to me, to, uh, do that. Um, apparently there were some problems recently, I got a couple emails from people that were having trouble ordering the t-shirts on the website. I’ve, uh, emailed the person that, uh, that handles that, um, the sales of t-shirts and hopefully that, uh, that’s gonna get fixed if it hasn’t already.
Um, I would like, before we get to, uh, th-this, uh, this interview with my friend Jesse, um, I would like to, um—and it’s kind of a, it’s kind of a, um, I know this is a shock, it’s a little bit of a dark one. Um, but ultimately, I don’t think, um—I’m not apologizing for it, but maybe a little part of me is afraid that, um, the show is sometimes too dark or goes into dark places, but maybe that’s what makes it different so maybe I should just not worry about that. And, uh, just enjoy it. Which I am, I am enjoying it.
Oh, I know what I wanted to say. Um, I want to say hi to, uh, all our listeners—all our listeners, like there’s millions of ‘em—I’ve gotten a couple of, uh, of emails from, uh, people in Australia that are friends of the show and one of them sent me an email saying, um, you know, don’t just assume that all your listeners are in, uh, in North America. Um, uh, please acknowledge us at some point, something along those lines. So, uh, g’day. There, are you happy now that I did it by insulting your shrimp on the barbie?
Um, I would like to, uh, kick things off with a, um, survey respondent who calls himself, uh, Glorax. This is from the, uh, the basic, uh, survey that he took on the, uh, website. And the website, by the way, is mentalpod.com. Um, Glorax is, uh, he’s in his twenties. He’s never touched, uh, drugs or alcohol. He was raised in a pretty dysfunctional environment. Um, he goes to therapy. He believes that sharing his feelings helps greatly. He has no intention of, uh, taking meds for, uh, for his, uh, issues. Um, the most common negative thoughts he has, is, uh, he writes, “Whenever I make eye contact with people, they either think I’m a pervert or have a crazy Gary Busey stare.” Uh, to the question, “Describe any behaviors you wish you didn’t engage in but do anyway,” he writes, uh, “Masturbating daily. Spending too much time seeing if anyone likes articles or pithy status updates I post on Facebook. Failing to plan activities for the weekend and feeling sorry for myself as I stay inside and brood all weekend evaluating everything I do based on what my ex-girlfriend would think. (I’m an artist in the same field as her so I’m constantly comparing myself to her even though she isn’t around anymore and I have no desire to get back together with her. I associate her dumping me with not being as good an artist as she was.)”
And he also writes, “Jokes. Either when they’re not appropriate or excessive to the point that I’m starting to be draining to those around me. Eating past the point where I’m full but not realizing I’m full until twenty minutes after the fact. Yelling at my cat or at video games at a volume that probably makes everyone in my apartment complex afraid to approach me.” Thank you, thank you for that one. That, uh, I identified with a lot of those.
Um, “Anything cause you to feel ashamed?” “Masturbating. Thinking about how I treated my first girlfriend after being dumped. I was manipulative, trying to set up scenarios that would make her look like a jerk and make all of her friends feel sorry for me and get on my side. Not spending enough time playing with my cat. (It makes me think I’ll be a distant parent if I ever have children.) Realizing a joke that I told made someone feel bad even when I’m usually telling it just to get them to like me or to make them laugh.”
And, finally, uh, to the question, “If there is a God, what are some of the things you would say to God?” He writes, “Why did you make me enjoy jazz and funk but chose to have me born in a time when everyone my age hates it. No one is making any more of it and all of the people that made the music I just discovered are all starting to die. Gil Scott-Heron, Etta James, Catfish Collins, Gary Shider and Jimmy Castor, all within the last few months. Seriously?”
Paul: I’m here with my friend, Jesse Perez, who, uh, I’ve known for probably about seven years. I think we met, uh, in about 2004. And you’re somebody that I just immediately was drawn to. Uh, your sense of humor, um, you’re one of the least, uh, phony people I know and I’ve always been drawn to people like that. Um, so when you agreed uh, to do this podcast, I was very excited. And I gotta say, I’m a little, I don’t know if intimidated is the right word, but I care very much what you think of me and I don’t want to let you down. And, um, I was just wanted to get that, uh, out of the way up top.
Jesse: Ok, well, just so that we’re clear on it, I have a very low opinion about you all the way around pretty much, so we’re good. Let’s be clear on that. You don’t have to worry any more.
Paul: (laughs) Why you gotta, why you gotta make it a race war right out of the gate?
Jesse: No, I-I-I think, uh, the reason we have a connection is because we think highly of each other and I kind of, you know, the same thing you can say about me, I for sure—can for sure say about you.
Paul: Well thank you. I-I appreciate that. Uh, Jesse’s story, and, uh, obviously I’ll let him, I’ll let him tell it, but, um, it um—I’ve just always been interested in it and I can never hear enough of it. And you’re not somebody that walks around talking about themselves. Um, which to me makes it even more interesting. Um, so c—let’s start from the, from the beginning, uh, can you talk about where you were raised, what your home environment was like?
Jesse: Um, I was born in East LA, and I was raised in the San Gabriel valley. Um, and we were—I was—I had seven brothers and sisters. I was in the middle. Um, I had four brothers and sisters from one father and four brothers and sisters from another father. So we had, uh, a definite, uh, defining line in who we are—who we were under the same roof.
Paul: Oh really? That I, that I never knew. And was your dad—was your father the one who was living with you or was he the one who left?
Jesse: He was the one who was asked to leave. My mother was, um—yeah, she was married twice, a-and, um, so there was four of us from one father and four from the other, yeah. There wasn’t, uh, there wasn’t—my stepfather raised me. My mom was married to my stepdad and then he went to prison. And while he was in prison my mom met my dad. And she was with him for about seven or eight years, and wherever it was that defined common-law, and in that time she had four kids from him. And then when my stepdad got out of prison, my dad was out of the picture. Or, right before he got out of prison, my dad was asked to leave because of, uh—for whatever reason, their marriage failed. And then my stepdad coming out of prison was the one that raised me, pretty much.
Paul: Well, let’s talk about your, uh, history with, uh, trouble and the law. And I-I know you don’t want to glamorize or romanticize your, your past and it’s certainly not my intention to do that, but I can tell you as a, uh, white kid from the suburbs, there, there are aspects of your past that are fascinating to me and I don’t want to sensationalize them, but I think they’re interesting. So, um, at the risk of, uh, sensationalizing them, can you, uh, tell me what it’s like to be a gang-banger and shoot heroin (laughing)?
Jesse: Well, I’ll tell you what. I-I’m glad you said—I’m glad you made that point because I know so many guys that really, really do glamorize it. And, I mean, our whole society, that whole, like, hip hop mentality—I mean, I got a son who’s a—who makes rap music, he’s a hip hop guy, and, uh, we’re both into music in a big way and I love that, that—I don’t like that style of music, but I like that, uh, the creativity of it. And my son likes to write like I like to write, which is very cool. But that whole gangster mentality—you know, now there’s guys, white boys from the suburbs that are gangsters because of that—they listen to the music and they get caught up in it, and they get—throw alcohol and drugs in the mix and everybody’s Al Capone now. You know, whatever. And so for me, um, you know, I can’t—I don’t glamorize it or think—see it as a lot of fun because I’ve seen the other side of it. I’ve been around guys that are, are real gangsters. And I, you know, I never was but I knew guys that were. So I see, you know, I see the other side of it, and, uh, it’s not always a party. (laughs) It’s not a poolside party, getting loaded, you know?
Paul: Now when you say you weren’t a gangster, uh, are you being sarcastic?
Jesse: Not at all. I mean, you know, well here’s the deal. I think, um—see, and that’s the point that I’m making—is that a lot of people believe if they dress a certain way, and they listen to certain music, and they talk a certain talk, um, and, you know, that they, uh, they are that person that, um, th-that The Godfather was about, and they get caught up in that. And I call it a gangster mentality. And really what it is is all Hollywood. It’s all Hollywood.
Paul: So you never belonged to a gang?
Jesse: Of course I did. I was a gang member. I was a gang member from, from about eleven years old ‘til, probably, 26.
Paul: So what’s the difference between being a gang member and being a gangster?
Jesse: Well, th-th-the—for me, being a gangster—the gangsters were, the gangsters were the guys that were running business. And that was the business end o-o-of that lifestyle. You know, th-th-th-the movement of the drugs and th-th-the criminal element. Um, and I got involved in it. I did. Um, but there was always the guys th-that existed at a higher level than me. Um, and of course that was the plan for me. I was planning on moving up and getting my way—you know, working my way to the top—what they call the top, but, um ….
Paul: Which is Pelican Bay.
Jesse: Well, that’s the top. I mean, and it is.
Paul: Pelican Bay is a prison in northern California where some of the most hard-core gang members and criminals a-are housed. Did you ever do time at Pelican Bay?
Jesse: Not at all. I, uh, yeah. I’ve done time, but I don’t, you know. I’ve done a little bit of time and through the years, by the time I was done going to jail, it had been a total of about eight-and-a-half years. And it was at different places that, um, um ….
Paul: Didn’t you turn 18 in Folsom?
Jesse: No, no, no. Not at all. Not me.
Paul: (laughs) Are you being sarcastic?
Jesse: No. It wasn’t me, it wasn’t me! No, and here’s the deal. There’s a lot of guys—I try and, I try and—i-it’s funny you ask me that question because there’s guys that come up to me in the circles I hang in, and they tell—they ask me questions, like, um, you know, “You’ve been here.” I says, “No, I haven’t.” And they says, “Yes you have.” And I’m telling them, like, “No, I haven’t.” And they have this idea that they know where I’ve been more than I know where I’ve been.
Paul: Well, for some reason, I could’ve sworn I heard you, uh, say that. That you, that you turned 18 in, in prison. Did you turn 18 in prison?
Jesse: No, that was—I was, I was busted but I wasn’t in—I wasn’t up in—I wasn’t in prison when I turned 18, but I was in jail.
Paul: Oh, ok.
Jesse: So there’s a difference. I mean, and that’s why a lot of guys, um, they tell me that they know where I’ve been, and they don’t. They don’t. They get pieces of my story and they come up to this conclusion of who they think I am. And they’re more concerned about my time than I am. They really are. And that’s the whole idea—that’s why I don’t get in conversation about it because a lot of guys, um, they’re more excited about my past than I am. Like, they’re really interested in it and I, you know—one guy got me so angry about it, about the details, I told him, “Why don’t you go get a gun and do some robberies and create your own story?” I mean, come on, give me a break. Because they get so much excitement over where they think I’ve been. And most guys don’t know because they don’t listen to what I say. You know, they’re like, there’s so much excitement. People want to know about it. And you know what? Um, I don’t think people want to know about it.
Paul: I-I think people want to know about it if, if that person has been able to distance themselves from it. And because you’ve been able to distance yourself from it, that’s why I think it’s a worthy story. Um, somebody acting like an asshole and shooting people, and, you know, all the things that people are in jail for nowadays is selfish, egotistical things that they do, that to me doesn’t make a story. But, somebody seeing the error of their ways and learning to live a different way. That to me is compelling, interesting story. And so, that, um, is one of the reasons why I wanted to talk to you, because you’ve overcome things o-other than that th-th-that I want to get to as well. Um, but let’s, let’s talk about, uh—so let’s—when you’re 11, how, how does the, um, the trouble begin?
Jesse: Um, I started—I got introduced to getting loaded at, like, ten. Like, at least getting drunk, at 10. And then I got introduced to other things between 10 and 11. Which is, like, ‘69/’70. And I got introduced to other things. Um, you know, the weed, a-and, uh, I think back then we were even sniffing paint, and, uh, people were sniffing glue. I never sniffed glue, but sniffing paint, weed, reds, whites, a-and this is at a young age. And I’m—I experimented. I tried it a couple of times and it wasn’t a big deal.
Paul: Reds and whites – is that like Seconals and Tuinals?
Jesse: D-d-downers and uppers. You know, from—so, and, um, what was going on a-at home was Mom was struggling to keep us fed. There was eight of us, so I had a lot of free time. And I had a lot of time on my own. Um, and, at my house, um, my brother was a leader in the neighborhood and so a lot of the guys that were older than me used to come to the house. And I would pick up on what was going on with them. I had an uncle living with us who just recently passed away, a-and he was kind of schooling me.
Paul: When you say, uh, that your brother was a, uh, leader in the neighborhood, y-you know, you mean that, uh, in a, in a gang?
Jesse: Yes. He was the guy that I followed, I mean …
Paul: How much older was he than you?
Jesse: Maybe three years, yeah. He’s about 54 right now. 54, 55. Um, and, you know, he set the, he set the bar for me. He, you know, he was a respected guy and, and, um …
Paul: Did girls like him?
Jesse: In the comm—yeah, I think so. I think so.
Paul: But what—was it his power? The fact that people listened to him and gave him respect? Th-that, kind of—
Jesse: It wasn’t his, his—so much what he said, it was the things he did. And I knew that’s where we got our respect. That’s where we got our recognition in the neighborhood, was the things we were willing to do.
Paul: Like what was the things that he did or was willing to do?
Jesse: He was kind of one of the guys—he was a fighter. And he went up a-and he was the kind of guy th-that would want to go up against numerous guys and he was fighter. And that’s what he was. And he was a good fighter. And that was kind of, um, um, the shadow that I walked in. I kind of hung on to his reputation for—as a kid. But, you know, that turned around to bite me in the ass because eventually, you know, um, I could ride on his coattails for a little while and then eventually I had to do my own work. And the thing in the neighborhood was about everybody trying to out crazy each other. You know, a compliment was how cray—as a kid. But, you know, that turned around to bite me in the ass because eventually, you know, um, I could ride on his coattails for a little while and then eventually I had to do my own work. And the thing in the neighborhood was about everybody trying to out crazy each other. You know, a compliment was how crazy you were and the things you were willing to do. And for me, I tried to learn, um, you know, because I started getting arrested at a young age. And I-I’d go to juvenile hall or the camps or whatever.
Paul: H-How old were you were arrested for the first time?
Jesse: The very first time I was, I think, nine.
Jesse: Yeah. I was either nine or ten. And what it was is I used to—because, because, you know, I used to watch the stuff around me and I wasn’t really doing anything, even though I drank once or twice. Um, I used to carry this buck knife for show. And one day we were down at the school down the street from our house, and some kid came and tried to take my bike from me, or threatened to take it. And, so, you know, and of course I, you know, I told him, “No way!” You know, and I pulled out my buck knife that I used to stow. And I had it, like, razor sharp. And I carried it for looks, of course. And, um, you know, and when I pulled it out, he went and grabbed it—reached to grab it, and when he grabbed it, I just pulled it real quick, and, you know, I cut his fingers down to the bone or whatever. I cut his fingers up pretty bad. A-and that scared me and I jumped on my bike and me and my partner we r-raced to my house. He went home and I went inside and I was so scared. And then I heard the knock on the door. And I already knew who it was. And I look out the curtain and it’s the cops, and it’s the kid I cut, and two other kids, the witnesses. And so I open the door, like I’m gonna play dumb right? I’m like, I’m like ten years old I’m thinking I’m gonna go toe-to-toe with this cop and challenge, you know, our intellect here or whatever. And so I open the door. He starts reading me my rights.
Jesse: And the other kids are like, “That’s him! That’s him!” And my mom—you know, in the middle of him reading me my rights, my mom, being on the other side of the door somewhere, caught wind of—you know, heard it and walked up and, like, “What the hell’s going on here?” And he’s, like, you know, and he told her what happened and, uh, and I looked at my mom and I said, “The kid tried to take my bike.” You know. And they took me to jail with my—I think my mom went with me. And they cited me. And I was in there for an hour or something and then they released me. And I thought they were wrong, you know. And the second time was right after. I was in the market down the street from my mom’s a-and I was in the market, and I seen a little cap gun in the food section, but unwrapped. Just laying on the, on the food. So I grabbed it and I stuck it in my pocket. And I really didn’t think that I was stealing. I didn’t think I was stealing. I thought—well, I didn’t think a kid came and left it there, but I didn’t think I was stealing for whatever reason. Stuck it in my pocket. Started walking out the door, and I got busted. And they, you know, they called the cops. They arrested me. And they, and they, and they arrested me for shoplifting. And, uh, and I thought they were wrong. You know, I really thought they were wrong. As a kid I thought that. And at that—those two incidents—I started developing this mindset of society vs. me.
Jesse: The Man vs. me. And then, of course, back then there was a little bit of, um, you know, that racial tension was going on back then. It was, uh, you know, for us they called the Tijuaneros TJ’s because most of the Mexicans back then came from Tijuana. They weren’t from San Salvador and Ecu—South America and all that. They were from right on the other side of the border. So we called them TJ’s. And so, for me, um, even at a—as a young kid, at about ten/eleven years old, my given name was Jesus. And I was called Jesus because I was born on Christmas day. And I changed it to Jesse. Because I didn’t want to be confused with those people from the other side of the border.
Paul: Really? I never knew that.
Jesse: Yeah. And so—and back then, you know, there was always this tension between wh-what I come from is what are called Chicanos, which are, um, you know, Americans of Mexican heritage, you know, Americans. And these guys are Mexicans from Mexico, which is where my, you know, my dad’s mom and dad are from. But, you know, I didn’t—we didn’t want to—there was a difference between us. And, believe it or not—
Paul: Did you look down on them?
Jesse: Um, I think the reason—I didn’t really look down on them, but I think that it seemed like society looked down on us, um, like we were the same people as they were, and we weren’t.
Paul: Did it—would it be fair to say that you felt like they were making your life harder? They were dragging you down a bit?
Jesse: Absolutely. Absolutely. Because we were thrown in a, in a, in this class of, you know, a Mexican’s a Mexican. Which means whether we’re from California o-or from Mexico, we’re the same people. And we’re not. And, and so, I mean, as a kid, you try and, you try to find yourself, to find out who you are. And we come from poverty, and we come from, um, um, what do you call it, broken, broken marriages, or broken homes or whatever, a-and you try and find your place and try and determine the person that you are. Even apart from your family, but as an individual, who you are. And so for me, I think the most natural thing for me to do was to gravitate towards that lifestyle that I gravitated toward because it was recognition, and there was status, there was a good time, there was rebellion, um, against that system that we felt, um … There wasn’t prejudice under my mom’s roof, but there was a sense of—from wherever it came from, it wasn’t from my mom, but there was something in there that said, um, we were the way we were because of, because the white man did it to us. There was something there. It was subtle, but it was there. You know, so when you see things like—I remember, even though I was a kid, I remember when Bobby Kennedy got shot. I remember when Martin Luther King got shot. And I remember being so driven toward that movement, whatever it was, whatever I could decipher that it was a kid with that mentality, and I became a fan o-of, uh, I called it – the Kennedy Movement. I started studying John F. Kennedy in elementary school. I think I was probably three years old when he got killed, so I didn’t really know him or of him. And when Bobby Kennedy got killed and Martin Luther King, it kind of—you know, and then the East LA riot, they had the East LA riot, which was the—they were protesting against the front lines in Vietnam and then it blew up when Ruben Salazar was killed—
Paul: Was hit with a flare gun in his head.
Jesse: Yeah, with the—yeah, with the tear gas. And they called it an accident. And it was far from an accident.
Paul: It was aimed directly at his head from, like, what three feet away or something?
Jesse: No, it—the cop was at the door, a-a-and Ruben was behind the curtain, one of them plastic curtains you could see through at a bar, and they shot him point blank in the head with it. But the thing about that is there’s such a conspiracy—you know, they recently had a reopening of that case, a-and what they did is they let the daughter see the evidence, but they didn’t reveal any of the evidence to the public. They let her see the evidence alone without an attorney for a limited time, and they closed it and said it was officially—there was nothing—i-it is—it was what they said it was. But when they, when they called the cops—it was called the Silver Dollar Café-when they called the cops, because there was protests going on about the front lines in Vietnam, and what they were saying is the front lines were filled with Chicanos and they were being murdered, and then replenished with more Chicanos in the front line in Vietnam. And that’s what the—that’s what the march was about.
Paul: And the white man was saying, “No, we throw some blacks in there.”
Jesse: Yeah. Or whatever, yeah, or whatever, you know, whatever they were saying. But the, but the thing was, when Salazar, when they found out he was in the, in the, in the bar, there was a call, and I don’t know how—they say there was a call that said that there was a man with a gun in this bar.
Paul: I see.
Jesse: And so, I’ve talked to witnesses who were there, and they said there must have been about fifteen cop cars that showed up there, like, really, really, really quick.
Paul: So it seemed like a setup.
Jesse: Well, yeah, because you say, I mean, you got a hundred thousand people marching, and all of a sudden you got this attention on this one place, and you go in there and by, by chance this guy who brings cases against authority and against the cops and challenges—
Paul: And who was writing in papers, and writing things very unfavorable to the establishment, yeah.
Jesse: Right. And so, a-and they shot him point blank with a tear gas. They say they shot at the ceiling and it came down and it ricocheted and caught him the head, but, but, further investigation shows that they shot him point blank. Yeah, so you know …
Paul: So things like that contributed to that idea that it’s us vs., uh—us vs. them.
Jesse: Yeah, but you gotta understand too that everything—and the only reason I share these stories is these are the excuses that I had, ok. These are part of that foundation that I built for myself. Because I was drawn to that way of thinking by choice, because I had seven siblings and not all of us live the same way. You know, I mean, um, two of my sisters and—or maybe one of my sisters and one of my brothers, and a little bit of the other brother, I mean, you know, we didn’t all, uh, join a gang, you know. And we didn’t all turn into drunks and dope fiends. We didn’t, you know—but this is just – this is what I did.
Paul: That moved you, th-th-this lifestyle and that emotional kind of component resonated with you and you thought, “This feels natural to me. I’m gonna move towards this.” But, y-you weren’t—obviously, if you were a-a fan of Bobby Kennedy, uh, all white people weren’t, weren’t bad, just kind of the, the ones that were currently in power.
Jesse: Yeah, yeah. A-a-a-and it wasn’t even, uh—like I said, under my mom’s roof there—it wasn’t talked about, like, you know, my mom was—definitely wasn’t a racist, or my stepdad or—there was just something, there was something like th-th-that hum or that tone. Maybe it was the news, maybe it was the paper, the media, the way they would blow things up. And as a kid, you’re kind of putting these pieces together and creating your own reality. Because I’m not going to my mom and asking her to clear things up for me. I’m not going to ask her to, you know, you know, like, today, you know, I go to my kids and we have open dialog. I mean, but I don’t—I never went to my mom a-and said, “Explain this to me.”
Paul: Plus, I-I think sometimes there doesn’t have to be, um, uh, the presence of something, uh, to say that these people, uh, are making life difficult for you. Sometimes it’s the lack of you seeing your face on television, in a way, that is, uh, healthy. You seeing your face on the billboard for a product. You know, you not seeing—you not seeing yourself becoming a part of the fabric of, of society. I would think that, in and of itself, would be enough to say, “Hey. We’re not sitting at the table.”
Jesse: Yeah. For sure. For sure. A-and think of, think of that. That’s ’69, 1969, 1970, 1971. Today, when I watch the news, um, (laughs ironically), you know, it’s—and, you know, me and my mom kinda shared this kinda same—I see the news a-a-a-and, not to sound racist, but this is gonna sound racist, but I see the news, and I see these guys that are pedophiles or rapists or these guys, you know, and when I hear the surname, and I think, you know, and I hear it, and I get ashamed. And I told a friend of mine who’s white—and I told a friend of mine one time, I said, “What do you think about—it’s like it really bothers me. Most of the time I heard about these guys and they’re Mexican.” And he says, “Well, you know, it’s a numbers thing. Look at how many Mexicans are in California.”
Jesse: Look at how many Mexicans are in Los Angeles.
Jesse: I mean, that’s kinda the way that it’s gonna, that’s gonna come out, that it’s gonna sound there’s more of them getting arrested because there’s more of them in the area. That’s just kinda the way it’s gonna—I mean, if we’re in Kentucky, or wherever, you’re not gonna hear Gonzales and Garcia, and, you know, you’re not gonna hear it like you hear it out here. And that kind of gave me a little bit of, uh, um—a-and you know, and I think …
Paul: Because I don’t think, you know, I’ve lived here in, uh, Los Angeles for sixteen years, seventeen years, and, uh, that thought has never occurred to me that they’re—you know, most of the pedophiles o-or rapists are Hispanic.
Jesse: See and th-that’s what my ear tunes to when I hear it. You know, it’s like t-today, this morning I heard, uh, you know, the news. I heard—I listen to the news everyday or I read it on the Internet, and this woman, you know, she tried to drown her kid—two kids. One of them died, one of them’s dying or one of them’s really bad, and I think she was black, I think. And, you know, I didn’t think—and I think to myself, you know, “What is it that would drive a person to do that?” And right now it’s really, really, really, really something I’m sensitive to only because we’re coming to a mark with my girlfriend and the murder of her grands—grandbaby. You know, Friday’s gonna be six months. And six months is when the DA’s gonna determine whether or not they’re gonna pick up the case and bring some charges against somebody. You know, so for me, there’s a lot of um, what do you call them, um, a lot of times I feel a little bit more about stories that I hear because of something else I got going on with my own personal life or something in my past, you know.
Paul: Right. Tell th-th-the listener briefly, if you, if you can, what th-the, um, situation is with that, unless you’d rather not, uh, talk about that.
Jesse: Um, let’s see.
Paul: Maybe it’s too complicated t-to talk about, you know. But when you say “the murder of my grandbaby,” it’s not something I want to gloss over. I feel like as an interviewer I would be, um—I don’t feel that i-it’s central necessarily to the part of your story that I want to hear, but as an interviewer, I’m kind of torn because I don’t want to be like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, dead baby. Anyway …’
Jesse: Yeah (laughs), yeah. For sure, uh, well, here’s the deal: um, Malachi was seventeen months old, and he was my girlfriend’s son’s son. And for about two months before he died, we hadn’t seen the baby. But I had about as much time as my girlfriend did with the baby so I became like a grandfather to the baby. And, you know, and treated him that way. And, um, and, and, while he was under his mother’s care, um, he was, he was, what do you call it, blunt force trauma to the head.
Jesse: They call it “shaken baby syndrome.” And then somebody hit him in the back of the head. And we didn’t see it because when we went to the hospital he was already brain dead. And we were there with him for three days. And they kept him alive for three days, because he was a donator, his body organs. Um, and to this day they haven’t put handcuffs on anybody. They have, they have six suspects, and, um, they—the—so far, the coroner determined that it was some—they say somebody took liberty with the baby for about twelve hours. He says either they were throwing around on the floor, on carpet, or on a headboard. They were doing injury to him with some thought behind it. Because they were making sure that the injuries weren’t showing. And that’s what they did. Um, and, so, you know, Friday’s gonna be—we’re kinda working on plan B right now to see what we’re gonna do if the DA doesn’t put any handcuffs on anybody or decides that they’re not gonna pick it up.
Paul: Wow. I-I gotta say, uh, this is the 48th episode I’ve done of this show, and I don’t think anything has made me more sad than hearing that somebody deliberately throwing a baby around. Um …
Jesse: Yeah. I-i-i-it’s one of those things that, um, you know, I don’t talk about. Because it’s too big for me. It’s too painful. It just is. It’s—and I get to levels of rage and anger a-and, you know, because of the person that I am today, um, you know, there’s a lot of, um, um, rediscovering of who I am through this whole episode. Because you know, you wanna, you wanna try and—for me, because of who I am today and the life I live, I try and live my life according to what I think God’s will is in my life. Um, I go to prayer every day. I do meditation. I do these things to stay connected to my God. To keep me grounded because my reaction to this thing is like yours and anybody else’s except it’s home for me, you know, and it’s family to me. And, um, so it’s really, um, it’s really hard. It’s really hard.
Paul: W-when I think of what—maybe this sounds like a bunch of horseshit, and, uh, me just rationalizing, the person that did—does something like that to the baby, the easiest thing in the world is to say, “That person’s not a human being,” you know, et cetera, et cetera. Uh, I-I look at whoever would do something like that and I think, a: That person has to know what they’re doing is wrong so obviously something inside them, a darkness and anger is so compelling and so overwhelming to them that they can’t stop themselves. And, and I feel, sympathy’s not the right word—I—you know, when I see stuff about a serial killer I think, those people, a part of them knows what they’re doing is wrong and wants to stop and they can’t and I feel a certain empathy with somebody because I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed by feelings and want to pick up a drink or drugs or cut somebody down or do something, and I think these people, they’ve got that times a thousand and then they’re walking around thinking to themselves, “You’re a fucking baby killer.” Or, “You’re a pedophile.” Or, “You’re a serial killer.” And I think that what fucking prison that must be. Now that—I-I’m not letting them off the hook, by any means, but, don’t you think any, any God would want you to look at that person with some portion of that type of, of empathy or am I just being a liberal, bleeding heart?
Jesse: I—well you are being a liberal bleeding heart, but, but …
Paul: And I think that person should certainly go to jail or maybe be subject to the death penalty, but …
Jesse: There was a guy—I was at a retreat one year and this, this—I think he was a Jesuit priest said and he had a—he shared a story about a retreat he put on and he shared—he was telling us what he told that group. And what he told them was um, that God forgave Hitler for what he did to the Jews. That was simply how he—I’m gonna, I’m gonna paraphrase, I’m gonna make it as small as possible. And so what happened is some of the people in that congregation, who were in that group, came to him afterwards and they happened to be ancestors of people that were murdered in Auschwitz, you know, they were grandchildren or something to that effect, and what he was—the point that he was trying to make was that the difference between our ability to love and forgive and God’s ability to forgive and to love and that was the one thing that made us different from God. And I think, I think, and there’s one thing that I remember—
Paul: Were those people upset that he had said that?
Jesse: Yeah, but he explained it to them and this was what he was talking about. You know, and they understood. They got it. And so what I try and remember is, um, that—a friend of mine, he was a spiritual advisor of mine, he used to tell me, um, to think like, “What would Christ do in that situation?” In any situation that comes in my life where I’m very judgmental of somebody, so instead of thinking to myself, “I’m only a human being. I’m a man, so it’s hard for me to think that I can be like Christ.” So I got what he was saying. The gist of what he was saying was to kind of have that way of thinking. But I would think, what would he do, my spiritual advisor Ray. Not Christ, but what would he do as a human being as a man, and that was more, um, um, tangible for me.
Jesse: More doable. Am I in a position right now that I can forgive somebody for doing that? No. Am I capable of one day doing that? Maybe. Maybe. Right now? No. Not at all. Am I expected to? I don’t think so.
Paul: Well, let’s, uh, let’s lighten things up and talk about prison and gang shootings. And heroin addiction.
Jesse: (laughs) I’ll tell ya. Um, um, my jail time was really little. It was very, very, uh, it was very uneventful, it was very—
Paul: You said, you said a total of eight years, that’s not little.
Jesse: It is. I-i-in the bigger scheme of things, it is.
Paul: You used to—you liked to call it, “I went on a vacation.” That’s the way you always—Jesse refers to it. “This one time I, uh, I was on vacation.”
Jesse: Well, you know, the thing was, I-I call them time outs now, but the time outs were very necessary because if I hadn’t had the time outs I had I might have ended up dead. Really. Because what I would do is I would go to jail and I would, uh, you know, whether it was for a few months or for a couple of years or whatever it was—
Paul: What was it usually behind, like, robberies, or …
Jesse: I did some time for robbery, but, uh, but mostly, um, most of them were robberies, actually. And the other stuff …
Paul: Was it to feed your drug habit or to earn money for the gang?
Jesse: I never went to earn money for nobody but me.
Paul: Oh really?
Jesse: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I did business with guys, and we had business to do to—for, for the neighborhood, um, but, you know, you come to find out real quick, they call it one thing and it’s something else. I mean, really, you come to find out that the loyalty’s not loyalty at all, um …
Paul: Yeah, you’re dealing with criminals.
Jesse: Yeah, everybody—
Paul: Really – he’s taking more than his cut.
Jesse: No, but see the thing is, you kind of get this idea at the beginning, when I first got into it, and because there are, there are guys, and I know them today that are still alive that I trusted with my life, and I trusted everything that they told me, for the most part, I was right, but then there were these other guys that sat in our circle that worked both sides of the fence and we didn’t know until somebody ended up dead or somebody ended up in prison or whatever it was. I mean, you just don’t know who you’re sitting in a circle with. I got out of it at 25 or 26 years old, I stopped drinking at 24 years old. You know, for a couple of years I was still in the business a little bit but I got out of it but the guys that I was sitting in circles with they were killing each other, they sit there one day shaking each other’s hands and looking at each other at the same time, telling each other they love each other and all that, however they said it, that expression of, you know, you’re my brother and all that stuff and the next thing they know somebody’s dead and the guy that was shaking his hand was involved in that decision and all that bullshit so, you know, that’s where I come from, so for me—
Paul: At what age did you realize there really isn’t nobility in this, it’s every man for himself and these guys are, uh, uh, these guys are the rats often that they say that they despise.
Jesse: I was probably—probably a couple of years before I got out of it. You know, it’s one thing to, to know it, but then to make the move.
Paul: Yeah. How hard is that?
Jesse: You know, eh, you know a lot of people believe that um—maybe the societal attitude is that you’re in a gang, and you’re in a gang for life and they get that whole dramatic spin on it. Um, I’m kind of respected for the changes I’ve made. From the people that knew me. The ones that were real friends. You know, because they know who I was, to see who I am today. You know, I watched, I watched a TV show recently, a few months back, a-and there was three of us as kids: me, my best friend, and another guy. And that other guy killed my best friend, OK. And that other guy, I seen him on TV recently up in, he was up in—
Paul: The guy that killed your best friend?
Jesse: Yeah, yeah. And he was doing some kind of Scared Straight thing you know. I saw him on TV and, and, uh, you know, he’ll never get out. Um, and he doesn’t know that I know that he killed my best friend.
Paul: Oh, he’s in for something else?
Jesse: Yeah. He never got tried—he never even got tried for that. You know, but he, he had enough stuff going on that, um, he’ll never get out. But I seen him on TV and I remember that when he killed my best friend, I was already, uh, into my change of life, and I was already into recovery, and I was already there for five years when he killed my best friend. And, uh, I was gonna kill him, you know, for what he did. Even after being my change of life for five years, I was gonna go kill him. And I’m not a killer. You know, I mean, really, I’ve known guys that have killed people and that’s not me.
Paul: Have you ever shot at people?
Jesse: Yeah. I’ve been shot, and I, you know.
Paul: How many times have you been shot?
Paul: And how many times have you shot bullets with the intent of hurting people?
Jesse: Uh, a lot of times.
Paul: How many would you estimate?
Jesse: Maybe, maybe about fifteen.
Paul: And how many times have you seen a bullet that came from your gun hit somebody else?
Jesse: Maybe four.
Paul: And, um, are you comfortable saying what the outcome of that was?
Jesse: Well I know they all lived.
Jesse: But one guy I put in a wheelchair.
Paul: Can you talk about that?
Jesse: Um, you know there’s nothing to talk about. It’s kind of, it’s kind of—because I’ve gone through this and I’ve dealt with it already, um the other side of it—there’s things that I did when I was involved in that life that, um, not only were expected of me, but, um, I embraced it. I loved it. I loved it. I loved the recognition. I loved the status I had. Um, and I was one of the quiet ones. You know, I did have a—I wasn’t really—you know, today a lot of friends wouldn’t believe it, but I was the quiet one. And I just watched everything that was going on around me. And when stuff happened I, you know, I got into the mix. I was into all of the stuff.
Paul: Was it rush? I would imagine it was.
Jesse: Oh, it was a rush. Being scared that way, you know, being shot at is a hell of a high.
Paul: Is it really?
Jesse: You know, I-I, uh, I was up here at, uh, this park out here in LA and this guy just started opening up in broad daylight, you know, and he caught me in the leg and dropped me. And it was just a flesh wound – it just chipped my bone. But it dropped me. But, but, looking at him, and seeing the fire and the gun, knowing that he was probably seventy yards out, and seeing the flash—
Paul: Was it daytime or nighttime?
Jesse: Daytime. And I’m looking at him—I’m running, I’m looking at him, and he’s shooting and there’s two of us or three of us, maybe three of us. And I got behind a tree, and, uh, he never hit the tree but he hit my leg before I got behind the tree, and, uh, you know, that was, that was one time. I’ve been shot at a few times, a-and, you know, um, when you get out of it, I mean, it’s scary at that time, you get the rush of the adrenaline and all that stuff, and then the other side of it, um, you get, uh, the lump in the throat, and the feeling of how close that was. I’ve had a few of those experiences where I should’ve died. And, you know, you come out of it and, like, wow, you know?
Paul: I think I know what it’s like because I drank espresso.
Jesse: It’s exactly like drinking a double espresso. I won’t even touch that stuff. Yeah, it’s kinda the same thing. (laughs) I was—me and my brother were out one night and we were in my mom’s car and this car drove up on the side of us and the guy is going down to reach for his gun, the passenger, and I’m the passenger, a-a-and my window is at the driver of the other car, we’re side by side, and his passenger is reaching for a gun, and I see him reaching and my brother says—I don’t know if the guy showed the gun or what he did—and my brother says, “Oh, don’t worry about it.” I don’t know, I think the guy shot one shot and my brother said or I thought in my head that he was shooting blanks, don’t ask me why, I seen the fire coming out the gun, he was raised over the—he stuck his body out the window and was over the top of the roof pointing down at us and started shooting. And I seen the fire coming out of the gun, and for whatever reason, my head told me it was blanks, don’t ask me why, cuz, you know, I’m real smart, right?
Paul: How old were you at this point?
Jesse: Then I was probably about twenty or something like that. And we had just bought a box of beer bottles, we were drinking, and so I started grabbing the beer bottles and throwing them at him as he’s shooting. He’s shooting, I’m throwing beer bottles at him. He shot—got off about six rounds. We went off down this main street. We went straight, they hung a right, and then we went home. It was like, you know, we went and bought more beer and, uh, finished our night and went home. And the next day I used that car, my mom’s car, a little Toyota, a little box, and I went to the store and I happened to stop at the park. I seen a guy a knew and I stopped. We had a couple of beers and as we’re standing there drinking the beer, he says, “Who shot at you?” And I looked—and I hadn’t said nothing yet—and I looked and I thought, “How did he know?” You know? And I looked and there’s a big old hole in the door. And it looked like a .45. It went through one door and halfway into the other one on the back of the car. Now, you know, when I seen it, cuz I wasn’t drunk the night before, a-a-and I just kind of got this, like, rush of fear that came on me, and then I told this guy Jake, I told him what happened. He’s like, “Wow. That’s pretty close.” You know, and I’m thinking—I’m looking at myself the night before throwing beer bottles at this guy who’s shooting at me. And what it is is the kick on the gun, on the .45’s, they’re so hard that it’s hard to—that was my saving grace. Cuz he only hit the—
Paul: Yeah. A .22, you might have been dead.
Jesse: Yeah. And he only hit the car one time and he shot about five or six times. And that was one of those times when I says, “Hmmm.” You know, maybe, um—you know, it was one of those thoughts like I might want to consider doing something else for a living. And it lasted about ten minutes or five minutes, and, you know, then it was gone. And you have a couple of beers and it’s like, wow, okay. You know, you get over it.
Paul: W-w-when did your, um, heroin use start?
Jesse: I, uh, it was, you know, it was one of them—I was a serious chipper, is what I was.
Paul: You were a heroin prodigy weren’t you?
Jesse: No. No. No. I, uh—the first time I used heroin, I-I didn’t get loaded on heroin until after I used it maybe six times. And the first time I used it I went and bought a spoon and, uh, I went to this guy’s house in the neighborhood, and, uh, you know, because I trusted dope fiend, like, uh, you’re supposed to. And I handed him the balloon and he went and got his and he went to the restroom and he came and gave me mine and, you know, all that good stuff.
Paul: So he stepped on your shit? He gave you nothing.
Jesse: He must have gave me nothing. You know, and that was the first time, and, uh, but the first time I got loaded, I was in a handball court …
Paul: As most heroin addicts are.
Jesse: Yeah. And we’re playing handball.
Paul: I was playing squash the first time I shot up.
Jesse: Yeah. (laughs) And this guy brought—he brought some, uh, he broke out with some China white. And I says—and he says—you know, he put this little piece out like a match head, a little, little, little bit. And I’m like, you know, what’s this gonna do? And I had not yet gotten loaded on heroin. I’d tried it like five or six times. And he says, “Trust me.” He says, you know, “Trust me on this. Just take it.” He says, “If you want more when we’re done with this, I’ll give you more.” So, you know, I—he tied me off a-and he gave it to me, and I remember the rig going into arm, and when I woke up I was about three miles away in somebody’s shower and they had under the water. I went out.
Jesse: I was out. I was out. And, you know, they said, uh, they thought they were gonna lose me and all that good stuff. And my first, my first, uh, response, and I’ll never forget, it was, I gotta get some more of that! Here’s the, here’s the, here’s the deal that makes me different from other people, not that I deal with terminal uniqueness, but there was this—I remember a fair, I was just reminded of it, I went to a carnival or something when I was kid, maybe ’69, and they had this thing where they showed the freaks, right? And they said, “This is what heroin does to babies.” And I couldn’t tell ya if it had a third eye or if it had two heads, I don’t remember. But what I do remember is my response in my head, thinking, “If drugs did that to that woman that gave birth to that baby, I wanna try those drugs.” If those drugs were that powerful, I wanna try those drugs. I that may have made me a little—you know, I thought about it through the years, because I was ten years—
Paul: That’s not something normal people think. Yeah.
Jesse: Yeah. And I’m thinking, “Man, that’s gotta be some good shit. Man, that’s gotta be some really, really good stuff.”
Paul: Yeah. When you came out, uh, of your nod, or whatever you want to call it, that first time that you did th-the China white and you almost died, was there a feeling of euphoria when you awoke, was the, was the high still on?
Paul: Ok, so you, so it felt good even though you almost died.
Jesse: Yeah, I was—yeah, it was like, it was like, you know, when you have, uh, great sex and you, and afterwards you’re having your cigarette moment and you’re just kind of laying there like, “Man, that was some great sex?” This was better than that.
Jesse: And you just kinda walk with that afterglow. And, of course, then you start, like—this is when I, when I first got a little bit of a habit going, a-and as soon as that’s coming down, my head’s already going, “We gotta get some more of this. We gotta get some more of this.”
Paul: And so talk about that, then, th-that lifestyle of feeding the, uh, the dragon, or whatever you want to call it, chasing the dragon.
Jesse: That wasn’t—I never thought I was a heroin addict. I never thought I was a heroin addict. ‘Til the day I got clean I never thought I was a heroin addict because I used to go on what we’d call “runs.” You know, I mean, you rearrange reality the way—any way you want, and I did that all day long with myself. I was a speed—I turned into a speed baller, I was mixing cocaine and heroin, and, and I had friends of mine who were using $300 a day worth of heroin.
Paul: And this is back in the ‘80s.
Jesse: Yeah. And they were using $300 a day. Those were the heroin addicts. I never got past $125.
Paul: So you couldn’t possibly be a heroin addict, right?
Jesse: Yeah. These guys are bad, you know, so. And then I would go on these runs and I could use for a month, three weeks, two weeks and stop. And be a little bit sick.
Paul: And getting sleep in between, not being up for three weeks.
Jesse: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And then, and then, I’d be a little bit sick, but I never got real, real dope sick. You know, I’d be—and the reason I never got dope sick was because I always had something else in my system. You know, whether it was a minimum of booze, but I always had a buffer going on. And don’t ask me what it was because a lot of times I stuck my hand in the candy jar and I didn’t know what the candy was. I mean, that’s just the way it went, you know, whatever. But I needed, you know—I was one of them gutter, uh, what do you call ‘em?
Paul: Gutter hypes?
Jesse: A gutter dope fiend.
Jesse: You know, I mean, I slammed—I-I-I-I slammed, uh, cannabinol, I’ve slammed reds, I did heroin and cocaine, um, and I would eat whatever was on the table. That’s why, you know, some people talk about their drug of choice.
Paul: Whatever you have.
Jesse: My favorite, favorite drug was whatever was on the table, man, that was my favorite.
Paul: I-I-I totally relate to that. I think I’ve mentioned this on the podcast before, but one time I remember being in a parking lot after a, after a show doing standup, and I’m with strangers, complete strangers and, uh, and mind you, I’m on TV at this point, I’ve got a show, um, I’m making decent money, I could’ve bought champagne if I wanted to, they’re passing a thing that you use to clean off computer screens, and everybody’s huffing off it, and they pass it to me. I think I even had a suit on. And I was like, “Sounds good.” Took a drag off it.
Jesse: Yeah, you’re a lot sicker than I ever was. That’s for sure, for sure.
Paul: (laughs) But you know, it’s that—what, whatever will take me out of me: a video game, pornography, uh, drugs, alcohol, shopping, gossip, you fucking name it. I-it—anything that will, in my mind, uh, change my level in the universe.
Jesse: I like what you shared about being around people you didn’t even know. You know, I, uh, I sat in some pretty tight circles of guys that really knew each other, but I also sat in circles of people that I had never seen before, and we were partying like if we had been friends for our entire lives. And, uh, you know, you end up in some—and then, me, I, you know, because of the work that I did, because of the work that I did, um, you know, I always carried a gun. So, you know, something would always happen, you know. And I’d be racing away from somebody’s house, o-o-or racing away with a cracked head or something. Something always—you know, you think, a lot of times, you know, I would think—and this turned into self-judgment, you know, I would think—cause I didn’t know what an alcoholic was, and I didn’t know, and I really didn’t think—I thought I’d like drugs, but I didn’t think I was a drug addict, I wasn’t, you know, real bad. So, what you do is you think, well if I’m not any of those things—and I didn’t even want to consider them, because I wasn’t no dummy, I thought if I ever called myself an alcoholic or an addict, somebody might ask me to stop. So I was never gonna go there. I wasn’t—didn’t spend time thinking about it. But what I did do instead—I was more willing to say that I was, I was stupid. Because how else—
Paul: And unlucky.
Jesse: And unlucky, yeah. I mean, how—why else would anybody do the things that I did? I did some stupid shit. And I did it even—I couldn’t even blame the alcohol. You know, when you’re, when you’re loaded as much as I was, or drunk, for so long, and you do all this dumb stuff, because you’re not loaded one day or drinking that day, you know, the stupid continues. You know, it just continues. The bad decisions, the bad choices, just the bad moves, just all the way around, it’s just bad. You know, so I, you know, so I thought to myself, “Man, you’re a—you’re just, you’re just stupid. You know, nobody does stupid shit like that.” The thing was is I would go to family gatherings—and I love drinking with my family. I come from, you know, a lot of us, my cousins, and, you know, party party. And, it got to the point where, you know, I hadn’t drank, um, forever, how long it was, maybe a few days, and I sit in the circle in the living room or wherever and I would crack a beer and “chhhh” (beer opening sound) and it would get quiet. And you could hear the whispers. Like, “He’s drinking again.” Or, “Keep an eye on him.” Or, “Here we go.” Because I was either the violent drunk, or crying drunk. There wasn’t a lot of gray area there. You know, that’s because, like when people used to talk about, would talk about, I drank to take the edge off, I drank to get fucked up. You know, I mean, I never, I-I would call it that sometimes. I’d come home from work, get in my recliner, pull out my forty ouncer or my beer or whatever, and I would sit there, you know, that whole thing in the head about, you know, I just worked a hard eight to ten, twelve hour day, come home and that’s what a man does – he has his beer. But me, a funny thing happened when I drank a beer – every one I drank made me thirstier. You know, and it seemed like every one I drank, I was—it was, it just wasn’t quenching that thirst, man.
Paul: Wasn’t enough.
Jesse: It just wasn’t enough. I think about it now and I salivate. You know, I was—it was—I remember, I think it was because I was going to be a classy drinker I think I started drinking Michelob instead of Colt .45. And I remember the taste o-o-of the Michelob and I thought to myself, “I’ve been drinking beer all these years and I never knew what a good beer tastes like.” I remember thinking that to myself, like, “Man, you’ve really arrived. You know, you finally arrived.”
Paul: That’s hilarious.
Jesse: Or when I had a full bar, when I finally got a full bar, right. My full bar was tequila, tequila, tequila, tequila, one vodka, more tequila, tequila, tequila, tequila, and some, uh, uh, Jack Daniels and some Johnny Walker and some—I had about twenty-five bottles of booze, and, because at that time I was making serious money in some of the business I was involved in, and I had this big old bar going. And the bar was a little bookshelf with the fifths on it in my living room. That’s what is. But I felt like had arrived. I remember looking at it and thinking to myself, “Man, you’ve really arrived. This is what’s life’s about.”
Paul: There’s no way you can be an alcoholic if you’re drinking classy.
Jesse: Oh, man.
Paul: What was the business at that point? Were you selling drugs?
Jesse: I was helping to move drugs.
Paul: What kind of, what kind of volumes of drugs and what drugs?
Jesse: Um, heroin, cocaine, and weed. And, um, as far as volume, that would change, cuz what I used to do is I used to be a runner and I would—
Paul: You didn’t have to front any money, you just took the, the risk of getting caught with it?
Jesse: Oh yeah, oh yeah.
Paul: I bet you got paid well.
Jesse: Aaa, you know, it never pays—
Jesse: Yeah. It wasn’t a good dental plan going on, you know?
Paul: Yeah, you factor in jail time and it’s really minimum wage.
Jesse: The 401K just wasn’t worth a fuck. You know, it just wasn’t—but you know you, for whatever reason, you sell it to yourself that this is a good idea because one is, I’m staying loaded for free. Two is I’m staying fed, I’m keeping gas in the car, and, and I got a couple of bucks in my pocket and I’m not having to punch a clock. And there it is there. That’s, that’s wealth right there. (laughs) You know? And, I mean, I’m driving. I’m staying loaded, I’m in the party scene a little bit, and, um, dealing with these different people and every now and then guns get pulled and people get all stupid and it gets real different, real exciting, real quick. And game changers happen like that (snaps fingers). That’s when people end up dead or people end up in prison for the rest of their lives or whatever.
Paul: Can you give me a-a, uh, little snapshot of—an example of one of those things when—
Jesse: One of the scariest moments for me—I was about seventeen or eighteen, and, uh, maybe I was nineteen, anyways, we were coming from—we were crossing the border and there’s like ten cars, and we’re all loaded with weed and other stuff, and the cars, you know, they’re scattered. It’s not like we’re all in the same line. It’s not like a funeral procession. And, and these—and we cross, and I get across, and the two other—I see two other cars make it across, and, uh, we made it our, we made it our—where we’re supposed to meet in San Diego and we meet. And, uh, three cars are missing. And the three cars are missing are, are, um, either six or nine guys that are missing. And, uh, we never see them again, to this day. And so what I had to do is, uh, you know, one of those guys, um, was a friend, and I had to go tell his mom. I didn’t tell her what happened in detail, I just told her that he disappeared, you know. And, um, that was, uh—it should have been life-changing, a wakeup call to kind of say, “You know what? I can’t do this any more.” You know, this isn’t for me, because I, you know, I’d gone through so many close calls and this one was a close call for me, because I’d been in jail in TJ before, it’s not fun.
Jesse: And, and, this was a close call for me. Because if I would’ve got caught in there, you know, whatever, they—they’re, you know. I don’t even think they’re in prison. They’re probably dead, I don’t know, I don’t know. But they never showed up again. Th-th-they never showed up since.
Paul: T-tell the story about when the guy offered you the eyedropper in prison.
Jesse: Oh. It was in the county.
Paul: Oh. The county. Ok.
Jesse: He uh—I went in to do 120 days and I just got—just stopped drinking.
Paul: So this is in, like ’85, ’86?
Jesse: Yeah, and I, and I had to go in and do, I think 120 days or 90 days or something. And I went in. As soon as I went in, I was in there for a couple of days and one guy that I knew, that we had shared needles through the years on the streets, a couple of times going through jail, and I went in, and, and, and he says, um, “I got a loaded rig.” Or, he didn’t say that, he just—whatever he said, he told me that he had a loaded eye drop syringe with heroin in it. And he offered me a taste and I just, like, “Nah.” You know, whatever. At the time I was, you know, like 90 days sober. I’d just stopped drinking and using. And I passed. And he didn’t make a big deal out of it, you know. And he got loaded, whatever. When I was—you know, when I got out that time, and I got drunk one more time, one more time. And then I was done. Um, and five years into my own recovery, he, um, died. I think he died in Folsom. Um, from AIDS. And according to the timeline, he could’ve—you know, I could’ve—that could’ve been one of the bullets I dodged, for sure.
Paul: In 2007—I’m gonna fast forward now—in 2007, you and I’d known each other for a couple of years, and, uh, you kept losing weight. And you kept getting more and more pale. And we kept saying, “Jesse, are you sure you’re ok? Are you sure you’re ok?” And you’re like, “I’m good. I’m good! I’m not good!”
Jesse: (laughs) Yeah, I found out I wasn’t good.
Paul: Can you talk about that?
Jesse: Yeah, I was, uh—I had this flu going on that lasted like a really long time. Probably like thirteen weeks or something. And one of my buddies had a—he asked me, he says, um, “Something’s wrong with you.” Cuz you’re right there were a few guys who would ask me what’s up. And there’s this one guy who says, “Something’s wrong with you.” I says, “You know what? I’m not sleeping at night. I’ve been sleeping like three hours a night and I’m having these cold sweats.” You know, I says, “It’s like this really jacked up flu, this really hard flu. But I’m dealing with it, I’m good.” He’s like, “No, something’s wrong.”
Paul: And that’s so you, to do that too.
Jesse: I mean, yeah, it’s like what am I gonna do? It’s like, you know, I’ve been through some stuff in my life and I just kinda like, you just ride it out, you know. And eventually the calendar just kinda takes care of what’s going on in your life, you know. And this was one of those times when that didn’t happen and I lost, you know—I weigh 185 pounds right now. And I went down to about 121, 122, something like that. I had no strength in my legs. Anyways, so I go to the, I go to the doctor and right away they tell me I’m running on a half a tank of blood and they want to give me a blood transfusion and I tell them I don’t want it. Because I’m afraid—because I know people that have died from AIDS from a blood transfusion in my family, you know. Actually, my sister’s mother-in-law and other people that I know, and I just like, I says, “No, this isn’t a good idea.” The woman says, “You need some blood. You’re running on half a tank.” And she says, “We screen the blood pretty good. Don’t worry about it.” So they give me a blood transfusion—
Paul: By the way, the screening for that nowadays is so much better than it used to be.
Jesse: Oh, for sure. For sure. It’s so—and so I went in, I went in and they did the blood transfusion, and I don’t remember when I went, they let me out seven days later, they gave me my vitamins, whatever I needed and, uh, I felt better. And I came home and I went back for another visit. I did a blood test, and, uh, and they told me I had cancer. And I was, uh, stage three. And I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And he said I had a good chance of recovery if I don’t skip a beat on the treatment. And then right after they found the cancer, they found the hep-C, and I had both of ‘em. And so I says ok. And when he told me that I thought, um, that explains a lot, for one thing.
Paul: And hep-C is hepatitis C for, uh …
Jesse: Right, right. And I didn’t uh, you know—stage three is kind of like, um, you know, when you have stage four you start kind of saying goodbye to people, and stage three is kind of on that line, and, you know, and I was feeling it for sure. I mean, you say you seen how I looked.
Paul: Y-y-you—w-we literally thought you—we were going to lose you.
Jesse: Yeah, and this was before I even knew I was sick. And, um so when he told me that, I wasn’t, um—it was really interesting, my reaction in my head because I really, um, I really didn’t get scared. I didn’t get scared. I just—it just, like, it was just one of those things that—and he kind of looked at me weird, because he thought maybe—I was definitely in thought about what was going on, but he thought maybe I went into shock. Because he couldn’t—because I was really in a deep thought, like, I’m kind of sorting what’s going on here, you know. That I know I can die from this. I know I can. And so I’m just kind of coming to terms with it in my own head as he, right as he, you know, it’s kind of going kind of quick. And then he just kind of asked me, “Are you ok?” And I’m like, “Yeah.” And I says, “You know, um, I, uh, this isn’t a surprise. I mean, I smoked for 31 years. I smoked them Camel non-filters for about 28. And I put all these chemicals in my body. I’m a painter and, uh, I drank and I drugged and I did all this stuff. This is kind of an inevitable for me more than, more than a surprise.” I told him that. And he says, “Ok.” He says, “If you keep that attitude, then you have a good chance of beating this.” You know, and I did eight months of chemo. And I, you know—and it was, uh, it was interesting. It was interesting. You know, blood draws got interesting.
Paul: Tell the story about the—the only time I saw you, because I would see you a couple of times a week throughout this whole thing, and I was just amazed at how level-headed and present you were. And how, um, you just, you never felt sorry for yourself, y-you had a great attitude about it. But I remember you came in one day because they, uh—you had gone to get chemo and a nurse had kind of pissed you off for something.
Jesse: Oh. Yeah.
Paul: Tell that story.
Jesse: Well, what she did was, um, I think this is what you’re talking—she um—th-they—you know, the chemo comes through an IV. And, um, and it’s in a little bag, and, hanging on the rack, it comes in through an IV. And anyways, I feel this fire going out of my arm, and um, and I tell her, you know, “I’m burning up over here.” So she brings a hot pack and what the hot pack does, it expands the vein because the chemo’s thick. It expands the vein to give it a better flow. And then I look up and I realize that, I says, you know, I realize there’s no water. And you’re supposed to have the saline, which is a water, as a cut to thin it out and to—because chemo’s poison, and you don’t want to run it straight, cuz it’s—for obvious reasons. So they didn’t put no water in it. So the whole side of my body was on fire. And um, I, uh, I told her and she took care of it and put—I, I just remembered, I think I know what you’re talking about. I think you’re talking—you’re not talking about—you’re talking about a blood draw?
Jesse: Yeah, this guy, he comes, you know—(sighs) you would think on blood draws that they would know what they’re doing. But this guy comes in, he sticks a needle in my arm and he hits, there’s a lot of pain. I just feel this shooting pain in my arm and I tell him, I says, “Hey! Something’s wrong here! I got this pain going on!” He says, “I’ve been doing this for twenty years, I know what I’m doing.” And we’re in the doctor’s office and I kind go like, “You mean because you’ve been doing this for twenty fucking years that I’m not feeling the pain that I’m feeling?” And everybody just kind of looked at me and got kind of quiet in there. And, you know, and he just, he just shined me on, like it wasn’t a big deal. And he just, you know. And so the next day I went and I told my nurse, the one that was giving me the chemo, um, I says, “Hey, uh, this is what happened yesterday.” And I says, “I think he hit a nerve.” And she says, “That’s exactly what happened. He hit a nerve. He wasn’t paying attention to what he was doing.” And that was one of those times when I really considered smacking somebody that was treating me. My doctor, he came in one day and, uh, started talking to me and I told him, I says, “You know, you gotta show a little bit more concern here because I’m all in here, I wanna beat this. And if I, you know—you’re giving me the impression you’re not really interested in what’s going on here and I need you to be interested, you know because I am. You know, I’m planning on beating this. Th-that’s my mindset. And I don’t know if I’m gonna beat it. I’m hoping.” You know, a lot of times I kind of got that moment where I was like the kid whistling the dark kind of thing. But I gotta beat it. Man, I can’t, I can’t sit there a-and—not for one moment did I sit there saying, “My God, I got cancer here, I could die.” And, you know, “Or this is painful.” Or, “The nausea.” Or all the stuff that comes with it. “This is too much.” I never went there.
Paul: Do you think the fact that you had dodged so many bullets before kind of made it less of a big deal?
Paul: What do you think …?
Jesse: Because this was a unique, this was a unique challenge. This was a unique fear. I didn’t go fearless. There was some fear there. Um, I think—I really, really believe that it was because of my connection with my God. It really is. Because I never had that sense of security or sense of well being before in my life until I made that connection with my God when I got into recovery and I had stopped drinking. And making that connection changed me as a man, as a person. And my whole, um, way of thinking was changed, which meant my whole perspective was changed, which meant my whole foundation of fears changed. You know, I have fears like everybody else, they’re just not what they used to be. What they used to be was, um, I used to nurture my fears. I used to think about them a lot. I used to, um, you know, anxiety, just all this stuff. Because of the way that I was living and the stuff that I dealt with. And I eventually somebody was gonna kill me or whatever. And I had certain fears there. But when I got sober, and I connected with my God, there was a sense of well being that I never experienced before. There was a, um—some courage that I never knew existed within me. And I believe—I’m convinced it came from God. Because I didn’t have it within me to have that kind of courage. I mean, I come from a lifestyle that demanded some courage, but it was all misguided, kind of mis—
Paul: Kind of a false, young man’s idea of courage.
Jesse: Yeah, exactly, exactly. And so this time it was a little more, um, it was different, for sure. And I kind of got to the point where I said, “You know, if”—I accepted it for what it was and I said, “If I’m gonna die now, if that happens, I’m ok. I’m really ok, because of what I’ve been given.”
Paul: And I sensed that in you. And that is, that is one of the things that kind of cemented, um, my idea of you as somebody that, that I admire and that I appreciate as a friend, because you had the ultimate, uh, test to walk the walk, and to walk with poise, and to be patient. And to—you know, I remember saying to you, you know, “You’re a couple of months into this cancer thing.” You wouldn’t even mention it as cancer, you’d say, “Yeah, I’m going through some health issues.” And I would always say, “I would be stopping people on the street and telling them that I had cancer.”
Jesse: You know, I remember I was sitting with my mom and telling her, the day I got cancer. Because you know, the day when they told me, I had to go to my mom’s and tell her what was up. And I remember sitting there and telling her and I told her, I says, “It’s all over my chest and my stomach and my groin, and I’m stage three.” And she started shaking and crying, you know. And, you know, she got pretty shook up, and I thought about it and I thought, “I guess I’m supposed to be scared with her.” I remember having that feeling, like, “I guess I’m supposed to be scared here. And I’m not. You know, I’m not. I mean, I’m feeling very inconvenienced. You know, fucking cancer, c’mon, I’m busy!” You know, I mean, that’s kinda—it was kinda like—and I said, “Ok. It seems like the people around me were a lot more affected than I was.” Even my brother was gonna finance, uh—he wanted to send me somewhere on the Gerson program I think, some guy claimed to have the cure for cancer. I think my brother was gonna put up about ten or fifteen grand to have this process done. And he even had a family meeting and he convinced my siblings to get behind him on this and I was getting phone calls, you know, from siblings that were crying, asking me to do this. And I really resented my brother for that, you know, not because he was—you know, because this was out of love, for sure. And, and my brother Joe was like—
Paul: He’s a great guy.
Jesse: You know, and he’s in my corner for sure. And I know he’s doing this out of love, but the fact is, it’s because he believes in it, he figures it’s, um, the gospel truth, so he sells everybody else on it and they have this family meeting. And I hear everybody telling me that I should do this. I should do this, and all this, and all this, and all this. And I’m listening to everybody. It might have been—now I know what it’s like to be in an intervention, right? And so, and so at the end, I think either my mom or my older sister asked, “Maybe we should ask Jesse what he thinks?” “Oh, I get to say something?” You know, and I, and I made a decision, I says, um, “I’ve decided that I’m gonna do chemo. You know, that’s my decision.” But I had to go to my spiritual advisor to ask him. You know, I go, “Man. I’ve got my brother doing this thing, and, you know, I know he’s sold on it but I’m…” And you know, Ray told me, he says, “It’s your body, it’s your life. What do you need—what do you want to do?”
Paul: End of story.
Jesse: And that’s really what it was. And of course he reminded me, which I already knew, he says, “Everybody’s coming from love and fear.” I said, “Yeah, I know.” And so had to go and say, “Yeah, you know I’m doing chemo. That’s what I’m gonna do.” And that’s what I did. I did it for eight months and it, and it worked. It knocked out the cancer and it knocked out the hep-C, the hepatitis. And next, in March, this coming March, will already be three years that I’ve been in the all clear.
Paul: Wow. Wow. Well, I’m so grateful that, uh, that I got to have extra, extra time with you. I think a lot of people feel that, that same way, and, uh, I want to thank you for your honesty. And, um, I was gonna do a fear-off, but w-w-we’re running a little long already and there’s so much good stuff that, um, I feel like, uh, I feel like we got enough. Is there anything you want to, you want to add before, uh …?
Jesse: Yeah, um, do I get paid in check or cash? Do I get paid today? Because I’ve gotta, I’ve gotta do some stuff.
Paul: (laughs) Yeah, you said you’re waiting on a, you’re waiting on a check.
Jesse: No, yeah, you know what, this is cool. I, um, I like the people that are in my life today and the ones that do stuff like this a-a-and the different guys, because I’m trying to know, you know, I’m doing a lot of writing now and I’m kind of making that—trying to make that transition of being a writer for a living. And, uh, I surround myself with people today that impress me on a regular basis, on a regular basis of who they are, and you’re one of those guys.
Paul: Listen, I appreciate that. That means a lot to me coming from, from a no-nonsense person like, like you.
Jesse: It really does, it really does it really is what my life—what makes my life good and, uh, has improved the quality of my life and I got a life I could never have imagined because of the people in it, for sure.
Paul: Yeah, yeah. And you’re going through some stuff right now, you’re going through some, uh, uh, I wouldn’t say unemployment, but under-employment. And, uh, you just always, you always come out the other side and, uh, I gotta believe that there is a correlation between acting as if you believe you’re gonna come out the other side and getting out the other side.
Jesse: I’ve never not had a roof over my head, I’ve never missed a meal, um, and if I couldn’t pay my rent, um, I would not be homeless. I have too many friends and family that would not allow that.
Jesse: I would not be homeless. So my greatest fear would be that I would pass judgment on myself about the way that my life is. And I would use that to judge me. That’s my greatest fear. Um, I didn’t know the strengths I had in my life until there was a challenge put in front of me that, that, uh, demanded that I find what that strength is. I, you know, so when the seemingly bad happens or the dark days come or whatever it is, I don’t get too excited. I just don’t.
Paul: And the thing that I would add is not only do you benefit from it, but it, it makes my life better because when I’m having a shitty day—I can guarantee there’s many times I was freaking out about something and then I go have dinner with you that night and I’d be like, “What the fuck am I freaking out for? This guy just got out of, you know, four hours of chemotherapy and, uh, and he’s completely, uh, you know, present, sitting here at dinner with a smile on his face.” And, uh, that, THAT is the gift if we just get wrapped up in ‘it’s all doom, etc., etc.,’ we don’t get to give that gift to other people of giving them an example of how to live life. And so I just want to thank you for, uh, for that. And, uh, and for, um, and for not robbing me, you know? I know that’s what your people like to do. And I want to thank you for letting me leave her with my wallet, and …. You know I could fucking let it go without, uh …
Jesse: And as long as this thing’s still recording, we’ll just say it’s that way. Of course I’m not gonna rob you! Of course!
Paul: Do you remember what I, what I said to you when you came in, uh, and, uh, you declared that you were cancer free?
Jesse: Oh, yeah, you said, “Even cancer doesn’t like Mexicans.” But I know that you have to talk that way being that you’re insecure. That one time when you told me that you were embarrassed and ashamed for being white, I get it. And you have to act that way because of embarrassment. It’s ok, I understand. I feel your pain.
Paul: I love you brother.
Jesse: I love you too. Thank you.
Paul: Many thanks to Jesse. And if you want to contact him, I’m going to put, uh, a link to his Facebook page on our, uh, website. That website is mentalpod.com.
Before I, uh, take it out with a listener email, um, I want to, um, thank a couple people that help make the show possible: my wife Karla for always giving me great feedback, Stee Grieve (sp?), who, uh, uh, designs and runs the website, uh, John and Michael and Manny, who help keep, uh, spammers out of the forum, and, of course, you, uh, you the listener. If you care to support the show, there’s a couple of different ways you can do it: you can do it financially by going to the website mentalpod.com, you can make a donation through the PayPal link; you can buy stuff at Amazon through our Amazon link; uh, or you can support us—you can buy a t-shirt; or you can support us non-financially by going to iTunes and giving us a good rating and writing something nice. That boosts our ranking and brings people to the show, which we enjoy.
Um, this, uh, listener email comes from, um, Jeff. And, uh, he writes, “I’ve been depressed for over twenty years without really realizing it. It cost me a well-paying job, a decent marriage, and many friends and relationships. My current wife had recently made me aware of it. My self-hatred has kept me from embracing the idea of treatment until five minutes ago. Your podcasts are what changed my mind on the biggest decision in my life. Thank you.”
Jeff, of all the, of all the emails I’ve gotten, and I’ve gotten some really nice ones from people, um, that just, uh, that just really made me smile. And I know I shouldn’t depend on things that other people say to validate me, but that fucking validated me. (laughs) So, thank you, thank you for that. And thank you for everybody that writes in and, uh, tells me, um, that this podcast helps them, um, I, uh, I really appreciate that. And you guys absolutely help me feel less alone, less broken, less fucked up, less hopeless. And, uh, if you’re out there and you’re feeling all those things, know that, uh, it’s not reality. There is hope. You are not alone. And thanks for listening.