Triumph and Tragedy
After my days of living with grandmother, I had several good jobs but none of them ever seemed to last. It seemed I had an emptiness within for more adventure that I could never seem to satisfy. You see, to me, life was all about having fun.
I was a hard worker and all of my employers loved me and tried to help me be more responsible, but I always seemed to move on, lasting only a few months at a particular job. When I was 18-years-old, I finally found something that would hold my attention when two buddies of mine, David and Mike, and myself went to work for a man I will call “Chuck.” This endeavor would change our lives forever.
Chuck was one of the best con-artists I had ever met and when he came to Oklahoma he had just conned a wealthy lady from Maryland out of thousands of dollars.
He came up with a business idea to open up a rental referral company which finds rental properties for people to live in. They would pay a small fee and give information as to their specific needs and we would locate it for them in a price range they could afford. Of course, there was no refund on the fee and the property they desired would most likely not be found. This business was set up as a con on a major scale and was raking in the money. The three of us went to work for Chuck and helped him start the business in a major city in Oklahoma of over a million people.
In the first month, we had already made more money than I had ever seen. It was, however, at the expense of hundreds of unhappy customers. None of this mattered to Chuck, who laughed all the way to the bank. He always sent people to me, and the skills that I had developed through years of manipulating my mother and other men who came into my life, made me a natural.
I was learning a lot from Chuck and David who was quite the ‘people person’ himself. He could charm his way into anything and he loved money more than life itself.
After a few months, my friends and I decided we would go to Lawton, Okla., which was their home town, and start our own company. Yet, we worked hard to make it legitimate. So we took off to Lawton and spoke with their father who co-signed a note for each of us to borrow $800 apiece. Within a few days we leased a building and opened for business. Within a few months we had close to $12,000 in the bank and I had my common itch to move. I made myself mad at David and used that as an excuse to sell my part of the business. My friends begged me not to sell and their dad spent a lot of time trying to convince me otherwise, as well. These guys were like brothers to me and we fought like brothers, as well. It wasn’t anything they had done; it was just that wild man in me that felt a need to move on to another adventure. I moved to Colorado with my biological father while I waited for my settlement. They waited a month before paying me my part just in case I’d change my mind, but I didn't and I eventually flew back to Lawton and picked up my part of the settlement and said my goodbyes.
I spent about a year in Colorado, fell in love with a girl and moved her and I back to Oklahoma. This turned into a catastrophe because of my abusive drunkenness and unstable work history. She eventually got pregnant and painfully she had the baby aborted and went back to Colorado. In a desperate attempt to win her back, I drove through a snow storm to Colorado with only a few dollars to my name. I tried repeatedly to convince her I would change. I harassed her and her family until they had me arrested. The judge offered me military or jail.
This began my brief Navy career. I signed a $2500 signing bonus to do five years of service. After completing boot camp, I was sent to Orlando, Fla. for technical training school. As usual, I excelled in boot camp and at my special training and was meritoriously advanced to the rank of 3rd class petty officer which is equal to an E-4 pay grade. Upon graduation of a-school I got to choose my next duty station because I had finished top in my class. The senior chief, who was my instructor, told me to take the beach master unit in San Diego, Calif. It was one of the best duty stations in the Navy and suited my partying lifestyle to a tee.
I was there about a year and a half and got in trouble for drinking and dope. I lost my rank, so I took leave and returned to Oklahoma. While I was home on leave I reconnected with David and Mike and decided I would go back to work for them. Besides, I had had enough of the Navy. I was in trouble anyway, so I just went AWOL (Absent without Leave). Once again, my wild nature needed to move no matter the cost, and this time the cost would be huge!
For five years I lived a very subdued lifestyle because I didn't have the slightest ideal of what would happen to me once the Navy caught up with me. To have this hanging over my head was probably the best thing that could have happened to me at the time. I certainly did not want to get caught, although I would ultimately have to face my consequences someday. Nevertheless, I was flying as right as I knew how for the time being.
In the meantime, the business was growing leaps and bounds. The ideal to legitimize the business hit gold and David and Mike had done well while I was off on my own adventures. We were getting so popular in the rental real estate market that many of the larger real estate firms in town began to complain to the Oklahoma Real Estate Commission that we weren't licensed. In actuality, we weren't doing anything which required us to be licensed, but the big money firms pressured the commission to do something to put us out of business. So the commission added another provision to the real estate statutes called an advance fee law requiring a license if you charge a fee to locate someone a rental property.
Instead of putting us out of business, this turned out to be the greatest thing that could have happened to us. Our lawyer convinced the commission to set aside time for us to attend real estate school at night. The three of us received our licenses and hired a retired broker to hang his license in our office until a year had passed and David could take his own broker test and be licensed. So we all became licensed real estate agents and the business began to grow far beyond our wildest dreams.
It made sense that renters were potential buyers and we began to capitalize on this. The rental service was free to landlords, so they could list their rental properties at no cost with us and we would send them screened and qualified tenants. Over the years, we became well acquainted with all the owners of multi-family properties, apartment complexes and rental homes. Since Lawton was the home of Fort Sill - the largest field artillery base in the world - it had a lot of rental properties. Again, it seemed God had been watching over us three unruly rebels, and that’s exactly what we were with myself being the worst.
During the five years I was AWOL from the Navy, I fell in love with a lady named Barbara and I was well on my way to real estate success. We bought a location on the busiest road in Lawton and we couldn't have been any busier.
Mike was the younger between he and David and he had been a local football star. Both boys had reputations for being mean and tough and they would fight at the drop of a hat.
Although we were making a name for ourselves in the business world we still went night clubbing and dancing every weekend and I frequented the clubs most every night. David married and he was slowly becoming a responsible husband, family man, and respected businessman. But I was still searching for that adventure. I was becoming very popular in Lawton and met a lot of influential people so the fear of getting caught by the Navy began to wear off and I did a lot of carousing now that I had a pocket full of money.
Mike began to build houses. David’s wife managed the rental department and David sold real estate and managed the business.
We had each started with $800 each, and in about 7 years, Mike and David owned property all over town and had enough money in the banks that bankers were catering after their business. They had huge homes in the wealthier additions of town “paid for,” and were beginning to invest in commercial property.
In the meantime, I was breaking my own ground; selling large properties, such as an 80-unit apartment complex, commercial properties, mobile home parks, etc. We seemed to have every angle covered. I had even been elected as the president of the Lawton Apartment Association. We were also members of the Lawton Board of Realtors, Lawton Homebuilders Association and the Lawton Chamber of Commerce. David was rubbing elbows with all the upper class at the local country club and we were fitting in quite well.
Life could not have been going any better as far as the world’s standards go. We were handsome young businessmen with beautiful wives and girlfriends. We drove Cadillacs and lived in the wealthy additions of town and we were making a tremendous amount of money.
I was setting records every year, selling large properties and making big commissions. However, unlike David and Mike, I was blowing every dime I was making by living way beyond my means. I had never had this kind of popularity or success and it was slowly ruining me.
I was sleeping with countless women while Barbara was trying to give me a good life. I had a wild streak in me that just couldn’t seem to be tamed. I believe this came from being exposed to the club life at an early age. It all seemed so exciting and it was for awhile. Plus, the drinking and partying lifestyle was all I lived for and all I knew.
I loved all the attention I was getting from the success and money. Money can bring a lot of attention and popularity, but it cannot bring lasting peace or joy. I found this out much later in life through much sorrow and suffering. Only a relationship with Jesus Christ brings anything lasting and fulfilling.
Well, just about the time we thought life couldn't get any better the inevitable happened one night while the Lawton Apartment Association was having it's monthly meeting. The gathering was at one of the local hotels that had conference rooms for meetings such as these. We tried to give a little business to all of the major hotels.
The meeting went well and afterwards many of the managers took the party into the hotels’ night club, which was a local hot spot for businessmen. After an hour or so, I noticed Mike was in a heated conversation with a maintenance guy from one of the apartment complexes. We had been drinking a great deal and before I knew it Mike had punched the guy and was giving him a severe thrashing. The management and bouncers came to pull Mike off and the other guy was hurt bad enough that an ambulance and the police were called. The manager had seen me trying to stop the fight and he thought I was the one doing the fighting. Needless to say, they arrested Mike and me both.
After we were taken into police custody and booked, our attorney arrived at the station around midnight. Money will do that for you!
Mike was released, but the attorney told me that the authorities had a hold on me from the Navy. Talk about knocking you down a notch or two! Here I was – I had just chaired a group of apartment owners and managers, high rolling at the club, buying rounds and had just done some huge real estate deals with this lawyer’s firm; and now I was heading back to California to stand court martial for desertion.
Before I take you to California, let me first share with you some ways God was teaching me humility. Even though, I had no idea God was even around at the time, nor was I even acknowledging His existence, He was still at work in my life, teaching valuable lessons for me to reflect on much later in my life.
First of all, this happened on a Thursday, so I was stuck in jail throughout the weekend within the same police dept who had seen me advertised all over Lawton as a big shot real estate man. Then, David had to bring my brief case to the jail and the jailers would let me out so I could give instructions to David about particular contracts. I had dozens of real estate transactions pending and David had to close them for me. I had vast payments on cars and other notes and all kinds of other responsibilities. I had no ideal what was going to happen to me. It didn't matter who I knew in Lawton or how popular I was. You have all kinds of friends when you’re on top of the world, but those friends seem to drift to the wayside when word gets out that you are a fugitive from the law. Not that I blamed them. I would’ve done the same thing.
As I laid waiting for the Navy to come get me and fly me back to California, I thought of all the people and things I would lose. I figured my business career was over – the business I had worked so hard to build. I wouldn't see my family, David, Mike, Barbara and all the other people I cared so deeply for.
I knew the Navy had classified me as a deserter, so I presumed I was gone for a long time. It had been a fun ride while it lasted.
When I went AWOL, I never once thought about the consequences of my actions. Of course, that had been my life story up to this point. I had lived life dangerously reckless since my youth. It seemed as though I knew I had a guardian angel and I was trying to push him to his limits. I had lived life 100 mph every since I could remember. As I grew older, the greater the risk or danger, the more motivation I had to live life in the fast lane.
Lying there in that jail cell, I told myself that I was finished doing foolish things and if God would get me out of the mess I had created without losing my career, family, and the respect I thought I had; then I'd change my life.
Well Monday finally rolled around and the military police from Fort Sill transported me to the United States Army Stockades on base to hold me until the Navy authorities arrived. Talk about another humiliating lesson - the very first officer who put me into my cell was a lady I had sold a house to a few years earlier when I sold properties. Then, as I sat there in my cold, dark cell; isolated far away from anything or anyone, I heard a voice I recognized. The voice was that of staff sergeant Kenneth Alley. I had sold Kenny a house several years earlier and his family and myself had become good friends. He had come to give me some much-needed encouragement and was trying to persuade me not to lose what little dignity I had left.
Looking back, I'm sure glad that I took care of both of those folks while representing them on their real estate deals. I often wonder if it was simply chance, or the divinity of God. With both of those particular transactions, the sellers were really trying to get over and I could have let things slide without exposing them in order to have a smooth closing; make some quick profits; and they would not have known any difference until much later. Instead, I chose to represent them with integrity and love. Even though it was very humiliating for me, these same two people were now there for me in my darkest hour when the chips were down in my life. They were the only ones who could get close to me. Somewhere, there is a very valuable lesson in all of that.
Of course, David had been with me every step of the way - in his heart and on the phone. He was the one responsible for sending Kenneth there and he had already made sure he would be there the next morning before they took me to California. I had forgotten all about Kenneth be a military policeman. He got David in to visit me and send me away with a check in my pocket, just in case I would be able to use it. I could have cared less about money at the time, but the check represented love and I knew someone was in my corner.
I had made this bed and was only getting what I deserved, but for the first time in my life I had done something good with my life and found a career I not only was good at, but I loved. I was watching all this slip away and there was nothing I could do.
David came out the next morning to reassure me he had everything under control and to tell me he had talked with our attorney, whose dad and granddad just happened to be Oklahoma Supreme Court Judges. This really gave me some much needed hope even if I didn't know anything they talked about.
The next day, two Navy officials came to pick me up and Kenneth gave me a good farewell, telling the pair that I was a good man and asking them to take care of me. That didn't seem to mean much to them because they didn't seem to care if I was dead or alive, but it did, however, mean something to me.
We had to go to Oklahoma City to pick up another man who had also gone AWOL. We arrived late so I was checked into the Oklahoma County Jail while the two men boasted that they were going to get a room at Holiday Inn. That jail was the nastiest place I had ever been in and the worst place I ever spent the night. The following morning I could not have been happier to see those two arrogant Navy men. They loaded me up and we were on our way to Dallas to an Air Force holding facility, where I stayed over night. The following morning we would catch a plane to California.
This place was a paradise compared to Oklahoma City. The food was excellent and I was starving because I hadn't eat at the jail the day before. I remember they served a huge chicken dinner with all the fixings and I was famished. About 25 men were there, waiting to be transferred back to wherever they had gone AWOL. These guys had gone AWOL for various reasons and had only been gone a short time - unlike me.
Remember, when I left I had been under investigation by the NIS (Naval Investigative Service) for drugs. It had been so long ago that I was hoping there wouldn’t be any repercussions from that.
After I ate, the officer came and said, “Hall, you have a call from an Oklahoma Senator.”
I went up front and couldn't imagine who in the world it was. “Hello,” I said.
“Dennis, I just wanted you to know I'm on top of everything and know exactly where you’re at every step of the way. I've already been on the phone with your chief when you get to California and he knows you turned yourself in and are trying to get your life straight. He's going to help you, so take it easy and look at this as a vacation,” was the response from the other party - the ‘Senator,’ which turned out to be - you guessed it - David.
When I returned from taking my call, the other guys had heard everything said and now thought I was some kind of celebrity, which gained me a tremendous amount of respect and attention. Only a few minutes had gone by when another officer came in and said, “Hall, your lawyer is on the phone.”
You guessed it - David again. This time he was giving me my departure and arrival times and reassured me the chief was going to take care of me. By this time, even the officers were beginning to treat me a little differently. When I returned this time to the holding tank, my star status had grown even greater.
The following morning, we left Dallas airport at the exact time David had said we would. I was degradingly paraded through the airport in handcuffs and placed between two officials on the plane, still in cuffs. People were staring and gawking at me like I was Charles Manson. It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life.
When we got off the plane, I was escorted through the airport, still cuffed, while hundreds of people moved out of our way. This was shame at its finest. When I finally reached my former duty station, the chief came running out to meet us and ordered that I be uncuffed. He said he would take charge of me from that point on. David seemed to have covered all the bases.
The chief officer told me, “Dennis, I've been on the phone with David, your partner and boss, and he told me what a success you have become and he's sending me all your awards and the honors you've won, all the associations you are a member of, and the ones you are president over. He has told me all about you so I am going to help you. You are not going to be restricted to base while you are awaiting court martial. I am going to help speed this along if I can. Here’s a $100 and I'll get that check cashed for you and you can pay me back. I'm going to give you some work to do around here while waiting and at 4 p.m., you’ll be off like everyone else.”
David had made this chief think I had turned myself in and that I was the greatest guy in the world. To this day, I don't know what David did or said, but this man was the greatest asset I could have possibly had. He had been in the Navy for 35 years and he went to my court martial and told the court that in those 35 years he had never spoken in behalf of any deserter, but that I was different and he had never seen a man work any harder while awaiting a court martial. He went on to say that I had a vast amount of love and support from friends and loved ones, I had turned my life into something successful and I had a bright and brilliant future.
It took 30 days before my court martial began and while I waited, I did what David suggested and took a vacation. Barbara flew out to spend time with me. I was stationed at the Naval Amphibious Base in Del Coronado, Calif. What a spot to do my time! It’s a famous tourist attraction near San Diego. We spent 3-days on the ocean before she flew back home.
At my court martial, I received a pre-trial agreement of 30 days in the stockade, a bad conduct discharge, and I was on my way back. This was a miracle in itself because had it not been for the pre-trail agreement the court ordered 20 years hard labor. Needless to say at this point I was happy to do the 30 days and David and his family had a plane ticket waiting for me at the airport.
My mother and Barbara picked me up at the airport in my new Fifth Avenue. I had been gone 2 months and David had taken care of all of my closings, paid my bills, and kept my name alive.
People in the business knew something because of the official Navy haircut I had received, but most just thought I had been in the National Guard.
God had done what I asked Him to do. He saved my career, my relationships, and got a big monkey off my back. I spent the next 10 years in Lawton and reached the peak of my career about 5 years after this incident. With this monkey off my back, my life began to spin out of control. My career was moving ahead so quickly that I didn't know how to handle the success. I had turned into a master people-person and salesman. I was free with nothing hanging over my head, but my drinking and partying was now wilder than ever. I had not kept my end of the bargain with God!
I was getting all kinds of attention from women and working hard all day and partying just as hard every night. The old worldly proverb that men like to say is “I work hard and play harder.” This was my motto.
I eventually moved out of Barbara’s house and in with Mike. He had bought a new house and turned it into quite the bachelor pad. Mike and I had lived together several times and it always turned into women, booze and for me: dope and wild partying. This went on for a long time and eventually Mike began to settle down and pursue his business career, so I moved back in with Barbara for a time in an attempt to settle down myself. Barbara was after all, the best thing that had ever happened to me, but I just could not stay in one place for very long at a time.
David and Mike tried to encourage me to slow down, invest my money, marry Barbara, and raise a family like they were doing. They were both married by now, with children, and I was extremely close to the boys, their wives and their precious children. They were my family. You'll learn in later chapters that I almost gave all of this up for the needle and methamphetamine.
Anyway, all the love Barbara could give and all the great advice from my dear friends could not settle me down. I knew Barbara was right for me and that I desperately needed to slow down or I'd eventually bottom out. Many concerned business associates, friends and family besides David and Mike, including my mother and step dad Raymond, tried to get me to look at what I had accomplished and what I had received with this second chance God had given me. I had come a long way. All of us boys had come a long way.
I should stop at this point and say that with this success in my career, I had gained a new-found respect for Raymond. For the first time in my life, even though I was spiraling out of control because of all the drinking, partying and women; I felt I had a father who loved me.
During my real estate career, Raymond and I developed the best relationship we had ever known together, but with all his years and experience of being around the kind of lifestyle I was living, he knew the destructive end I was headed for. No one could ever tell me anything, though. I had to learn everything the hard way and this was going to be a slow and painful lesson.
Eventually I moved out of Barbara’s and into my own condo. The largest real estate company in town began to heavily recruit me to open up a commercial department. They offered me a lot of incentives and this would thrust me into the major spotlight. I once again felt that familiar restlessness in me and the need to move, so without cause, I became angry with the family that loved me and out of no where I told them I was gone.
Needless to say, this did not go over well. Not only did I hurt feelings and break hearts, I was also going to work for a major competition - the very company who had so many years earlier tried to close us down.
Well, I was thrust into the spotlight in a major way and began to set records in huge sales deals commercially. I was well on the fast track to huge success.
After some time and a few major altercations with the boys, we made peace. I was living higher than I had ever lived and was making more money than I had ever made in my life. This new found success and power only accelerated my road to destruction. I was now very popular in many circles in Lawton's elite groups and in demand by many of the prominent businessmen.
I was able to keep up a good front and it appeared on the surface that things were fine, but inside I was slowly dying. I was living life in the fast lane and now, on top of everything else, cocaine was entering the picture.
I was working from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. most of the time, but out with different women all night every night. My condo was like a revolving door. The money, popularity and drugs will do that for a young handsome businessman in a large city.
During this time, however, I did meet the most beautiful woman I had ever laid my eyes upon named Sarah. She was five years younger than I, very educated and had a good job with a high-security defense contractor that built the software for the Persian missile. Any man would have settled down for with her. Sarah loved me enormously and had such a good mother and upbringing. She met me at the peak of my career and hung with me many years after my fall. As a matter of fact, she believed in me and tried to help me get back on my feet many times. She financed numerous business ventures for me, all of which began so promising, but ended in failure. After each failure, I would straighten out and talk Sarah into believing in me again and she would finance another deal. I would make it a success for awhile and then, when the money would start coming in, I'd start the old carousing and laying out all night. The old familiar wild beast within me always came alive when things were going well for me.
Eventually I went back to work for David and Mike where I belonged, but shortly my pride lied to me and told me I needed to open up my own commercial real estate company. Now I was one of the best salesman around, but I was no business operator and within a year I partied a small fortune away along with several thousand dollars of my mothers hard earned cash.
This didn't set well with Raymond and now all the old wounds began to resurface. I was proving my true self all over again - an irresponsible, self-centered, egotistical rebel who could always justify his mistakes and find a person or thing outside of myself to place the blame.
Sarah stuck by me for many years until she realized her life was going no where and I was not what she had bargained for. When she met me, I was the young star of the real estate market and she had high expectations for us. I had disappointed her and stole not only her heart and innocence, but her dreams of a life with me, as well. She had decided that I had stolen all I was going to from her and while she was still young, she would get rid of me. For many years I suffered terrible guilt over how I treated this innocent, beautiful young lady. The money she had invested in me was beyond counting.
As I bring this chapter to a close, the only person who has been able to relieve me from the guilt of all the harm I have brought to others is the Lord Jesus Christ. The awful way I had stolen the innocence and dreams from this beautiful creature God had brought into my life, the many lies and con jobs I pulled on her, the thousands of dollars she invested in me for nothing – these sins have been the hardest realities to accept about myself - that I could’ve been such a self-centered person and care so little for the people who loved me the most.
That’s how it is with the addict - they always bite the hand that feeds them. A good lesson from this story is what Proverbs says about delivering the fool from his foolishness - don't do it because you will always be doing it.
My mother had bailed me out all of my life, then David, then Sarah and many others I had manipulated throughout my years. Sometimes genuine love calls for tough love and with people addicted to drugs and alcohol there is only one way. JUST SAY NO! NO! NO! We addicts are very persuasive and manipulating con artists and will say and do most anything to get our way - even very hurtful things. We will especially try to put guilt trips on our loved ones. For example, my brother still to this day makes my mother feel guilty because she married Raymond and brought us up in and around the club environment. If guilt doesn’t work, we are masters at making people feel sorry for us. Tough love is the only way with addicts, just as God’s holy and righteous law; which looks so hard and punishing to man, is the only way for the lost world to see their corrupt and awful nature, and that they are doomed to Gods wrath and hell without the cross of Jesus Christ. Most addicts will never climb into the help they need as long as there is someone who loves them that keeps cleaning up their messes and enabling them to continue on. Just like the law of God was designed to lead us to Christ that we might be saved by faith, according to Galatians 3:24, so tough love is the only way to deal with addicts that they may be saved.
I would like to close this chapter with some principles I have gained. I once read something about prosperity that I find fitting - Adversity is sometimes hard upon a man, but for one man who can stand prosperity, there are a hundred that will stand adversity. The temptations that accompany prosperity are far greater (and far more subtle) than those that accompany adversity. Not every man can carry a full cup. Sudden elevation and financial prosperity frequently leads to pride and a fall. The most challenging test of all to endure is prosperity. I failed this test miserably, however the humble attitude required to sustain good character in the midst of prosperity is what has keep Mike and David on top over the years.
In the next chapter, I will embark upon the journey through the beginning of the darkest and most evil days of my life – the days that eventually led me to that gloomy day in August when I was arrested and faced spending the rest of my life in prison.
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