Cracking the sobriety code

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Trent Taylor

by Trent Taylor

My life is the epitome of just because someone does something good for you doesn’t mean they’re good for you. At an early age I understood my super power being suave, manipulating, with a big smile and an endearing personality to put you at ease; while figuring how to persuade you out of your hard-earned cash. 

We’ve seen these characters on the big screen, The Sting, The Mack, SuperFly and Willie Dynamite. The con game – lying, cheating and stealing kept me at the bottom. The secret of cracking the sobriety code is that there is no secret – don’t do drugs and don’t go to jail. 

As a youngster living in Berkeley, California, in the 1960s, I didn’t feel the racism and didn’t quite understand it so much either. When I was about 10, I zeroed in on the folks on Sacramento Street in Berkeley going to the pool halls, night clubs and bars and old men sitting out in front of the liquor store passing the bottle. There were the pimps, prostitutes, gamblers, drug addicts, drug dealers and con men. And all of this not necessarily in the ghetto, but amidst the gentrified love, peace and happiness movement in Berkeley. 

I’d play basketball everywhere I went, watched Soul Train on Saturday mornings, recognized the black berets the Panthers wore on the top of their afros, and heard the barbershop conversations about the Vietnam War and Muhammad Ali’s refusal to participate in the draft. All of this was part of the inescapable landscape that shaped my boyhood.

I was born in Northern California to hard working parents who raised four children. My mom is from Houston, Texas, and my dad from Pine Bluff, Arkansas. I have two brothers and one sister. We lived in Berkeley and, when I was 11, they bought a house in East Oakland. I was educated in public schools. I remember first and second grades were spent at all Black schools. With integration of the public school system as a result of the counterculture movement – the hippies, student protests and the elevation of Black voices – the White kids from the Hills were bused to the Flatlands and the Black kids bused to the Hills.

In the ‘70s, the White kids from the Hills, who were mimicking their parents’ experimentation with LSD, heroin, mushrooms and pot, introduced me to weed at age 9. As school crossing guards, we’d meet in the traffic room, get our vests and belts, place our book bags down and go outside to patrol the crossings. On the way there and back, we’d smoke weed.

At 11 or 12, I experimented with cigarettes. At first, swallowing that tobacco made me nauseous; I really didn’t like it. And then I learned to inhale without swallowing. Back then cigarettes cost 35 cents a pack and I said, “When cigarettes get to $1.00, I’ll stop smoking.”

My parents separated when I was 13 and my brother and I lived with my dad. He downsized to a studio apartment, and I slept on the floor. At 14, I was smoking cigarettes, weed and drinking alcohol. I’d get in trouble for staying out past my curfew following behind my older brother to the house parties and dance challenges. My dad warned us, “Don’t come in this house past curfew, waking me up when I have to go to work in the morning. Just stay out!” 

At some point my best friend’s sister had an apartment. Since she stayed at her boyfriend’s place most of the time, she let us rent the apartment. So, I was living on my own. I paid my share of the rent, kept food in the refrigerator and clothes on my back. By 16, I was well on my way to becoming a man and that’s when the nightlife took a hold of me.

I started off selling weed for 50 cents per joint. Then when Columbia Gold became a thing, my prices increased to $1.00. In 1976, I started snorting powder and eventually freebasing too. I saw a lot of people were doing the same, at least in my circle. At 17, I recognized selling cocaine was more profitable than selling weed. 

Then I discovered pimping girls added to the bottom line and I was getting a better return on my investment. I was 17 the first time I pimped out a girl in high school and did this through to about 23. I’d have girls at different high schools in Oakland. At first, they were selling drugs for me and at some point, they sold their bodies too. 

Like all good pimps, I needed to look the part and act the part. In 1978, I had a Lincoln Continental. At 19, in 1979, I had a 1977 Cadillac, and you couldn’t tell me nothing. My pimp and con game took off. I was wearing nice clothes, shirts, blazers and Jordache jeans and name brand clothing that was all part of the illusion. I’d make sure to be at the spots where the buyers were and the West Coast warm weather, and feel-good times spent at music festivals, outdoor concerts; listening and partying to the grooves of Con Funk Shun, Lakeside, Bar-Kays, Ohio Players and Funkadelic, were ambiance to the hustle. 

I became a casualty of the drug war in the ‘80s. I was in that era when crack crumbled our lives, destroyed our communities and stole whatever self-esteem we’d had. I got hooked on the ready rock “crack.” It was cheap. 

At 23, I had a son, who was four years old when me and his mom split. When I got hooked on drugs, she found out I wasn’t going anywhere nor was the relationship. I ran with gamblers and eventually learned the con player game. It was more than bait and switch. I was selling bogus jewelry back in the day when Mr. T was big chain dripping. Everyone didn’t know what real

gold was and since I learned the difference between 24 carat and fake gold, I had an advantage. 

With the jewelry I was making $400 per day. My hustle took me all over the country. I went to many states selling stolen goods and swindling people. I traveled from California to Washington, Oregon, Utah, Arizona, Montana, Louisiana, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. 

We were in Georgia and I was convicted and did time for theft by deception and criminal intent, we called it the “sugar game.” I remember the judge telling me and my associates, “Y’all California boys thought you’d come down here for us country bumpkins.”

I was convicted for two misdemeanors rolled into a felony and sentenced to one year in prison. I served five and a half months. I went to prison again in San Diego at 29, serving three years for great bodily harm. When I was released, I stayed in the lifestyle; my main hustle was selling stolen goods and jewelry. I sold VCRs, “bricks in a box.” The con was you’d place 15 VCRs in the trunk of your car and sell them from $300 to $600 per unit. Remember, the legit price was $1,200, so folks were getting a bargain, without the warranty. For me the return on investment was a huge profit.

I stayed on parole for 10 years. It was longer than normal because the first four years I was absconding (not reporting to my parole officer). When I turned myself in, the judge told me if I’d stayed on the lam for five years, instead of the four and a half years I was on the run, I would have been exonerated from parole. I had 11 months left on parole after I did the violation.

I absconded again for about 16 months after being stopped in a vehicle and it came up that I had a parole hold. When I went back to the Parole Board they offered me seven months and I asked for the maximum which was 11 months. So, once I completed the time I was no longer on parole.

After running around the country, I came back to Oakland, looking for a second chance at a new life. I did good with finding a job and leaving the crime behind. I wanted to get a tax return, have my own place and be a better support to my family. 

I got a job, I even got a tax return, but I was still using it. This is where my recovery started. I saw a pattern happening and I decided I was not going back to prison for just getting high. I went to the Salvation Army program in 2003 and stayed for four months. After the program I didn’t go to a transition house. Instead, I bought a truck and built a hauling business from the ground up. I was tired of doing the same thing and expecting a different result. 

So, the time had come to try something new – but you won’t believe what this new direction was. In 2005 I got married and we blended families, which now include not only my son, but a daughter and grandchildren. Things were beautiful in the beginning. I became a provider. We had a nice place. I was paying bills, buying material stuff; we had two trucks and two cars. The trucks for business and the cars for me and my wife. 

In 2007 my addiction began to resurface and I went to my second rehab at Father Alfred’s in San Francisco. They ran the soup kitchen downtown at St. Anthony’s Church. Part of the program requirements was to stay for one year and volunteer at the soup kitchen. I stayed there for only 90 days. I lied to myself, “I don’t need to do the whole thing. I only need about 90 days to dry out.”

In 2008 through 2013, I was doing good again. Things began to go downhill again in 2014. Our intimate relationships are supposed to be safe havens and our homes places that provide a shelter from danger. 

Yet, being in a relationship with a partner that has an addiction to alcohol or drugs can lead to an unhealthy relationship with emotional stress and abuse. I was in my feelings, although not talking about my feelings of jealousy, being resentful, feeling hurt and eventually got the F*** its. Before I knew it, I was all in drinking and doing drugs. I stopped doing my hauling business, we lost our place and I ended up sleeping in my Mercedes, getting high. 

Using drugs and alcohol is a way of not feeling how your life has turned out. Many of my childhood friends are in recovery. The ones not in recovery are either dead, in jail or look like they’re dying. If you’ve used drugs since the ‘80s and still use them, you are going to look bad. 

I reached out to some childhood friends from Berkeley who’d been in the lifestyle but had rebuilt their lives. These friends were a part of Positive Directions Equals Change. My buddies Monty Peeler, Glen Clark, Dale Robertson and Fagus Carter asked me, “Do you want to put a Band-Aid on this gunshot wound or get some help?” I decided to try what they were doing since they were doing well with managing their lives. 

In 2017, I entered my third program, Harbor Lights Treatment Facility. I was there for nine months and then transitioned to clean and sober living housing with Positive Directions. What I respect the most about Positive Directions is the leadership of average men doing extraordinary things with a vision and a plan. They’ve cracked the code to sobriety; don’t get high and don’t go to jail. The men who have guided my path include Ron Thomas, Cedric Akbar, Lee Boone and my mentor Cregg Johnson. They don’t squabble with each other. Their push is pushing for others like Martin Luther King Jr., “It benefits us when it benefits others!” 

2020 was the first year I ever voted. I’ve been employed at the same job with Five Keys for just about five years. I have a great relationship with my son, stepdaughter and grandchildren. I’m proud of how my son has raised my grandson, who’s attending college, and his youngest daughter who is excelling in junior high.

I’m equally proud of how my stepdaughter has been a great mom to her daughter, a teenager and gifted musician who plays the guitar and keyboard. I also have a strong relationship with my mom who moved back to Houston over 20 years ago. I would like for my family to look up to me, instead of looking down on me.

This year I’m going through a divorce after 18 years of marriage. I still love her and walking away from life as I knew it was never something I envisioned. We decided the co-dependency wasn’t working for either of us. Going through the divorce, more than my marriage, taught me about love. We’re both moving along. She changed her zip code to hundreds of miles away. This is an opportunity to get on with our lives.

Now I travel for leisure, not on a drug tour. I’m no longer a victim, I’m a thriver. I’ve been to Hawaii and spent time in Los Angeles and San Diego as a tourist, not a criminal. 

My advice: Don’t overwhelm the situation. Find your rhythms and your boundaries so you can have the long game. I’ve discovered stability and normalcy and it’s alright with me. Being around positive people is a big part of my success in recovery and in life. I’m 63 and have a good outlook on where my life is going.

Positive Directions gave me a chance to find the direction where I wanted to go. San Francisco has a lot of opportunities for people who want to start over and they don’t frown on your past when you demonstrate changed thinking and behavior. I say to anyone reading this, take a look at San Francisco. It has a lot to offer. 

If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Positive Directions Equals Change, a community-based organization in the Bayview, offers classes and support groups each day of the week. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at 415 401-0199 or email our team at: The schedule is below and all are welcome.