After Jerry Ortega’s father left home, the 15-year-old dove into gang life, masking his emotional upset with drugs. Soon, he was selling meth, then picked up a heroin habit of three grams a day.
“I turned into someone who had little regard for anyone,” says Jerry, who spent more than a decade hooked on the hardest drugs known to man. After getting married, he and his now ex-wife “did whatever we had to to get heroin,” he said. “Before it was over, I had allowed [her] to begin selling herself as a prostitute.”
Jerry, who now lives in Bakersfield, California, tells of having pushed away his own mother, because he was ashamed of what he had become—a man who stole until he ran out of places to rob, and a man who was arrested, jailed and overdosed twice in three days upon his release. A man who was either going to die using or end up in prison the rest of his life.
But it was last year, during his new marriage, that everything changed—when his child was taken away at birth by protective services. He and his wife checked themselves into a rehab center. Several months later, they had their baby back. Today, Jerry is on a drug prevention mission.
“I got into drug prevention early in my recovery because I wanted to learn everything I could about my own addiction,” he says. “In the process, I decided that I wanted to share what I learned with others because nobody wants to be a junkie or an addict.”
It was during this time that Jerry discovered the Foundation for a Drug-Free World and obtained The Truth About Drugs educator materials—including booklets, the full-length documentary film, public service messages on film, lesson plans and more. After studying the materials, he then began delivering his increasingly popular presentations to addicts at the rehab center. “The materials are very up to date and keep the interest of all the people I share them with,” he says. “They don’t hold anything back.”
That’s why, Jerry says, even seasoned addicts learn something new from The Truth About Drugs booklets. But Jerry is also getting the word out to those who have yet to make the fateful choice that could break their lives. He has taken on supervising online classes for individuals on probation for drug use, teaching classes at his Christian church and reaching out to everyone he can.
He caught the attention of local station KGET TV, which featured his personal story of transformation from addict to activist.
“I take the [Truth About Drugs] booklets everywhere I go,” he says. “So many kids die from heroin overdose. If they can learn about what it does before they make the decision to use, at least they have a fair chance.”
Jerry, who is studying to become a minister, calls Drug-Free World “a godsend.”
“It gives me reason to get up in the morning and continue on in my recovery,” he says, “because I know that I’m helping other people.”