In 1977, Darrell Jackson realized his childhood dream of pitching major league baseball, an achievement that brought a jet-set lifestyle and a professional high.
Six years later, he crash-landed in Los Angeles, hooked on crack.
Now, five years sober, Jackson pitches drug and alcohol rehabilitation to adolescents all over Southern California, a job that has given him an entirely new kind of happiness, he said.
"I've made some dumb decisions in my life," said Jackson, who lives in Fullerton. "But now I'm only 34, I have a new career and I'm not some guy who knows nothing but baseball. I'm paying my bills without pitching, which I never dreamed I could do."
Jackson, one of seven children, made up his mind to play big league ball when he was in elementary school in Los Angeles.
"Sports was my way out of the ghetto. Growing up to play baseball was my dream of living happily ever after."
Jackson chose Arizona State because he wanted to learn to live with whites, he said. He realized he had made a mistake when, at a swimming pool party, his coach threw the last towel to a white student, saying blacks should be last. Crying, Jackson called his mother and begged to come home. She said no.
"I dealt with it by getting loaded, and I stayed loaded," he said. "I didn't care what anyone thought. When I had to play ball, I'd play ball, but I was in a deep depression. Then, like the fairy-tale ending, after three years of hell, it all came together."
That's when Jackson's team won a national championship, and he was drafted by the Minnesota Twins.
After that, Jackson measured his life by successes on the playing field, where he earned major league money and spent it on first-class restaurants, first-class travel and first-class hotels.
"It was the ultimate lifestyle," he said. "I could say 'I'm different, I'm a pitcher for the Twins, I'm not some ordinary black guy. It was my way of earning respect. It was real, but it wasn't real. I was controlled by people, places and things and a lot of alcohol."
When he was injured, that lifestyle caught up with him, he said, and he began using cocaine and more alcohol. Disabled from baseball, he was back in the streets of Los Angeles for three years.
Then he underwent drug treatment and moved to Orange County where, he said, he was comfortable for the first time.
"I had to find new playmates and playgrounds. I was a 30-year-old adult, but it was like being reborn. I had support groups that introduced me to positive peer pressure, groups that give you the love you were incapable of giving yourself. It was the greatest thing, new, exciting and full of hope. Life is better than it's ever been."
Now employed by New Beginnings in Lakewood, Jackson goes to schools to talk about drug abuse, does crisis intervention and counsels those already addicted.
"By giving that love, I get it back," he said. "We all love and take care of each other. I wish the rest of society could live our way of life."