Where I've Been, How Far I've Come

by Michael Varela
January 2009


My name is Michael. I have a moniker of “Magoo” which is used inside these walls as a buffer or a sort of insulation to keep myself somewhat in private, away from the everyday inmate or convict that I find myself dealing with on a daily basis, here in county jail in California.

The story that is my life is full of ups and downs and poor decisions that parallel many others’ decisions. I’ve given so many thousands of hours to sitting in these cells and I’ve tried to think of how to beat the system, or rationalize how or why I have found myself locked up again.

My hope is to tell my story and tell it in such a way that it will make sense to the person reading it, and not only teach them, but explain how after 31 months in county jail, I find myself winning, for once, the daily battle that is life.

I’m a 44-year old man who grew up willful and defiant. I was seven-years old when I first started filching the cigarette butts from my parents’ ashtray, sneaking away to smoke. I did not inhale them. I was being grown up. I was caught many times and disciplined in various ways in attempts by my parents to to deter my smoking – until I was forced to smoke a pack of Viceroys and inhale.

And sick I was. And angry. I remember standing there and telling my mother that this wouldn’t happen again. I would learn how to smoke.

This was the beginning of my rebellion. The next year at eight-years old I smoked my first joint. Since it was the early 1970s, the drug scene was in full swing. There were jars of crosstop (bennies) and reds in my house. I was on amphetamines at age nine. By the ages of ten and eleven, I discovered I was unable to hold my alcohol. So, I found an alternative: Quaaludes, reds, yellowjackets, Placydyls, and any other downers became my alcohol.

At 12, my brother-in-law and an uncle smoked angel dust with me. I didn’t know what hit me. I only remember the lion painting roaring at me and I was unable to move. Ages 13 to 16 saw me using acid on an almost daily basis – Cannebinol, peyote, mushrooms, PCP, and other drugs. At 16, I began a seven-year run on freebase-cocaine. The only two things I have never tried were heroin and using needles. I’ve always considered myself the smart one, the one with enough strength not to use needles and heroin. So far, my resume sounds like a recipe for disaster and death.

See, I played Little League from the time I was eight until 14-years old. I was a yearly all-star. My grades at school were always above average. So, what happened?

I discovered at nine-years old how to support my newly-developing habits. I knew about supply and demand. I completely understood marketing. Buying in bulk was so much cheaper and thus my habit was satisfied and a few dollars were made along the way.

Being involved in drugs gave me so many false impressions, such as having friends. Confederates. Being the man. A sense of power. When I was 16, I took my first hit of freebase-cocaine. I was hooked. I spend the next seven years chasing that first hit and subsequent rush. I actually took six months off and joined the United States Army Reserve. I may have taken a better road had I been allowed to transfer to the regular army while in boot camp. Not to be. I was sent home to my home unit and before I could get transferred I was back into cocaine.

My life was out of control. I somehow avoided the police until my late 20s. What woke me up to how far I was gone was, one Halloween night at a party, my best friend and I each bought an amount of cocaine and were to party together. We did mine and he left. I was on the come-down from my high and needed a hit.

What I did was grab a gun and set out to kill my best friend for leaving me like that. This night was the first time I believe God intervened in my life. S. somehow caught wind of what I was doing, even though I told no one, and stopped me. What she did was talk me down and sober me up. She was an angel to me, but I didn’t know it yet.

When I went to my parents’ house the next day, I was so deeply disturbed by my behavior. I realized how badly I was in my addiction. I had truly hit bottom. I asked my parents to help me clean up. I wanted to clean up. So, this began a process of five years of cleaning up.

During these five years, I met and married my wife, had a baby and in all outward appearances was doing well. My wildness was in check. I was working but still using a few times a month. I believe I had the habit beat. There was my wife, my stepson, and daughter, and I was managing to provide. At the age of 26, my world came apart. I found my wife having an affair and during the next year, we tried saving our marriage by going to church. When she finally separated from me, I was introduced to the new drug, crystal meth.

For the next two years, I reverted to my old ways. However, I was now staying awake for five, nine, fifteen, and as many as thirty days at a time. My life was not my own. During this two-year period, I was evil. I can’t explain my actions in any other way. I’ve never killed a man or been extremely violent. However, I was evil in my ways – beyond reason. My second wake-up call or warning occurred during this period.

I had overdosed. I took an overdose of Canebinol and God, at this time, put Gabriel in the right spot. I was in a life and death struggle in my mind. While my friend Gabe kept me moving to prevent my death, I was shown two choices: a dark pit and a sunlit meadow were my choices, and the voice behind me from an unseen source – still to this day – makes my hair stand on end. It whispered, “Dive in the hole.” Repeatedly.

That was the second time that God intervened and I was too full of myself to see it. Nor did I see it the third time when, coming back from Vegas with my mother, brother, and girlfriend asleep in the car, the last thing I remember seeing was sign saying, “Baker – 26 miles.” I woke up about 100 miles later, coming down the mountain pass. And, yes, I was fully rested and have no recollection of that drive.

This is the last time I began going to prison. This is when I tried to outsmart the system. To no avail. I have been convicted and sent to prison four times over the past 15 years with an unknown number of violations.

My fourth experience with God occurred on the freeway. I was driving a truck hauling sand and rock to the cement yards. I’d been up for six days and my truck was fully loaded – 79,800 pounds. I was headed to the city of Orange, and somewhere started having a conversation with the man in the passenger seat. I couldn’t tell you what we spoke about or what he looked like. I only know that every time he told me to “look up,” I’d wake up and swerve to avoid an accident. This happened three or four times before a highway patrolman pulled me over. The officer, seeing that I wasn’t drunk, gave me a ticket and told me that he’d been following me and was positive I was going to kill someone and, at the last moment, I’d swerve.

That was the fourth time I have had assistance from God’s angels. It still didn’t really sink in because a number of years (five) have passed since that experience. Which brings me to my present situation. My current case has been ongoing for 31 months and counting. I am now a proper inmate and have been learning and discovering the law, and how we are herded in and out of courtrooms with only cursory representation.

I’ve rediscovered my God and have been studying the Bible. Every time I get distressed about my case, God shows me something else. I should not be here in county jail fighting my case for 31 months. It’s not a simple drug case. It’s unheard of and yet it is – my case.

What happened is, for the first time since I was seven or eight-years old, I am now clean. Thirty-six or thirty-seven years ago, I filched those cigarette butts and smoked that joint, and I’ve now been clean for 31 months.

Where’s my life headed? I believe that God is leading me and opening doors for me. I can think without a drug-fogged mind. The opportunities are endless. I’ve been blessed with sound health. No diseases. My mind is still intact and functioning. I’m surrounding myself with different friends via the mail.

Even though I face a possible 17 years in state prison for my current charges, I’m at peace with the possibility. I am enjoying my new freedom. I am winning this battle with life and with God’s strength to help me.