Loneliness is the death of the soul. That’s why so many of us seek community as a means of togetherness, warmth, and comfort. Unfortunately, not all communities supply the wealth of safety and love that is found in droves at Beit T’Shuvah. Some come with dangerous expectations and barbed wire strings attached. For David Gallardo, our Facilities Manager, the word “community” has meant many things…but not all of them have been positive.
Let’s go back to his first community: his rough neighborhood in Mexico City. David spent most of his time being watched by his aunt, while his parents worked. “I remember coming home one time, opening the door, and seeing my aunt and my uncle tied up, gagged, with guns in their mouths” He was five years old at the time. Once this happened, his parents knew that it was time to get out and move to an Indigenous American reservation in Arizona. Here, David got deeply connected with his roots and culture he had yet to fully dive into. Although still only a child, he was passionate about his new community…which made it all the more difficult when, at nine years old, his family left the reservation and moved to Eagle Rock.
Without mincing words, David’s childhood was riddled with tragedy. At ten years old, he witnessed his brother get murdered by other gang members on Easter Sunday. “I had to become an Adult after that. I had to look after my sister.” Everyone who loved David tried desperately to keep him out of the lifestyle that killed his brother, but “That life follows you, whether you want it to or not. You’re grandfathered into it. I didn’t know I was in it until I wanted to get out.”
The way David escaped the gang life was far from orthodox. One of the heads of the gang was counting his money as his son swam in the pool. David looked over to see the boy face down floating in the water. He instinctively jumped in after him, pulled him out, performed CPR, and saved the boy’s life. With his son coughing up water below him, the gang leader continued to count his money saying, “I have strong kids. I knew he wasn’t going to die because you were here.” This was the evening that changed David’s whole view on the men he grew to know as his brothers. Later that night, he told the leader that he wanted out and he responded, “You got your golden ticket. You saved my boy’s life.” And just like that, he was out of the gang and the community he was immersed in for years. “It molded me. I saw that people can be heartless, but there is also good. You just have to believe in that good.” Now, I wish I could tell you that this was the end of David’s criminal lifestyle, unfortunately, he had one more pitstop to make before that happened—drag racing.
Before he found a love for racing, he found a love for his faith. After he left the gang life, his parents convinced him to attend their local church. He joined a project that sent people to, let’s call them, less than affluent areas and tried to provide assistance. “I had no fear at that point because I knew the doors I used to walk through.” Bible in hand, David would talk to women with needles still sticking out of their arms—doing all he could to help, praying for each and every one of them. By sharing what was helping save himself, he saw others join his church and do the same. The void of purpose in his life was filled. “I saw both sides of the blade. The good and the bad.” But eventually, like many teenagers, giving up his weekends started to take a toll on his social life. So, he slowly stopped attending his outreach program. “I wanted to be a kid.” Come Sunday church service, they told him because of his lack of involvement, he was “sacrificing souls” and that he and his family should sit in the back. Putting that level on a sixteen-year-old was taxing, to say the least. So, his family picked up and left their congregation.
During all of this, David took up an apprenticeship at his grandfather’s auto body shop. In the shop, a client left a ‘69 Camaro that was just a shell. Every week his grandfather would have him add parts to his car—working on it for years. On David’s seventeenth birthday, he told him “You were the client. You were building your own car. I just wanted to see how dedicated you were to work for me.” So, he thought to himself, “Let’s see how fast this car goes.” Before he knew it, he was racing other cars and backing more money than he knew what to do with. “That was my high. Putting engines together, figuring out how to go faster than other cars—but drugs, sex, and alcohol go around that world like second nature.” He did his best to push all those temptations away. Around the same time he had his first son, he lost a friend in a drag racing accident. This was a clear sign to him to pump the brakes.
Despite everyone in his life describing him as “the craziest one of his friends,” he was the first to settle down and have a kid. David’s grandmother described it as his “e-brake.” He met the woman who would become his wife in the drag racing circuit. After fifteen years and two children, that marriage fell apart. “I’ve touched the American dream of the bedroom house, white picket fence, and the dog to match.” This taught David many important lessons. “I learned that love is not only mine, but love means letting somebody go.
Once David was a family man, he started to get run-of-the-mill normal jobs. You know, like building stages for music festivals like Coachella. Your normal nine to five. He used his experience as a mechanic to become a rigger, which took him all over the world and into the company of some of the most famous musicians in the world.
On the quest for new employment, he walked past Beit T’Shuvah and, based on the modern architecture, thought it was a property management office. So, he walked inside and asked for a job. Russell, who oversees the maintenance department, agreed to meet David for an interview. The day they were supposed to get together, one of David’s family members died. The next day, feeling deep in his soul the importance of this job, he called Russell for another interview time. Russell told him the position was still open and to let him know when he was available to come in. David responded by telling Russell that he was on his way. They walked around the campus as they talked about his qualifications, ending their tour at the HR office where David signed his employment papers on the spot. “I have had jobs before, but this is home.”
A few months ago, after feeling a bit of stomach pain, David was diagnosed with stage one colon cancer. “My whole world got rocked. I’ve had to say goodbye to friends and I didn’t want to do that to my kids.” He was stuck in a hospital bed, wondering why after finally starting to get his life together, do the right thing, and get sober, something so awful would fall upon him. The Book of Job started to resonate. Then, Lysa and Russell walked into his hospital room. “What job—what place does that for you? Makes you feel like family. Who does that?” Along with their presence, Lysa and Russell brought a card for him—I’m sorry, two cards. Signed by nearly every single person at Beit T’Shuvah.
After they left, he burst into tears. “That simple action meant so much more than a dollar to me…It was such a better high than getting high and I felt that sober.” Those cards are now framed in David’s house. Having not only his family but his new family at Beit T’Shuvah in his corner cheering him on, was what he needed to get off the mat, keep fighting, and beat his cancer.
Without a doubt, David is a soldier of community—fighting every day for the people he loves. Saving lives every day. “People here are my therapy. If I can fix your lightbulb and make your day great, it makes my day great. To us, a lightbulb may not mean anything, but to that person coming in, having to fix such a raw mind, that light may hinder their train of thought of what they have to accept that day. They shouldn’t even have to think about that.” We, here at Beit T’Shuvah, are beyond blessed to have him here with us. David, being one of the most humble employees we have said, “Keep your head up in failure. Keep your head down in success,” but…BUT, I would just like to say: David, now two years sober, is the kind of man whose journey of recovery and strength is something that every single one of us can look up to and learn from. He is proof that we are not defined by our pasts or the communities we used to belong to. So, if you think for a second that David just changes lightbulbs and leaking pipes around here, you could not be more wrong. David changes lives. I know he has changed mine and I hope after reading this, he has changed yours too.