“I get to see people go from being so dejected when they first get here to transforming and the light returning to their eyes,” Tony C. shares from his perch in the BTS Maintenance office.
Tony knows a good deal about that type of transformative experience as it pertains to his own story. Born in Hollywood, California right on Sunset Blvd., Tony recalls growing up in a dysfunctional household though, “I didn’t know it was that bad until years later.” Both parents worked and he and his two siblings were “latch key kids” who got into a lot of mischief without their parents around.
However, when they were around, “Dad was a violent disciplinarian. If it wasn’t done right we paid the price,” Tony describes. This type of abuse would ultimately influence his behavior as an adult when those in his life didn’t measure up. “I repressed all my childhood feelings and channeled them into violence towards others,” he recalls. His criminal career started at the tender age of ten when he started selling crushed-up fig leaves as marijuana to the neighborhood kids. As he entered young adulthood, Tony got deeper and deeper into that life and graduated to selling actual drugs and weapons. “I became a trusted entity in the underworld as I progressed further and further into my newfound ‘profession’,” he explains.
This self-destructive behavior ultimately resulted in his arrest for murder in 1986 for a crime that had taken place years earlier. “Initially I tried to get a deal to quickly be sent to prison but in the end, I took a jury trial, lost, and got a sentence of twenty-five years to life,” he remembers. And unlike most people landing in prison potentially for the rest of their lives, Tony was actually relieved. “I felt like my whole life experience up until that point was preparing me for my eventual incarceration,” Tony shares.
Never really a big drinker or illicit narcotics abuser, Tony’s true addiction was “power”. “My helplessness as a child motivated my intense craving for power anyway I could get it,” he recounts. And so for the first fifteen years of his imprisonment, Tony lived a violent and intimidating inmate existence. But then two events took place that provided a spiritual awakening for the tortured and fatalistic man from Hollywood. “I had just beat up a dude pretty badly in the yard and as the C.O.’s (Correctional Officers) handcuffed me and were walking me back to my cell I had an epiphany. I was beating on people just like my father had done to me,” he painfully remembers.
A paradigm shift had begun but it would still be several more years before the true impact of that change would be realized. The second event occurred a few years later and would ultimately solidify Tony’s true and committed desire to change. “A guy was annoying me in the prison dorm and as I approached him to mete out my usual violent punishment I looked into his face and saw the same terror I had as a child when I was about to endure yet another beating. It stopped me cold,” he explains. Always questioning and wondering what caused his vicious behavior Tony began to truly understand why. “I was just taking my past abuse and transferring it to hurting others and ultimately myself,” he describes. But he also came to realize that it wasn’t his father’s fault for his life. He made his own choices. Later in his life, Tony’s father tried to impart some wisdom to his daughter as she was violently correcting her son. “He told her ‘Don’t be me or your kids could end up like Tony’,” he relates. It was as close to an apology as Tony could expect because, before his ultimate release in 2013, his father was brutally murdered. It was a father’s final lesson to his son, whose own childhood had been fraught with family violence as well.
Following that trauma, Tony moved into a halfway house for six months and then a “step down” community residential facility for an additional six. Stifled by the restrictions and feeling cloistered he contemplated going back to prison to avoid all the hassle. But he held on, persevered, and after that year he was given more freedom and ultimately allowed to reconnect with his family. “It was amazing. I couldn’t hug them enough. They were so supportive and loving. I was finally able to rejoin my Pack,” he says with that big smile.
In 2015 he began freelance work at Beit T’Shuvah and was eventually made a full-time employee on July 20, 2015. He’s been here ever since. “I really like the environment. Everybody is so friendly and super chill,” he shares. And as mentioned earlier, he enjoys the privilege to help maintain the various parts of Beit T’Shuvah and to see residents heal and transform their own lives every day. He concludes by saying, “This place has taught me that I could really enjoy working somewhere. I love working here.” From where he started in life, as a victim of domestic violence and ultimately three-decade-long incarceration for his own violent behavior, Tony has finally made peace with those painful and confusing chapters of his life. It’s hard to believe the soft-spoken man who is always working diligently to keep Beit T’Shuvah running smoothly for its staff and residents, could’ve come from such a dark and wounded past. But it’s a testament to the heart and fortitude of the man. Thanks for keeping the lights on Tony.