Anything was better than watching my family disintegrate. I couldn’t hold us together, I couldn’t keep my brother alive, but I could control my high. I could laugh and forget about what was happening at home; this was a new and welcome reality.

Oh, the luxuries to forget. I did such stupid, stupid things.

My girlfriend and I were driving along, and, in the spur of the moment, we decided to go to Canada. I had a roach clip hanging from the visor and pot in the trunk, divided into baggies and ready to sell.

Customs took one look at the clip and asked me to step out. After finding the bags of pot, he looked me over: I was a white kid and didn’t look like “trouble.” He said if I paid a fine, I could go on my way. I didn’t have any money on me—so he told me to go down to a nearby corner store to see if they could help.

I explained the situation to the shop owner, and he asked if I had anything he could hold as collateral.

I showed him this chain. This very chain. It’s gold, it’s from Italy, and my mother had it blessed by the Pope.

He loaned me $500. I handed it over to the patrol, and I got my car back. You want to know the worst part? I lit up as I was pulling away.

People talk about “mission.” I live my mission. My past has made me who I am.

Being able to tell this story is important: it’s helped me understand—if you’re a minority in this city, people have a radar out for you. No one had a radar out for me. If I would have been black, if I had been caught, I don’t think I’d be here today.

But it’s not just work for me: those experiences prepared me for life. When my daughter turned six, she began having seizures. Twenty, thirty a day. A couple of years after that, she developed diabetes—the same disease that killed my brother.

Here I was, back to where I had been before: someone I love, burdened with something I can’t fix.

But I had seen what living with a sick child did to my parents and to me—and I wasn’t going to let that happen again. I have so many more coping skills now than I or my parents once had. My wife and I are determined and driven and unwavering parents in this, and my daughter is a beautiful, hopeful, grounded soul.

That girl has taught me more in life than anyone else—and if I hadn’t gone through my own experiences, I don’t think I would have been able to hear it.