from hell to heaven on a harley
An Interview with Pastor Tramp Barber
Addiction doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, black, brown or white, male or female, a Republican or Democrat. It can strike you – but that doesn’t mean you can’t strike back. In a brutally honest interview on this week’s Wellness for the Real World, Dr. Veronica talks candidly with Pastor Tramp Barber, whose reliance on drugs and alcohol and involvement in a motorcycle gang led him down a violent path filled with heinous acts, including murder, rape and assault, before a spiritual evolution awakened him. Today he ministers to and counsels those trying to escape the dark place where he once found solace, proof that change is possible for anyone seeking redemption.
Addiction is the habitual compulsion to use a substance, or to engage in an activity without much regard for its detrimental effects on a person’s physical, mental, financial, social and spiritual well-being. We read and hear more about substance addiction with the common drugs being alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, heroin, steroids, caffeine and prescription drugs, especially in the recent death of Michael Jackson. But there’s also behavioral addiction such as gambling, food, sex, love, pornography, work, exercise, video game and shopping. Both types can be devastating to not just the addict but others around him or her and society in general.
Over 23 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and other drugs. More complex than what it appears on the surface, stopping is not as simple as an abuser showing willpower to change their behavior; therefore, they should not be viewed as being morally weak. Nor should we think an addict’s predicament only affects him or her. Substance abuse ranks as the number one public health threat in the country. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, estimates of the total overall costs of substance abuse in the U.S.—including health- and crime-related costs as well as losses in productivity—exceed half a trillion dollars annually. This includes approximately $181 billion for illicit drugs, $168 billion for tobacco and $185 billion for alcohol.
During his addict days, Barber did $300-$400 worth of methamphetamine and drank a fifth of bourbon and case of Budweiser daily as he did “dirty work,” or collected drug debt, for a motorcycle gang with about nine others. From June 1971 to July 1973 he went to jail 11 times for a variety of crimes, including breaking a cop’s jaw, but never served time because often times his victims were afraid to come forward for fear of retribution.
The son of a pastor, he was raised by loving parents in Mercer County, N.J., and knew what he was doing was wrong. He began smoking at the age of nine, was stabbed in the fourth grade and became sexually involved with a 19-year-old woman when he was 13. Five years later, he joined the motorcycle gang and his life spun out of control.
“I didn’t have no idea I was a drug addict,” Barber, 57, says today. “I was anesthetized by the drugs, the alcohol, the sex, the violence. Violence is more seductive than a beautiful woman.”
What he experienced is common with addicts. Oftentimes, they don’t see themselves as addicts because they’re having fun. Their lifestyle becomes who they are and they never go through withdrawal symptoms. It wasn’t until Barber was locked in solitary confinement, facing a murder one charge and going through withdrawals that he saw the light, in what he describes as a “horrifying moment.”
“I could hear God saying, ‘What are you going to do now stupid?’ I knew what to do because I had a Christian father and he taught me.”
With a beard down to his belly and hair down to his waist, he walked away from the gang and into a little church. Now he steers others in the same direction. He spent 12 years walking the interiors at Trenton State Prison, now New Jersey State Prison, ministering. Were it not for his past, he doesn’t think he could reach the people who need him most. People who may not feel comfortable walking into their neighborhood church.
“I can’t push you into faith but I can pull you,” he says. “That’s the church’s failure. The church tried to push me.”
Tired of society giving people a pass because of their childhood or circumstances, he preaches personal accountability. The obese shouldn’t blame McDonald’s any more than caffeine addicts should point a finger at Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz for aggressive expansion. Nor should the word “addict” be thrown around lightly. Tramp doesn’t want to hear sex addiction associated with Tiger Woods.
“He’s a man and he’s a man with money,” he says of the golfer rather matter-of-factly. “Men do what they do because they can.”
He speaks from experience.
“I’m deeply, deeply ashamed of what I’ve done because I was taught better,” he says. “I knew better. I was raised better.”