Tony Padilla is eager to talk about his past. He wants to share the gritty details of his life with as many people as possible in the hopes that his story will inspire at least one addict to get clean. As he sits on the sofa in his small apartment in Ephrata, he looks at his surroundings like a king looking at his palace. “I never thought I’d be here,” he admits, “with a place to live, a good job, a car… I’m going on four years clean, and I think God has really blessed me.”
Tony started smoking cigarettes as a small child in New York. By age 11, he smoked marijuana and drank alcohol. Within a few years he tried cocaine, and by the age of fourteen, he graduated to heroin. “Back in the 70s and 80s, it was the party era,” he explains. “It was my culture.” Most of Tony’s family members and friends did drugs, so he didn’t think anything of it. He quickly became an addict.
“I remember the first time I starting using heroin, I vomited,” he says, “but I fell in love with the high. It captivated me. It took away my pain, and I didn’t have to worry no more.” Unable to function without the drug, Tony dropped out of high school. He married at 19 and had two daughters, but his addiction led him to multiple stints in prison, so he rarely spent time with his family. Although his wife urged him to get help, and eventually left Tony, he says, “Prison was like my second home. It was my culture. It became my life. I would come out of Rikers Island in New York City and get high again as soon as I came home, the same day. It didn’t bother me at all going to jail. It was like a vacation.”
Tony spent over sixteen years of his life incarcerated. He tried different rehabilitation programs, but never took any of them seriously. “It came to a point where I almost died a couple of times from overdoses, and it still didn’t stop me,” he says. Then, in 2008, Tony’s sister passed away of AIDS, and he hit rock bottom. “I wasn’t there. I was in prison when she died. They took me to her funeral chained up in shackles,” he explains, visibly upset. “It took my spirit. I really didn’t care if I lived or died.” When he got out of prison, Tony started living in the streets.
In 2014, while visiting his mother in Reading, he decided to shoot heroin in her bathroom and overdosed. Tony credits that event as the turning point in his life: “It wasn’t so much the overdose, but that my mom caught me. She thought I was dead.
I don’t remember anything but waking up in the hospital, but the images of her face, and her finding me in the bathroom… That led me to change, my mom seeing me like that.”
Tony came to Lancaster to get clean, and connected with the TLC homeless outreach program through the Water Street Rescue Mission. “I remember that day,” he says. “TLC gave me a room, and all I did was cry, and think, ‘What have I done?’” With the help of the program and his own determination, Tony is now four years clean and sober. He earned his Class A CDL license and works 14-hour days at a steady trucking job. He has an apartment, a car, and a new lease on life: “I practice integrity. I try to be the best person I can be when nobody’s looking.”
“I believe I’m here for a reason. In spite of all the things I’ve been through and what I’ve done. I really believe good things are going to happen… My advice to anybody who’s an addict is that legacy is important in life. What you did in the past, you can’t remake that, but you can become a better person. That’s what being clean does. I think my legacy will be, ‘Back then, he was who he was, but today he is successful and he loves himself and he’s got goals.’”