Ex-Con Murph (Voted #7 Ep of 2011)
Paul interviews “Murph”, a retired serial felon who opens up about prison, the guilt of his crimes and leaving it all behind. Six years ago you might have labeled him a psychopath. Paul calls him a trusted friend.
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Paul: Welcome again to The Mental Illness Happy Hour, I am sitting here with my friend Murph, who… I’m gonna call him Murph because I think it would make him more comfortable to use just his nickname, than to get into… I think it will be easier for you to answer honestly, the questions about your past, if we just go with your nickname. It’s funny because, when I met you, Murph, about… what was it, about five years ago? We have a mutual friend Jamie, who introduced us, and you’re somebody that, I looked at you, and I said, “This guy’s been to prison. This guy is not to be fucked with, but there’s something about this guy, that I really like, and I wanna get to know.” It’s funny because here, five years later, you’re somebody that I feel so safe around, who’s company I enjoy so much. I’m sitting here in a house that you share with a beautiful woman. You guys are both in recovery, you’ve both been sober. You’ve been sober for five years, she’s been sober for twenty years. You have this beautiful house together. You were showing me around the house, and I’m in your walk in closet, and it occurs to me, you used to live in a room no bigger than that walk in closet. A prison. How many years did you do in prison?
Murph: Uhh, it’s around fifteen. I had an eight, a five, and a four, and then a couple of little ones. Parole violations.
Paul: What were the big ones for?
Murph: The first one was an attempted murder, the second one was a battery with great bodily injury, and the third one was also… let’s just say a hands on crime. Another hands on crime.
Paul: Okay. Is it, am I safe in saying… and I think I’ve heard you say this before, none of your crimes were ever committed against women or children. Not that that makes it any better, but for some people, I think there’s a line where—your crimes were never of a sexual nature; they were mostly for money to feed your drug habit. Am I correct in that?
Murph: Yeah. Women and children, and sex crimes is below the line. I came from the school of if you’re gonna take, you take from someone who, in my twisted head, should be able to protect themselves. And if they can’t, well, then, they shouldn’t have what they have. That’s how I used to think, I don’t think that way anymore.
Paul: I’m glad, because, as soon as I started doing this podcast, I thought, “Murph would be a great person to have on this podcast” because, he has a history that, if you looked at it, you would say, “this person’s either a psychopath or a sociopath” because there seemed to be no empathy towards his victims. He took what he wanted, and you started… was it safe to say by the age of fifteen you were committing crimes?
Murph: It was more… it was probably sixteen. From the age of, you know, from my birth to sixteen, I was, I mean I come from a good family. I was instilled with all of the things…
Paul: And that’s the part that blows my mind, is you come from this kinda warm, nurturing family, and you chose this life of—is that just the drug addict in you, you think? That you—how did you?
Murph: I don’t know, I don’t know how it happened.
Paul: Take me back to your childhood. Give me some snapshots from your childhood that you think would help paint a picture for the listener to understand.
Murph: Well I grew up, middle class, Roman Catholic, hard working, Irish, you know, upbringing in Brooklyn, New York and around the New York City area. I had all the things you’re supposed to have growing up. There was toys under the tree at Christmas, there was little league, there was peewee football, there was church, there was cub scouts, there was boy scouts, there was all of that. There was family vacations, there was a summer house, there was a winter house in the city. It was all pretty normal. It was kinda like a 1960s Brady Bunch existence. Mom was always home, dad worked, and it was pretty normal. There was pets. You know, I got two brothers and a sister, and things were pretty normal while—you know, sports was a big thing for me. I played all sports. When one ended, another one began, it was all about the sports. That’s what I did. How it all went, I don’t know, I guess when I started to get a little bit more freedom. I grew up in a neighborhood when you would look out and like I’d see older guys in the neighborhood, and I was just drawn to what they were doing.
Paul: They seemed to have power. People looked up to them and they were afraid of them.
Murph: They had cars, they had girls, and they never seemed to work. And my dad would go off to work, he was gone before I would get up in the morning, and he’d come home, you know, at seven o’clock at night. And I was kinda like, those guys… they had like jewelry, I was like—I didn’t grow up wanting to be like, despite my upbringing, I didn’t grow up wanting to the policeman, the fireman, the astronaut, the naval commander. You know, I wanted to be one of those guys.
Paul: Right, and do you think the fact that you were small for your age and had red hair… do you think that made it more alluring to be one of those guys? That you would feel safer being one of those guys?
Murph: Well, I absolutely do. I also had a bad speech impediment growing up. So not only did I have the orange hair, and the freckles, I had a stuttering problem too. So I never felt comfortable. I was never included. I always felt different. And, you know how kids are when they’re young. They’re quite cruel. So there was a lot of taunting, and a lot of, you know, I just didn’t—
Paul: And at what age did you become—because you work out, you’re a fit guy, you’re muscular. You’re somebody that I look at and say, “That guy’s not to be fucked with.” At what age did you transition from the kid getting picked on, to the guy not to be fucked with?
Murph: Well, you know, I’m not really sure. And, I don’t even really recall the years that my stuttering problems spanned, but I know that it was probably fifth grade through the seventh grade. And, unfortunately for me, I learned during that period, that if I couldn’t get you to stop doing what you were doing to me through communication, I learned very quickly that I could get you to stop if I imposed my will upon you, or if you were, you know, that big, if I picked something up and whack you with it.
Paul: Really? So you became—you went the crazy route. You kind of said, “Well, I’ll just be crazier than everybody, and I’ll intimidate them.”
Murph: I don’t know if it was a conscious thought, but I just wanted the teasing to stop so bad, that I was willing to do anything to make it stop.
Paul: You know, you remind me of a friend of mine, also from New York, who was small for his age. He said that his secret was, he would just go further than everybody else. He would be at a bar and if it looked like it was going to come to a fight, he would break a bottle over his own head and say, “Come on, motherfuckers.” And he said, “You can’t believe how many people that would back down.” And he comes from a family—he told me a story one time where some bigger kids had stolen his bike and he came home and he told his grandmother, and she said, “And you didn’t fight them?” And he said, “No.” And she said, “Why didn’t you make them a sandwich too, you faggot.” And I was like, “Wow, now I understand the breaking the bottle over the head.” But your family wasn’t like that. It sounds like your family was supportive, but that pressure of being the kid with the stutter and the red hair, and wanting that power—so it was alluring and that seemed like, to you, the path to safety, or to, at least to happiness.
Murph: Well, I think I figured it out over the years. What happened was, I got sprung on the feeling of “I can get what I want if I push hard enough.” And I learned that I could solve my problems through violence, since I couldn’t communicate. It didn’t really work, I mean, it worked in the short term.
Paul: It gave you the illusion that you were solving your problems.
Murph: Right. And there was consequences always attached to it. I mean, when I was growing up I had a jar on my shelf, next to my sports trophies, that had teeth in it. Because every day after school I’d be fighting, from people going, “[imitation of stutter]”and it was just miserable. There was lots of days that I came home crying.
Paul: Whose teeth? Other people’s teeth?
Murph: Yeah. Childrens. You know…
Paul: People your age.
Murph: The people that were going, “[imitation of stutter]”—
Paul: You’d just pop them right in the mouth, and their teeth would fall out.
Paul: or you’d hit them with something, and their teeth would fall out.
Murph: Or, they’d get on the ground and you could stomp them. And back then, I mean, we’re talking 1970s in the city of New York. It’s not like California where if you point your finger at someone the wrong way, they’re calling the police. Back in New York, a fight between two boys was standard. It was part of the, you know, the program. And it wasn’t lawsuit happy California either, where their parents were coming over saying, “we’re gonna take ya—” It didn’t work like that.
Paul: So no parents ever came over to your parents and said, “Your kid knocked my kid’s teeth out.”
Murph: No, never. I was asked to leave school one time, you know, but for the most part, these things happened off school property, on the way home. I mean, it was set up during the day. You knew you was gonna fight that kid at the end of the day, and all of the school children would go and watch. It was, you know… I would come home and my mom—
Paul: How many teeth did you have in the jar?
Murph: I don’t know, you know… But I know that there was, you know, maybe an inch and a half’s worth in the bottom of this jar. I remember coming home and showing my mom—
Paul: Good God.
Murph: the different teeth at times. I’d laugh and I’d say, “Look, this guy had a cavity in here.” Because there was all— there was the front ones, the bicuspids; there was the little pointy one here on the side. You know, there was all different kinds of ones.
Paul: So you were either going to be a criminal, or a dentist. One of the two.
Paul: Your path was set.
Murph: You know, I mean, even get a little warm talking about it, because those were bad times for me. You know, and I’m sure that those things that happened then, I carry through my adult years. That was a very traumatic time for me.
Paul: What is the warm feeling about? The fact that you were protecting yourself?
Murph: No, I think it’s the feelings of…
Paul: You mean a good warm feeling, or a bad warm feeling?
Murph: A bad warm feeling.
Paul: Oh, okay.
Murph: It just kinda— talking about it, because I don’t talk about it that often. That was the worst part of my life, that couple year period when kids were just so, you know, mean. It was awful. That probably led to my use of drugs, because all of a sudden that leveled the playing field, and I was included. Or, the illusion that I was included.
Paul: That’s funny that you mention that, because I remember distinctly going— freshman year, I’d had it with Catholic grade school. All my friends were going to the Catholic high school, I was tired of uniforms and nuns, I said, “I’m gonna go to the public high school.” Thought I’d be able to make friends. I couldn’t. Turns out, the only people who would hang around with me were burnouts. So I started smoking weed, and I remember distinctly thinking to myself, these people are just hanging around each other, and me specifically, because I’ve got drugs. There is a false friendship here that is really subpar, but I’m going to have to accept it because there really isn’t anything better for me. Do you feel like that was something that kind of went through your mind or was the illusion that this is great, and this is exciting?
Murph: I think, I just liked the fact that now I was a part of. I didn’t feel like I was that kid with the stuttering problem. Once the drugs started, I was accepted by that crew. And then, shortly sometime after that, I don’t even really recall, I’d have to ask my mom and dad when that happened, that my speech problem went away. You know, I didn’t really think much about my speech problem until that movie where the guy won the Academy Award…
Murph: The King’s Speech.
Paul: Oh, right, right.
Murph: Yeah, I mean, that was me at a young age.
Murph: Oh my God, that was me. I mean, I seen that movie, and I was in the theaters and I started to get that same warm feeling. You know, and I was just like, It was a difficult thing. But the weed and the alcohol, just kinda made it all… you know, that rushed over me. And I didn’t feel different. I felt like, “Ahh yes. This is my elixir. Now, I’m good.”
Paul: Okay, so then what led to beginning to commit crimes? Was it just because the group you were running around with? It was those guys you looked up to? Were those the people that you had started hanging around with?
Murph: Well yeah. They— it was no secret in the neighborhood that I was always fighting. So, of course that brought out the other people. And everybody knows everybody in the neighborhood, and I used to see these certain guys and I was asked one time, I guess I was seventeen, and by this time I’m already selling narcotics, and I got me a little name and I was approached—
Paul: When you say narcotics… heroin?
Murph: No, it was cocaine, weed, mescaline, you know, smaller type things at that time. Well, the cocaine wasn’t small it was jumpin’ at that time.
Paul: And you were dealing small quantities? Large quantities?
Murph: Yeah, small quantities. And, I was approached by this guy who I had seen around, and he asked me, did I want to do something a little bigger? And then we went to this bar, and we sat down, and he started to talk to me and he said, “If you get in here,” he says, “you’re in the major leagues.” He says, “Things will change for you.” And I was like, “Wow.” Because, you know, growing up I think, unconsciously, I had always… you know, like I said, I didn’t want to be an astronaut, I wanted to be one of them. Being in a crime syndicate had a certain, you know, attraction to me. And when he asked me, did I want to get in, and I was like, “Well, yeah I wanna get in.” I went home and I talked it over with my brother, and he said—
Paul: Older brother? Younger brother?
Murph: Yeah, older brother. He says, you don’t wanna get in that Jimmy. I says, “Hey, things’ll change for me.” You know, and I was always the one who had to defend myself, and I knew that if I got on this team, now all of a sudden, I am somebody. Whereas, for all those years I wasn’t anybody. I was just a little redheaded kid with a stuttering problem who had to fight his whole way, and would go home crying some days. Here was a chance for me to turn it all around and be somebody, which was, you know, now that I think about it thirty years later, you know—
Paul: Half of it spent in jail.
Murph: It was a lie. You know, so, when they came to me and asked me, you know— and of course I was like, “Well, how is this gonna work? I can’t possibly get in, because I’m an Irishman.” I ended up working on a crew, and they called me a “Tri-talian”. You know, cuz pretty much that’s who I hung out with. Most of my friends were Italian, you know, we were in an Italian/Irish neighborhood, in New York, so it’s just what we did. There was numbers being run and all of that kind of stuff. You know, similar to what you see in that movie A Bronx Tale, with Robert De Niro. I can relate to that story a whole lot. You know, a had a penchant for violence, and I can tell ya, that umm, not only psychologically did it appear to solve my problems, but I kinda enjoyed it and got off on the, I don’t know… the power surge, the rush, the, you know—
Paul: The false respect.
Murph: Yeah. All of that. And then, when I got with these guys, one of the first things that this guy told me, he says, “you know what?” He says, “You don’t ever have to fight again you know. As long as you have…” I think he said “twenty cents.” Because at that time it was twenty cents to make a pay phone call. It might have been a dime. Was it a dime? It was either a dime or twenty cents. And he said, “All you need to do is make a phone call.” I was like, “Really?” And then, I was given this one bar that was mine, and you know I was—you know, I mean really they were just setting me up. I mean, I didn’t know it. I was being used, but I thought I was somebody and you know, I bought in. I was all good with it. There was little perks involved, and the word got around the neighborhood, “Hey, you know who Murph is hangin’ out with?” and you know, I’d be on this side of the ball with other important people you know. It was just, you know. My brother was like— I asked him, after I’d gotten in as far as I could get in for an Irishman, I came home and I asked him. I said, “Hey Tom.” I says, “I can get you in if you want to get in.” And he said the smart thing. He was my older brother. He said, “Why do I need to get in if you’re in?”
Paul: Ha! Wow.
Murph: You know, and that’s how that went.
Paul: So when did your plan begin to start backfiring on you?
Murph: God, it didn’t take long. It was… you know, I don’t even— I don’t know specifics because it’s a time in my life that was a big blur. Of course I’m under the influence, you know, this whole time.
Paul: And did you— was heroin ever a drug for you?
Murph: Yeah, but we only used heroin, I mean, it was the white stuff. We used to call it doojee back in them days. We used to only sniff it to come down from the cocaine.
Paul: Cocaine was your major drug of choice?
Murph: Well, it’s what— it was the major drug that I started out with. I mean, I don’t consider weed and mescaline and muchrooms and all that stuff. That was just like hors d'oeuvres. You know, the main ones was the cocaine, the heroin, the methamphetamine. Those was your meal. You know, the rest of it was hors d'oeuvres. You know, little stuff in the candy dish. Some mescaline, some mushrooms, some acid, that was just, you know, make up. And it was cocaine, and we were freebasing it back then. This is when you couldn’t even buy a rock on the street. There was no such thing.
Paul: So this was the late seventies, early eighties then? The Richard Pryor, set yourself on fire years.
Murph: Right. And you know, it was three hundred dollars an eight ball. Twenty-eight hundred dollars an ounce. I mean it was—
Murph: Very, very expensive at that time. It was the time of Studio 54, and the Mud Club, and CBGB’s was hot.
Paul: Were you ever selling drugs to those people?
Murph: Umm, I provided drugs all over. You know, I was sent many times in a limousine to Atlantic City to deliver narcotics. I shouldn’t use the names, but let’s just say, there was at least three big Motown acts that I handed off drugs to. There was a lot of people in the seventies, you’d be surprised. I mean, I was always surprised. I was like, “Who? Really?” I was always surprised.
Paul: So, one of the parts of your past that fascinates me is the bank robbery. How many banks have you robbed?
Murph: I’ve only— I walked into one, and one was burglarized.
Paul: Oh, so just two.
Paul: Oh, okay. I thought it was like this history of bank robberies.
Murph: No, no.
Paul: Walk me through both of them. The set up, the planning, what you were feeling, what was going through your mind… all of that.
Murph: I can tell you this. The main feeling was fear and terror. I was scared every single time.
Paul: So it wasn’t your idea, you were part of a crew that was going to do it.
Murph: Right, right, right.
Paul: Okay. And what was your role in the robbery?
Murph: Umm, in the walk in robbery, the door was my responsibility.
Paul: The front door?
Murph: Yeah. Two other guys handled the other stuff because one guy was brought in from Texas, and he had a history of doing these things. So it was him and his henchmen. And me, I was the new guy and the guy out in the car was the new guy.
Paul: Mhmm, just like the movies.
Murph: Yeah, it was training.
Paul: And the guy in the car is the fuck up, right? That’s what it always is in the movies. He’s, you know, looking at his watch, or you know, he is up too late the night before and he falls asleep in the getaway car.
Murph: Well they’re always gonna kill the guy in the movies who—
Murph: makes the least amount of money first. You gotta keep the stars around. The star’s never the getaway driver. Unless it’s The Fast and the Furious or something like that.
Paul: So you’re at the door and you’re guarding the door, and what are you supposed to do if shit goes down? Are you supposed to shoot people? What did they tell you?
Murph: What they tell me, and what I was willing to do was always two different things. I mean, I wanted to do what they wanted to do, and I wanted to be what they wanted to be, but I wanted to minimize… you know, I didn’t want to do…. You know, I wasn’t a psychopath, I mean, you know, it was fun and exciting and it was a rush, but with as little collateral damage as possible.
Paul: Well I would think 99% of criminals feel that way too, and that’s probably what they tell themselves. You know, I think a lot of people that commit crimes or are engaging in behavior that is immoral… they kid themselves and say, “it’s not my intention to do this.” They judge themselves by their intentions and not by their actions. And that’s how, I think a lot of times we—for me, I lied to myself for years by saying it wasn’t my intention, you know, to do this. To be a fuck up. To be an asshole or a drunk or to lie or cheat or, you know, do whatever. But you know, you find yourself sometimes not living up to your intentions and cutting yourself some slack instead of really taking a good hard look at who you’ve really become.
Murph: Well I would go in hoping that it would go easy, and it would go well.
Paul: And did it?
Murph: Yeah. Thank God for that because my life and my career could have… I mean, I might not— I mean, I’m so blessed to just be sitting here talking about this in this house and this life that I lead now, it’s just an absolute blessing. But, umm, I would hope that it would go well, but at the same time, I was willing to do whatever it took to succeed at the mission.
Murph: I was always able—[phone rings]
Paul: We’re gonna pause for a second.
Murph: I was always able to compartmentalize my… I guess my feelings. You know, and I always—my mantra was: it’s business, it’s nothing personal.
Paul: Mhmm. [laughs] the dog is snoring. It’s just killing me.
Murph: Well I’m glad she’s comfortable. I mean this is really…
Paul: This is hard for you to talk about?
Murph: Well I haven’t talked about it in this kind of detail in a long time. It’s part of… I mean, have I confessed to God and done all of that? Yeah. But, you know, I’m absolutely different um, you know, thirty years later. At that time, those guys were like my heroes and my role models. I wanted to be like them, and I wanted to ascend this criminal ladder, and I wanted to be the best possible criminal that I could be, and I wanted the reputation and I wanted the girls, and I wanted the money, and I wanted the cars, and I knew that I was only gonna live to thirty-five and I was good with it. So, you know, have I shed a lot of tears behind the things I did when I was young? I absolutely have. Am I sorry for it all? Yeah. Um, sorry enough to go and throw myself on the mercy of the court? Absolutely not. So I guess that discounts all of it… I guess I’m really not sorry. Um, you know—
Paul: I don’t know if that’s necessarily the case. I could be wrong. But, I look at you, and I see somebody who has turned their life around and is of use to society now, whereas they were a cancer on society. You’re sober now, and you know, you’re— I see you inspire people who are struggling to get sober. You show people that it’s never too late to turn your life around and become a person you thought you could never be. Because, I can’t picture you doing these things. I can intellectually, because you got the tough street guy voice from New York, but, you know, the Murph that I know—a I know you talking about your girlfriend and how beautiful your life is together, and how you want to be a better man for her, and how when your neighbor bitches about the hedges, that you hold your tongue instead of— you know, not only do you not pull a gun out and not threaten them, you don’t even lose your temper around them. To me, that’s a person who has value in society because you can inspire other people, and say, you know what you can be a decent, upstanding citizen and it doesn’t mean that you’re a punk. You can live with yourself, as long as you become of use to society. I think, and maybe I’m wrong here, but if you hadn’t started helping people, and being an inspiration to them by helping other guys who are trying to get sober, do you think that you yourself would be able to live with yourself? Do you think you’d go back to doing drugs or committing crimes?
Murph: Well, I know if I didn’t admit my wrongs, and try to, you know, leach them out of my system, and admit to them, and tell somebody else about them— you know, because keeping those secrets is difficult.
Paul: It’s gotta eat at you.
Murph: You get good at it for years and years and years, and you repress it so much, and you push it down there. And it’s easier with drugs and alcohol, when you’re pouring that stuff on it, but—
Paul: But that catches up to you eventually.
Murph: When you take away the drugs and alcohol, then you have to deal with all that stuff.
Paul: So what would you tell— the chances are probably rare that there’s a psychopathic drug addict listening to this podcast right now, but what would you say to a kid that’s maybe sixteen, seventeen. He’s starting to run in those circles, he’s got a little voice inside of him that’s saying, “this is headed someplace bad.” But he doesn’t know what else to do. What advice would you give him? Because he’s getting off on the power of it and maybe he’s feeling picked on, he’s feeling powerless, and he doesn’t know where to turn. Is there anything that you would say? Let’s say you had a little brother that looked like he was following in your shoes, what would you tell him?
Paul: Pull out a gun and threaten him?
Murph: No, umm, you know, whatever I would say it probably would work because, you know, when you’re— for me, when I was that young, the peer pressure… And only after I, you know, got a little older and learned from these mistakes and I was able to look back and say, “Good Lord, what did I do all that for?” That has enabled me, you know, to make the choices that I make today. Back then I didn’t believe what I was doing was inappropriate or incorrect. My morals had just disappeared with drugs. What would I tell someone who was headed down the same path that I headed down? Well, I’d probably start off by telling them that, “You’re making a mistake. Everything you think is good right now— you may not be as lucky as I am.”
Paul: Do you think describing prison life in detail to them— describe the shitty parts of prison life in detail of you would.
Murph: The shitty parts of prison life—
Paul: As opposed to the great parts.
Murph: The shitty parts of prison life. Well first off would be no females.
Murph: I mean, there is sex available, you know, dependent on who you are and, you know, what you’re willing to live with.
Paul: Mhmm. You want to elaborate on that? Or are you not comfortable?
Murph: Well, you know, I mean, there’s sex going on in prison, you can believe that.
Paul: Yeah, I think everybody knows that.
Murph: Most of it is willing. I mean, there is that saying that uhh, “if you bend him over and put a playboy book on their lower back, every asshole looks the same.” You know, I mean, some might have a little more hair than others. I ain’t never seen a female with a hairy asshole, but there’s razors. Other bad parts, well, you push your tray along the chow line, and you get whatever lands on it. There is no menu. Other bad parts? The politics, for me. Some of the politics, you know, you don’t agree with them, but—
Paul: But you’ve got to stick with your race, that’s a survival mechanism in prison, right? You don’t choose whether or not you’re gonna hang out with the white guys, there’s no other option. Am I wrong in that?
Murph: Well, no, I mean, you can choose who you wanna hang out with. But if you don’t hang out with your own, you’re looked down on by your own. You know, and my personal opinion is if you’re white and you hang out with the blacks, you’re not getting the full black experience either, because you’re not black. They know it, we know it. You’re not getting any love from us, because we’re thinking you’re a race traitor. For us, someone’s probably gonna get ya.
Murph: The mentality in there… God, all of these things, the crime, the jails, all of this, I have trouble talking about it today for the simple reason of I’m so far removed from that today.
Paul: But you’ve also only been out of prison for what, five years?
Paul: But spiritually, you’re so far removed from it.
Paul: Talk about the importance of a spiritual belief in your life. If you can, or is that difficult for you to talk about?
Murph: Well, I’m not… You know, I have a spiritual life today. It’s not as good as I’d like it to be. No, I really can’t, I really can’t talk about that in depth. I mean, I feel it, and I know it exists in my life. Can I tell you or your listeners about it? No. I mean I have one, I know it exists, it’s with me everyday. I talk to Him everyday. I always had a concept of God, I mean I was raised Roman Catholic. I went to church every single Sunday until I was old enough to say, “Nope, I’m not going Sunday morning—
Paul: Oh, isn’t that the greatest?
Murph: Because there’s a football game on”
Paul: Oh, wasn’t that the greatest? Well for me I started getting high instead of going to CCD and that was the best trade off in the world. While I believe in God, organized religion was always… for me Catholicism… that God was just too much of a vengeful God for me to wrap my head around and to feel loved by. I think for a long time I let that definition of God push me away from believing that there is something out there. Now, I don’t believe that there is a conscious entity up there with a beard saying this person’s gonna go here. I believe in energy in the universe that we can either ignore and have a more difficult life and swim up stream, or we can align ourselves with it by listening to our conscious and have a much more fluid easy life. That to me is my concept of God. I guess the reason I’m saying this is I don’t want to alienate people who are listening to this podcast and say, “Oh, this is going to be a religious podcast.” That is not my intention. I’m probably prejudice against organized religion to a degree that I need to be more open-minded towards it. I still have some bitterness towards Catholicism. That’s my own issue. I think they’re all different doors leading into the same room, which is aligning yourself with the universe. So, if people get it through church, I think that’s awesome. If you get it through yoga or meditation or whatever…
Murph: As long as you believe in something, I mean—
Paul: Something greater than yourself and the pursuit of your own pleasure. That, I think, in our society, I think it is one of the biggest dead ends. Is, we think if we just directly pursue our own pleasure at the expense of other things and other people, that that’s okay and there will be more pleasure. What we find out is we’re going against the grain of the universe because the universe wants us to think about other people. The byproduct of that is we get to experience not only pleasure, but peace of mind, and the freedom that comes with believing that we’re leading a good life and we’re good, honest people. I think that’s one of the reasons that I like you so much is I see you living that and it’s such a miracle. To me it’s a proof that there’s an energy in the universe that can do amazing things if you choose to learn a new way of life. Be vulnerable. Open up. Talk about the bad things that you did to another human being… and try to think about other people. Let’s look at this woman that’s in your life. Talk a little bit about your life here in this beautiful house.
Murph: I met this woman probably three years ago. She is just… she’s an angel. She knew that I was under construction at the time—
Paul: You were a fixer upper when she found you.
Paul: She must be into tank tops, I’ll tell you that much. You know, I think the first time I saw you wear sleeves was at a wedding, and I wasn’t even sure you were going to put sleeves on for that.
Murph: Yeah, uhh—
Paul: So go ahead.
Murph: Yeah, I was definitely a fixer upper, but I think what she saw, is that most of my friends today see, and that’s the person that— or the product of ages one through sixteen. I was raised in a good home, with all the morals, the principles, and all of those things that a normal adult mature human being should have. From sixteen to forty-four, I made my own choices. Totally discounted all of that stuff, the nurturing that I had learned in the nest. Now that the drugs and alcohol have been gone for five years… In these five years I have reverted back to those things that I learned from one to sixteen. That’s what she sees. That’s what I believe my friends see today. I just took a little vacation. You know, I—
Paul: It’s funny because your previous vacations, you know, used to be behind bars. That’s how criminals refer to it, “I took a little six year vacation.”
Murph: Yeah. I mean, you can go to my parents house, and look around the living room, and there’s photos. They’re chronologically— and there’s Christmases, and there’s at this wedding and this, and there’s the baby pictures. It starts, and there I am. I’m in all… growing up, I’m on an elephant in this one, and I’m in this da da da da da… my brother there. Then, when we start to be, I guess, when we start to be twenty something, you go one wall in the house, and there’s all the pictures, and I’m not there.
Murph: The next wall in the house, I’m not on that one either, but everybody else is. You would think that I had died. Then, finally, I’ve resurfaced. So, that’s where I took a vacation, and I wasn’t me for all those years.
Paul: The true you.
Murph: Right, and now, I’m back to who I am. That’s what she saw in me, because there’s no way I could land a woman like this.
Paul: She would have sensed instantly.
Murph: Well, she sensed that there might have been a somewhat checkered past.
Paul: [laughing] Oh, is that the understatement of the century. Ya think? The prison tattoos and the hardened look in the eye… ya think…
Murph: She told me I had a terrible haircut, and she says, “You dress penitentiary chic.” That’s what she called it. I was thinking to myself, “Did this bitch just tell me that I got a fucked up hairdo and that she doesn’t like the way I dress?” And that just made her more attractive to me, because I wasn’t used to being talked to like that. She’s an angel. You know, when I met her, I had never been in a healthy relationship. All of my relationships were very superficial.
Paul: Probably because it was all about you and what you were getting.
Murph: It wasn’t a relationship. I don’t know what the time constraint is for it to be a relationship, but most of them were— I’m sure there were some of them short lived relationships where I’d be hard pressed to remember your name, because I wasn’t really caring what your name was. I was caring about one thing, then as soon as that happened or I got that, it was, “See ya later. Bye. I got something to do.” Back in those days, I couldn’t have had a healthy relationship with a houseplant. She’s awesome. I love her to death. As a matter of fact, in these three years that we’ve been together, she told me it would be like this, I didn’t believe her when she first told me this. She said, “It will get better.” And I was like, “What do you mean ‘it’ll get better’?” And she’s right. Everyday it seems to get better, and I’ve never been in anything quite as feely as this. This is… and I’m new at this too. She teaches me all about these things. God bless her, she’s been a great influence in my life. She’s quick to point out, in a very nice way, some other things that she thinks I should work on to better my character. She says them in such a way where I don’t blow up and get crazy, it might hurt or sting at the time she says it, but I usually don’t fight her too much on it, because my personal opinion is if most of the people in this world acted the way she acted, it would be a really, really cool place to live.
Murph: I believe that about her so much that—
Paul: You trust her instincts.
Murph: Right, that when she convinced me that I need to vote, and I told her, I says, “Vote? What do I need to vote for? No matter who you pick, they’re lying to us, and then when they get in there, the status quo in Washington is gonna be what it is, and nothing ever gets done. So, why do I need to vote?” But, she convinced me to vote, and I believe in her so much, that I let her punch my thing too, because I figure, whoever she’s voting for, based on the person she is, is good enough for me. It would make a nice world.
Paul: Wouldn’t that be funny if that’s what you got arrested for was letting her vote for you?
Murph: I hope I never get arrested again. Today I care.
Paul: But you also haven’t committed any crimes since you’ve been sober in five years.
Paul: The closest you came was kicking a guy in the balls that challenged you on the freeway.
Murph: Yeah, I had a fight on the freeway, and I did go into someone else’s living room uninvited, because they owned me money from a job.
Paul: A legitimate job, a legal job. Construction.
Murph: Do I think that’s of a criminal nature? No, I don’t, I thought I was well within my rights, but what I think and what the law thinks are two different things. Yeah, no no no, I don’t break the laws anymore. You know, there was a time in my life, a lot of years, where I thought it was impossible to go through a day and not break the law. I was like, “How do you do that?” You know, because the life I was leading… drugs, and violence, and crime, it was a necessary evil. You carried a gun every day. Today, no, I don’t do crimes, I walk when the sign says walk, I stop when it says stop. I really kinda lead a Ward Cleaver kinda life. I mean, I got a fourteen year old, not mine, he’s hers.
Paul: But you’re a role model for him. I hear you talk about him, and it’s funny because you’re closer to him, than my own father was to me. The stuff that you share with him and the way you nurture him, and the way you guide him, and the interest that you take in his life. Which just shows to me, family, and it’s kind of a cliché, but you know, family is who you choose, not who you’re tossed in with. Not that I don’t love my family, but you know.
Murph: It’s a funny twist what happened here, because I had a good childhood. Then, when I got to be sixteen, seventeen, I put that on hold, and I went, and I did my own thing, whereas this kid that I have now, he lost his father. His father wasn’t a criminal, his father was an alcoholic. And his father was clean for a little while, and decided to have just one drink. Thought having one drink was a good idea. That one drink turned into many drinks, and those many drinks turned into a blackout. Then he carjacked a RV, then he was on one of those TV shows going through roadblocks and everything. Long story short—
Paul: Doesn’t he know there is no worse get away car than an RV? He should go to jail just for that.
Murph: Well I mean, when you’re in a black out, who knows what anybody’s thinking. Long story short, he ended up killing two people, he got forty to life, and a life sentence in California—I don’t think anybody has paroled, ever, from a life sentence in California. At least not in the last thirty years. So he’s never coming home. So that, kinda makes me… that whole picture kinda makes me believe that this isn’t an accident. Me meeting my girl, then me being tossed into this, who had a good childhood, and who had good parenting, despite my adult decisions through all those years. Here’s this youngster, who’s had a good childhood minus a role model. Then here I come, who knows how to teach this kid from ages zero to seventeen, and he’s only fourteen. So, I can teach him what I know, because I know something about that.
Paul: And you know how to spot a bullshitter, because you’re… you can’t bullshit a bullshitter.
Murph: And I was a good student as a child. My dad saw to it. Despite my track record, you would think that I had bad parenting, I did not. I have three siblings and they’re good citizens. They get citizenship awards. Me, I never got one of those.
Paul: Well you’re heading in the right direction.
Murph: The game ain’t over yet, I might get one here.
Paul: Dude, I want to thank you so much for opening up and letting me interview you. I know some of this was hard, but I think people will, at the very least, find it interesting and entertaining, and hopefully somebody listening out there will hear this and become inspired by you. But, you know, you’ve… this is going to sound cheesy, but you inspire me, and I’m proud to call you my friend. So thanks buddy.
Murph: Well thanks Paul, it was nice being here.
Paul: Alright, now get that fucking pug out of my face.
Paul: And don’t forget to go to the website, mentalpod.com. You could also type in mentalillnesshappyhour.com, but you might get writer’s cramp. So go check it out, read the message board, post, ask questions, answer questions, take a survey, get crazy. Or stare at the wall with your jaw open.