Tony grew up in Batesville, Indiana, the eldest of four children. His father was a UPS driver and his mother managed a shoe store. He was raised in the Roman Catholic church and was confirmed at age 18. Tony attended college at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fl., receiving an AA degree in aviation maintenance and an airframe power plant license with the FAA. Upon completing his studies at Embry he transferred to Purdue University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering Technology. He married in his final year at Purdue.
Tony, after graduating from Purdue Univ. with a B.S. degree, where did you go from there?
After graduation, we moved back near our home town where my wife got a job as a teacher and I got a job with the biggest manufacturer of hospital beds in the United States, Hill Rom. I worked in their mechanical test lab. It wasn’t aviation because there weren’t many aviation jobs in southern Indiana.
So how long were you with Hill Rom in Indiana?
About 6 years. During that time I got divorced from my first wife and met the woman who would ultimately become my second wife. We decided we wanted to move to a warmer climate, so in 1998 an opportunity came up to transfer with Hill Rom to Charleston. It was a better job and I liked the company. We moved down here together, bought a house and got married a few months later.
Are you still together?
I was married to her for 10 years. We divorced in 2008.
What happened following your divorce?
I’d been laid off from Hill Rom in 2001, then laid off from two or three other jobs before getting hired with RBC, an engineering company in Walterboro. After getting laid off from RBC I worked with a friend of mine framing houses, doing renovations and working on cars. It seemed like every three or four years I’d hit a wall, get laid off, usually due to either a downturn in the economy or a downsizing of the company I was working with. When the economy messed up the construction business, I started bartending for a little while. From there I got a job working at an auto shop that I ultimately ended up managing. I worked there for about three years. Then in 2012 the owner shut the place down.
Where did your life go from that point?
Not in a real good direction. I started working for myself, doing whatever I could do, working on cars, working on peoples’ houses, mowing lawns, whatever I could do to make a dollar. I have to add that I was also using drugs recreationally for several years up to this point.
What kind of drugs?
Mostly marijuana, but occasionally Methamphetamines, or crack cocaine. Then I started hangin’ around with the wrong crowd. I also learned how to cook Meth.
What do you mean by that?
To manufacture Crystal Methamphetamines. Not only for personal use, but as a source of income. It paid the rent and bought the groceries. I actually only did that for about a year.
Isn’t producing Meth dangerous?
It can be if you don’t know what you’re doing. I actually taught myself how to do it. I went on the internet and did a lot of research. Combined with my science and chemistry background from college, I learned to do it pretty well. I kept it small and low-keyed, but my roommate knew what was going on; he liked to use it too. One night he was in an accident and wrecked his truck. I’d just finished totally rebuilding it for him. He got all depressed and went around tellin’ all the neighbors that he was going to kill himself. He had some serious issues with PTSD and was bi-polar. I told them I’d keep an eye on him and everything would be OK. That evening after I went to bed, the neighbors came over to check on him and no one answered the door. When no one answered they called the Sheriff to do a welfare check. The Sheriff came over and started bangin’ on the door and beatin’ on the windows, which woke him up. He looked out and saw the cops and said: “don’t arrest me, there’s a Meth. lab in the front bedroom!”
So the Sheriff’s Dept. came by and your roommate told them that there was a Meth. lab in the front bedroom?
When they heard that they took my roommate to the hospital and went and got a search warrant. I slept through the whole thing. I had no idea that they’d come to the door and taken him to the hospital. They came into the apartment, knocked on my bedroom door; came in with flashlights on and guns drawn, put me in handcuffs, arrested me, and took me to Dorchester County jail.
What happened after that?
I spent five months in county jail, pled guilty to manufacturing Crystal Meth., was given eight years suspended to three plus probation for restitution and court ordered drug and addiction counseling. I went through the South Carolina prison system, served my time, a total of 21 months. I’m still on probation until I pay off my restitution, which will take me about three more years.
So in December of 2015 you were let out of prison. What did you do then?
They gave me a bus ticket and told me I could go wherever I wanted in the state. So I took the bus to Summerville, which is where I’d been living before. When I got off the bus I walked ten miles to a buddy’s house and told him my story. I asked if I could use his phone and tried to see what I could get goin’. I called Salvation Army and they gave me the number for the Alston Wilkes Society. I called them and got a hold of Tiffany Munn. She told me that if I could spend the night where I was she’d see what she could work out. The next day she told me that she had a place I could stay, that she’d pay the rent for a couple of weeks until I could try to get on my feet. She gave me directions to The Star Gospel Mission.
So that’s how you got here. Had you not come here what do you think might have happened?
Honestly, I thought I might be back out on the street; probably would have been back to cookin’ meth. again. When Tiffany told me she had a place for me in downtown Charleston, the one thing that attracted me was that it was in a totally different location, with a different circle of people, which would be a good way to get on the path of changing my life, staying away from the temptations to get back into my addiction, just a totally new start without a connection to my past.
Was the Star Gospel Mission that for you?
Most definitely! Once I got here, I was given some hygene products, some clothes, got a pair of work boots (Tony is 6′ 7″ and wears a size 16 shoe). In the meantime, some of the guys here helped me to get to the DMV to get my ID and my SS card. I applied at IES (In Every Story) temp. service. They told me they’d find something for me and within the first couple of days they started puttin’ me on little odd jobs here and there. Whatever they had I took it.
And where did that lead?
I bounced around for a while, then finally in March, 2016, they placed me with James White Construction. They do excavation and underground utilities. When I got there I apparently impressed the boss because he offered me the chance to learn the trade. He even gave me a dollar an hour raise the first day on the job! He assured me that I would have constant, steady work with the same company instead of bouncing around from firm to firm and job site to job site, and that if I stuck it out through my 90 day temp. period, that they’d hire me permanently. On July 1 I was made a permanent employee with them.
Are you happy with that?
It’s not exactly what I went to school for, but I’m makin’ decent money, I’m learning something new, it’s pretty interesting, and there’s definitely some potential for the future. Besides that, underground utilities are always something they’re going to need, something you can’t automate, replace with computers or robots, there will always be a need to have someone down there diggin’ those ditches and puttin’ those pipes in the ground.
So you got this great job with them and you’d been living at the Mission for 10 months. What happened then?
Living at the Mission I began to save up some money. Through the Good Cheer Fund I was able to get some brand new eyeglasses so I could get my drivers license. Then I saved up enough money to buy an old beat up, rustedout truck for $300.00 which got me transportation instead of having to ride the bus. I drove that for about three months, and it died on me. By then I’d saved up enough to buy a better truck. By the time I got that I was hired to my permanent job.
So, one good thing after another seemed to be happening in your life.
Yeah, when I first got out I kind of had a plan in my head as to how I hoped things would go. The basis of that plan was that I wanted to be back on my feet and moving out of the Star Gospel Mission within a year; independent, on my own, able to provide for myself, get my life started again. I wanted to have a vehicle by the end of summer and moving into an apartment by Dec. of 2016. Fortunately one of Star Gospel’s studio apartments came available in July, barely weeks after I got my permanent job with James White. On July 15th I moved into the apartment on Nassau Street.
Have you ever had any desire to go back to your former way of life, using or producing drugs?
No, not really. The fact that I had been convicted in the past would mean even more serious consequences, so I didn’t want to go there. Once I started workin’ and bringin’ in a regular paycheck, I was actually making a better living doing an honest days work, doing the right thing, than I was when I was doing the wrong thing.
Tony, you’ve been very faithful in attending our worship service here every Sunday morning. Has that spiritual underpinning had any impact on your present and where you’re going in the future?
Yes, I think so. I got away from going to church when I was in college and didn’t really go to church on a regular basis up until I got to the Mission. Going to church every Sunday pointed out the fact that there was Somebody else helping my life along, and the pace that I’ve seen things change in my life has definitely proved that to me!
So you feel that God has had a hand in bringing about real positive changes in your life?
I want to think that a little bit of it was my hard work, but I definitely know that God was lookin’ out for me because of my willingness to make those changes.
Almost as if you’re living into His plan for your life?
Yes, finally! The Star Gospel Mission gave me an opportunity to get a new start in a new place with a new environment and a new group of people. It’s enabled me to get on the right track without the distractions or temptations of my former life and my former issues coming back around to haunt me.