Six and a half to 13 years in prison was not what I expected for a first offense.
I grew up without a father and with my mother being a single parent struggling to support our family, I never had the pleasures of going to birthday parties, being part of sports teams or having a normal childhood. I grew up in the hood and befriended other kids who were in the same situation as me. We hung out as bored teenagers smoking weed to get high. Eventually smoking weed turned into selling weed and the money was easily coming in. I decided to drop out of school and make this a full-time career. I spent the next two years selling weed. The money was flowing and I was able to buy a $30,000 Acura Vigor. It felt great to drive a brand new car. I went to school occasionally, not to learn but to show off my brand new vehicle that was purchased with drug money. I never graduated.
I started to become more noticed by the police and decided to move away from Toronto when I was 22 and make a new start in Philadelphia where I resided with family. I was able to get a job under the table part-time for $80 a week working at the University of Pennsylvania in the cafeteria. However, I was still an avid weed smoker and used my money to support my weed habit. I met up with some drug dealers that promised me that I could make $80 a day as opposed to $80 a week. In hearing that I quit my job and jumped at the opportunity to sell crack cocaine. Before I knew it I was in a crack house in North Philly selling $5 rocks through a hole in a door, making $400 a week. Over the next 5 years I was a drug dealer with a booming business, thriving on the dough I was making, driving the latest cars, wearing the latest clothes, sporting expensive jewellery as an East Coast Player. My life of glit and glamour, as a Ghetto Celebrity came to a screeching halt on May 24th 1999, when I was arrested and charged for two counts of attempted murder and arson. I was incarcerated while awaiting trial and convicted on November 15th 1999 to a term of six and a half to 13 years in a maximum security prison (State Correctional Facility at Greene). I served 8 and a half years and then was deported back to Canada.
I was shackled and handcuffed with chains, then placed on a prison caged transport bus with 60 other inmates and a Sheriff armed with a shotgun. It was a quiet drive as I was pondering about how my life had fallen apart and how I put myself in this situation through stupid decisions, which stemmed from dropping out of school. We pulled up in front of the penitentiary and my eyes were hurting from the sun glistening from the rows of razor wire surrounding the prison. My home for the next 8 years.
The life of Toula Zacharopoulos
I want to take you on a journey…. one that will allow you to live vicariously through me, so you will not have to endure the things that I have endured. I never grew up as a young girl thinking that I would be affected by addiction, and become hooked on crack cocaine. I actually wanted to be a lawyer or police officer. My name is Toula, and here is my life, my story.
I went to school, completed high school, continued on to college and graduated with a Correctional Worker Diploma. I worked within my field of study in an Open Custody facility for male Young Offenders, and later proceeded to work in a group home as a Child and Youth Worker with teenagers with mental Health Issues. I thought I had my life together. I was in a loving relationship with a great man and our social life was your typical going out on weekends.
“Typical” Hmmmm… Let me define that!! Initially we would go out to a night club or to a rave with friends. We would smoke a joint, take some ectasy. As we became more involved in the nightlife, cocaine was introduced. I mean I didn’t believe that addiction happened to people like me. I was a counsellor, I knew better than to get hooked right?
I know looking back now, how wrong I was… but this is how it was for me then. I was “functioning” for years, before addiction took an active role in my life. I eventually left Social work moving on to a few other jobs, working at a large corporation and then as a manager of a security company.
I believe the time when I personally identify with it taking a grip of my life, was when I lost my grandmother and my boyfriend lost his father. (2 weeks apart) We definitely did not know how to cope, and know how to effectively support one another. Our support became the drug. Our life spiralled downward and our losses became infinite. We lost our home and ended up living homeless in motels. Of course we didn’t tell our families this… we LIED..LIED and LIED. Our new neighbours/acquaintances became the locals of the streets: pimps/prostitutes/hustlers/addicts/etc.
I’ll tell you, no one can ever prepare you for what you see on the streets. It’s a life of survival like no other. You trust no one, because no one is your friend. Everyone has something they want and nothing is free. These are basic rules of “the game”. You learn to sleep with one eye open.
My boyfriend and I lived like this for a few years and it had many effects on our relationship. Some of the hardships we endured individually or as a couple: abuse, violence, rape, assault, etc. We did stay together. Eventually we did reach our bottom.
It was one night after being up for 3days without food/sleep. We surrendered to our addiction. We realized we were powerless over the drug. We brought ourselves to the hospital. I remember that night clearly. We had drugs in our pockets, but no money to get on the bus. We were so tired but had nowhere to go. We were tired of being tired. We told the bus driver we were heading to the hospital and had no money… I swear he was an angel that morning…he let us on for free. The people on the bus all stared at us when we got on, I’m sure we looked like death. But at that moment, I really wanted to get off that bus. But we didn’t.
We got to the hospital and after many more stares from people with their judgement, we saw another God sent angel: a crisis team worker. She supported us, and had us looked after and both transported down to a detox centre in Toronto and that is where our road to our recovery began.
I went on to Renascent Centre: a 21 day treatment facility for Addictions. My boyfriend chose against treatment.
He decided to move home with his family, and he eventually got a place and he got back on his feet. I completed my program and returned to live with him. Believing we were ok now.
I was clean for 6months and thought life was great.
Upon returning home early one night from an A.A . meeting , I came home to find him using. Of course no matter how strong you may think you are, the initial stages of sobriety are difficult. I ended up relapsing. After a few months I found out what I thought was the most horrific news ever, I was pregnant.
I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know what to do. We were in no position to have a baby. Of course I had been using so I didn’t want to bring harm to the baby. What was I to do?
Well… that was the turning point in my life. I moved back home with my family.
I kept my daughter and my road to recovery began. I took all the necessary steps to ensure my pregnancy was monitored and supported by my doctor’s.
On April 3, 2006 she was born to be a healthy baby girl.
My boyfriend ended up in jail and later came back out to a new apartment. He had relapsed again, although plans were made for him to attend a treatment facility. That never happened.
On Sept. 14, 2006 my life changed forever. I received a call from the Toronto Police. My boyfriend Aaron Johnston was murdered by a 19yr old man.
Although there was someone charged in his murder they have never been able to prove the case, charges withdrawn.
Although drugs were not involved in this murder, I firmly believe that if Aaron was not involved in this “lifestyle” ( i use this term loosely, since I believe it is a path of death not life) , he may very well be here today. (RIP)
I have been clean ever since…Thank You for taking the time to read my life, my story. I only ask you don’t take the path I did…
I assure you..DRUGS DO NOT discriminate. They LOVE ALL equally. This I know.
With Love and Light always, TOULA