Gabe Rosales, is a professional musician, and a sobriety and criminal justice advocate from San Juan Capistrano, California. He got sober in 2007 after serving time in prison for crimes committed during the time he was actively drinking and drugging. The experience inspired him to earn a degree in Criminal Justice in order to help reform the system and make the world a better place.
You can learn more about Gabe at his website gaberosales.com.
00:02 John: This is really bad music.
00:05 Gabe: I’m into it.
00:10 John: And this is My Secular Sobriety. I’m John and Ben is here. How you doing, Ben?
00:15 Ben: Hey, I’m pretty good, John, excited to talk to Gabe here.
00:20 John: Yeah, I am too. Our guest today is Gabe Rosales, and this is really kind of funny. This is a new podcast and I was looking for some guests and one thing I’m interested in are alternative ways of getting sober, other than the traditional 12 step process. And I know that there’s a lot going on out there in social media and… Oh gosh, just everywhere, that people are getting together and helping each other stay sober. So, I was kind of looking for an online support group and I ran across Gabe’s page on Facebook. And I thought, “Well, this is interesting, I’ll send him an email.” And I thought that was all that Gabe was about, [laughter] and then I read… I Googled Gabe and I ran across his Wikipedia page, and you know I don’t have a Wikipedia page, [chuckle] but Gabe certainly does. And I’m just going to read you, for those of you that aren’t familiar with Gabe, just a brief introduction from his Wikipedia page.
01:22 John: So, Gabe is a professional musician, a sobriety advocate, international human rights activist, a criminal justice and drug policy reformist from San Juan Capistrano, California. He is predominantly known as a bassist, rapper, guitarist, singer, and producer. He’s worked in many genres of music such as rock, jazz, pop, drum and bass, fusion, funk, hip hop, Latin music and death metal. His album, and I just discovered this album today, I bought it and I love it, and it came in just the right time, in this period of a depressed, depressing world. Anyway, his album, Vital Nonsense, just sounds beautiful. I’m just kind of getting into it. That was released in February of 2009. Anyway, he has played with a variety of artists. He is active in activism, humanitarian charities, arts, corrections, criminology, you name it. Gabe, how are you?
02:31 Gabe: Fantastic, thanks for having me.
02:33 John: It’s an honor. Like I said, I don’t know if I’ve ever read a more interesting bio of anybody that I’ve ever talked to on a podcast before. And I don’t even know where to begin, other than maybe if you could… The way I always start with a guest is maybe if you could share a little bit of your story, about how you got to where you are today.
02:52 Gabe: Okay. Yeah, like you said, it’s been, it’s kind of crazy. I think I’ve lived in a couple of different extremes and every time it feels like just different lives over the decades, you know what I mean, because it’s just drastically different, changing different things up. I grew up, I’m a full-blooded Mexican. My parents met in Mexico City, and my mom and my dad are both musicians, not professionally, but I grew up hearing music in my house all the time. From them playing old James Taylor and the ’70s folk stuff and my parents got divorced when I was eight years old. Can you hear me okay?
03:30 John: Fine, yeah. You’re perfect.
03:33 Gabe: Yeah, my parents got divorced when I was 8 years old. I grew up in an alcoholic household as well. My dad had issues with drinking and then progressively got worse. But I think that was my first real experience with anybody that was intoxicated was growing up with my dad and literally picking him up off the floor when I was probably about 10, once my parents got divorced, when he was supposed to be responsible for me. And so in hindsight, looking back on everything that I experienced and understanding that developmental period in my life and seeing, when you’re picking your dad up off the ground and he’s an alcoholic and he’s supposed to be in charge of you, then it’s almost like the foundation is kind of ripped out from underneath you and you feel like… And I realize it now, that at that moment is when I thought rules didn’t apply to me because I was the adult in the situation, you know what I mean?
04:28 Gabe: Like there wasn’t anybody that I could look up to in terms of, I mean, my dad was a hard worker and he loved me very much and so I don’t ever want to take that away. I did learn a lot of positive things from him, but I also, I felt like I needed to be in charge more than anybody, so that kind of progressed as I got older. I moved with my mom, once my parents were divorced to Santa Cruz, northern California and then her and I were butting heads and she kicked me out of the house when I was 14 years old, so I moved back to my dad’s, really dug in my musical career there and all through high school I was playing with five different bands. Literally Monday and Tuesday, one band, another band Wednesday and Thursday, another band Friday and Saturday like clockwork. Just playing all the time, different styles of music. So, by the time I graduated high school, I had a producer that was helping produce our band and I had gotten my foot in the door, in terms of being a professional musician. But when my mom kicked me out the house to move back with my father, there was no rules and he was still drinking so my substance abuse and my alcoholism continued, and it progressed.
05:31 Gabe: I remember being a freshman in high school and I used to drink a little fifth of whiskey on a Friday and that was it. That would pretty much be it and that was freshman year. By the time I was a junior in high school, I couldn’t remember a day of the week that I wasn’t drunk. I was drinking every single day. I was like, “Okay… ” I’d have to go back and remember, “Oh yeah, Wednesday I didn’t get drunk.” So, it progressively got pretty bad, and I never drank beer. I never drank in any kind of small, reasonable amount, wasn’t responsible ever with it. The first time I ever got drunk was a big cup of whiskey.
06:09 Gabe: From that point on, that was my starting point and then, and so it progressively it got worse. So then once I got into the professional music world and going on tour and that exacerbated the situation because being on tour is one of those things where… And it was a national act and I was touring around the United States. And you play a venue, you do whatever you want for the time that you’re there, and then you roll into a bus and they drive you to the next state and you fall out, you do the exact same thing again. You can demolish the venue that you’re playing at, you can be… You can do whatever you want, really. And me living in this rock star fantasy life, I completely took advantage of it. I turned 21 on the road in St. Louis, Missouri.
06:51 John: Oh my gosh, wow.
06:51 Gabe: Yeah, I wasn’t even allowed into the clubs the first half of the tour, the first leg of the tour. So yeah, St. Louis, Missouri I turned 21 and…
06:58 Ben: Oh, that explains it, St. Louis.
07:00 Gabe: Man, it was crazy, that place, we were playing by some train tracks and there were bars there that were open ’til 6:00 to 8:00 in the morning or something like that, it was crazy, very destructive. And so yeah, by the time I came back off that tour it was like a… And I was still living in that same lifestyle destroying venues, being a scene at restaurants. My friends were kind of like, “You know, you got to do something because we have to see these people the next day. You know what I mean? You can’t live like this.” And so, one of my friends who just came back from this Vipassana Meditation retreat and he, it changed his life. And so, I was raised Christian and Catholic, but I pretty much was turned off from it at a pretty early age just because I mean really just asking questions and it didn’t make sense in a lot of ways. Even just taking the song, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” I remember thinking as a kid, “So you believe anything a book tells you?”
07:58 Gabe: I was like, “Okay, this guy loves me because this book says it?” And since I root for everybody it’s something else. And so, I got pulled towards eastern philosophies more because that made the most sense to me. I went to this 10-day meditation retreat and it completely changed my perception on existence and impermanence and for me it’s been my, basically saving grace through a lot of things and because it’s, and Vipassana meditation, specifically is not really religious-based, it’s based off of a self-reflection and self-awareness. And to me, the universal truth for everything is just impermanence, like we know for sure that everything is going to come and go, including ourselves. And so, to me that’s the thing that I feel has been my truth, you know what I mean? And so, after meditation school things were good and then it, drugs came back into my life and as the gigs got better the drugs also got harder. I started playing with Jennifer Lopez because the musical director I was working with started getting these musical directing gigs and I was brought into a bunch of pretty high profile acts touring Europe in a private plane and stuff like that and that was amazing. But then I also started using cocaine and getting into harder drugs and just doing really stupid shit and being a, being a scumbag. Oh, excuse me, I’m not supposed to cuss?
09:19 John: No, you can cuss. You can say whatever you want.
09:20 Gabe: Okay, okay, cool.
09:22 Ben: We do.
09:23 Gabe: Yeah. And so…
09:24 Ben: Gabe, can I ask you a quick question?
09:26 Gabe: Yeah, of course.
09:27 Ben: When people were telling you, “Hey, man, you got to straighten out.” Was anybody saying like, “Hey, you need to quit drinking and drugging.”? Or was it more like, “You got something you need to take care of, chill out, go check out this… ” Did anybody ever question you about your use or was it more like, “You got to get some stuff straightened out.”?
09:42 Gabe: Yeah, I mean I was that guy between my friends that drink more than everybody and that’s what I was kind of known for. They knew I would fill a big mug full of vodka or whatever and just drink the entire thing to start the night off. So, people already knew that I had an issue, but very few people really talked to me about that. And because I felt like I had it under control and at the same time, if I was playing high profile gigs, I couldn’t be that messed up, you know what I mean, like high functioning alcoholic or…
10:12 Ben: Right.
10:14 Gabe: And I even missed… I almost missed a plane traveling from one country to the next in Europe because I was so hungover, I almost missed a plane. And, but yeah, I mean people would say stuff to me, but it wasn’t… I felt like I was a rock star, I was above everything.
10:29 Ben: Right. Sorry to interrupt there.
10:32 Gabe: No, no no. Yeah, for sure, any time, anything. And so yeah by the time 2004 rolled around, I ended up getting a DUI, I blew a 0.25, three times the legal amount, had to do a long DUI and that was in 2004, so the laws weren’t even half as punitive as they are now.
10:50 John: Oh, man. See I had… I got mine in the ’80s, my last was in 1988. And so, at that time, I think the most I was looking at, after three of them was like six months in jail. Now you go to prison.
11:06 Gabe: Yeah. Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. There are guys that I teach in prison and they were there because of accidents they got in while they were drinking, third or fourth DUI, for sure.
11:16 Ben: And even in California, I know it was stricter than it was most other places, even at that time.
11:21 Gabe: Oh, yeah. Yeah, it’s a trip. And that was… So that was 2004 and then by 2007, another drunken, just chaotic night ended up getting aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and domestic battery with a corporal injury and this was my first real run in with the criminal justice system. I was lucky enough to get a lawyer who pulled for me. With charges like that, you generally would serve a couple years at least but I ended up getting it reduced to months. And so I had to turn myself in and went to jail for a while, a couple months and then that’s where I kind of saw the sub-culture of jail life and the carceral institution and got acclimated to it, was asked to even have a position in the gang that I was running in. And then riots started the last probably month I was there, and that was an eye-opening experience too because you have…
12:19 Gabe: Being associated with a certain demographic of people has its privileges, but when the shit hits the fan, they expect you to step up, that’s just part of the deal. So, I was expecting to get more time because we were supposed to start rioting with another gang and luckily, we went on lock down. I got… Got deputies would come in and pepper spray us just for fun, just because they thought it was funny and… And so yeah, I made it through, fine, unscathed, and just learned a lot and that was when I got sober in 2007, April 30th and released a solo album once I got out based off of my experiences, sobriety, jail, death, religion, and that was like in 2009. I went back to school in 2010, got a degree in Criminology. I started working towards a substance abuse counseling certification in between, in the summers in between the Criminology degree, and then I got SMART Recovery certified in 2018 and around that time, 2018… I’m almost done here so.
13:20 John: No, you’re cool.
13:23 Gabe: By 2018, I ended up getting into law school and start working for this non-profit where we teach a rehabilitative songwriting class in prison, which is Jail Guitar Doors, an amazing, amazing non-profit. And I had just graduated with a Criminology degree, being a professional musician, being sober and I was like… Somebody tagged me in an Instagram post, and I was like, “This is perfect. This is exactly a nice combination of things that I’ve been working on my whole life or up to this point,” and I emailed the corporate office, they asked me when I could start and I immediately started at a prison in San Diego, California. And I started law school in 2018 and ended up withdrawing from law school because I was much more interested in policy changes in California. But this whole time of sobriety from 2007, I got to work with the US State Department on cultural exchanges, trying to get kids to stop joining terrorist organizations in North Africa and Tunisia, worked on a documentary. Oh, went to Uganda did work with a non-profit to get a clean water system and solar panels on this hospital that serves like 250,000 people. So, it’s just kind of bouncing around all over the place.
14:32 John: Yeah. So, of all of that that you do, of all of the advocacy that you do, what is it that you’re most passionate about? Is it the criminal justice reform?
14:43 Gabe: Right now, yeah. I’ve seriously, my life has been all over the place so kind of like whatever is in front of me, I’m like, “I’ll do this for a while, and then I’ll do this for a while.” It’s kind of been like that. So right now, the criminal justice reform stuff is the biggest because that’s… Oh, I got… When I withdrew from law school, I got into this PhD program so I’m going to be researching policy changes in California.
15:03 John: Okay. So, what needs to change? Can you talk about that a little bit, about that criminal justice reform? What’s going on?
15:13 Gabe: Well, just from my experience too, there was a lot of policies that changed in California between 2011 throughout 2016. They had this thing called Realignment, and one thing that people need to understand too, is because you’re hearing a lot of people from different arguments and saying that the Capital building… “All these liberals wanted to free up all these criminals and be easy on crime instead of being punitive and being tough on crime.” And that’s not the case. The case was that we were violating the Constitution with holding people in solitary confinement for decades.
15:46 John: Yeah, yeah, good God.
15:48 Gabe: That’s against the Constitution. So, it’s not necessarily the fact that liberals wanted to free people, it’s like the country’s run by the Constitution and if you’re violating that, that’s what happens. So, a Supreme Court case told California prisons they had to basically decarcerate, and so that led to all these policy changes. One was Realignment, sending people in prison down to the county level, which was in some ways good. It kind of took the pressure off of state prisons, but you guys, you know these institutions were never made for any kind of rehabilitation.
16:24 John: No, they weren’t and back when we first started in this country, the penitentiary system, it was supposed to be a reform thing, but it totally isn’t now. It’s totally punishment.
16:36 Gabe: 100%. Yeah, you know your history, that’s completely right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. because California originally was California Department of Corrections.
16:46 John: Yeah.
16:46 Gabe: And in 2005 they added the R in the acronym, Rehabilitation, but this whole time it’s taken forever to actually get any kind of rehabilitative programs within institutions. But that’s when Prop, I think it was Prop 47 it made the sentences for crimes lesser, like drug crimes were considered less, you got less time also, minor property crimes, and so that was a big point of contention too. I hear both arguments and I understand both arguments and both sides, but specifically Prop 57, that had to do with giving guys time off their sentence for taking rehabilitative classes, and then also getting, what they called Milestone credits, which is like academic credits, where if you get an AA degree, you can get… There are certain academic certificates that you can work towards and you can get up to six months off your sentence. And so that started in 2016 and that’s been a big one, so…
17:44 Gabe: And so, in terms of rehabilitation and reform, finding the people that are willing to take classes and get educated and program, because they call it programming, and having the opportunities to do that has been a big one. But just the bureaucracy and how behind everything is, and then trying to use evidence-based practices and everything is tough too because the prison that I work at, and I think we just got audited and some of the CBT, the cognitive behavioral therapy stuff they were doing was not adequate and it wasn’t up to standards for the state, so… It’s been a trip, man. And I think decriminalization of drugs has been a big one too, and that’s also been one of my big fights in terms of what criminal element evolves from being able to sell drugs, do you know what I mean?
18:35 John: Yeah, we got a real problem in this country with how we treat mental illness and addiction, because mentally ill and people with drug addiction end up in prison more than they do getting help for their problems.
18:41 Gabe: 100%, yeah.
18:51 John: And it’s like, it just doesn’t really do anybody any good.
18:56 Gabe: Yeah, and one of the yards that I’m on right now, drugs are just rampant. I think people, you forget that in the prison system, a lot of people think there’s this… They have this idea of law and order and it’s really just an ecosystem and people are just feeding off of each other, so you have lots of correctional officers that are bringing in drugs and paraphernalia, selling phones. You can make $1,500 a phone.
19:22 John: See, they pay these corrections officers almost nothing. They don’t make very much money.
19:27 Gabe: Well, in California, some of them make six figures.
19:30 John: Oh, are you shitting me? Really?
19:32 Gabe: Yeah, yeah. Some of them make a lot of money.
19:34 John: See, I grew up in a prison town. I went to high school in Lansing, Kansas which is where the prison was and so a lot of the kids that went to school there, their parents were prison guards. And they had these little tiny houses around the prison that the prison guards lived in, yeah. Later, many, many years later, when I was sober, I took meetings to the minimum-security prison in Lansing and it was really interesting. And so, it was actually an NA meeting, and so everybody there was for meth problems and they were mostly poor people and all this. What I found really interesting about it is, “Okay… ” I’d see these guys every week and I’d go one week and a guy wasn’t there, and what I found out is he got busted and he got sent to the maximum security prison and the maximum security prison, from what I understood, was really hard core, where you are in your cell all day long, I think you get out for an hour. And they would get busted for stupid, stupid things, and it was almost like, I don’t know what they were doing. I just didn’t understand. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time and they got sent somewhere else and it just seemed kind of crazy to me.
20:53 Gabe: Yeah, it’s totally crazy. I mean, even in terms of guys that have a parole date, or they know that they’re going home. Other inmates will plant paraphernalia on them just to get them busted so they have to stay, really that cutthroat. Obviously, you have to have people that are looking to mess you up like that, for whatever reason, but it happens and it’s sad that people get paraphernalia planted on them and that they miss their dates and stuff like that. We had a guy that that happened.
21:25 Ben: And like you said Gabe, too, it’s really hard to stay out of that. It’s like you almost have to pick a side for your own safety when you’re in prison.
21:32 Gabe: Yes. Well, and that’s one of the things, too, that really struck me was… One of the yards that I’m on right now, this policy that started in 2018 is called re-integration. And as you guys know, in the prison system, at-risk or protective custody inmates have been separated from the general population for years, decades, and protective custody generally were always thought of as sex offenders, rapists and child molesters and stuff, so they separated these inmates and put them on specific kinds of yards. They changed it to call, instead of protective custody they call them S&Y yards or S&Y sensitive needs yards. But those populations weren’t just sex offenders, they were ex-cops, because those ex-police officers have a target on their head.
22:18 John: Right.
22:20 Gabe: Gang dropouts is what they call them, people that owe drug debts, gay, trans. There are high profile criminals, too, like guys you see in the news that are really high profile, their cases were covered in the media a lot. And so you have this whole demographic of people that were sensitive needs, then you got to think of gay and trans, a lot of these people were sexually abused as kids, and so the sensitive needs yards did nothing to stop the violence. In fact, some of those yards got worse than some of the general population yards. So, California decided to curb that whole idea and integrate the populations. And that’s what I’ve been seeing since I started teaching and that’s one of the things, I’ve only seen it work on one yard so far and that’s one of the things I wanted to study is why it’s working on this one yard.
23:09 John: So, integrating actually did work in one yard?
23:14 Gabe: As far as… Well, I’ve heard in different states or at different institutions throughout the state, they have integrated yards that are working, they’re called non-designated because basically just to go there you have to disassociate with your gang. And from what I’ve heard, some of the yards don’t have all of the gangs that are in California, so you don’t see all the demographics together. You see this demographic, because the Mexican mafia’s split between mainly Northerners and Southerners and then Fresno Bulldogs are right in the middle and you might have Northerners in one non-designated yard, but they don’t have any Southerners, who have historically been at odds with each other.
24:01 Gabe: And so, it’s a big mix of stuff, man, but it’s very interesting to see and also being able to talk to guys and being like, “So… ” because me just spending time in jail, I knew what the rules were, in terms of like, “If you see a child molester… ” Even anybody who has a sex offense, there’s a green light on them, you attack them, you try to kill them and so I was asking other guys that are in the politics and I asked them how they were able to live and be with guys that they would usually take off on and kill. And interestingly, it all just has to do with rehabilitation and wanting to see your family. A lot of these guys have parole dates, and while some of the guys are like, “I don’t care if I can’t sit at your table anymore, I want to see my wife and my daughter and I just try to pretend these guys don’t exist and I don’t talk to them, I have nothing to do with them. They are on that side of the yard, I don’t pay any attention to them.” And that’s been the sentiment I’ve noticed, too but it’s really interesting. Before I got into Criminology, I was into Anthropology, so studying the human species is fascinating.
24:54 John: It’s really interesting, yeah, yeah. It’s also what we’re living through right now with this pandemic, is kind of interesting watching human behavior too. How everybody decides that toilet paper is really valuable. [laughter]
24:54 Gabe: Yeah, right? And the frantic, the worrying about not having enough and third world countries and other places have been dealing with this… It’s crazy man. It’s a trip.
25:28 Ben: And just how close we are from… We have this dignified society; we think and then this little thing happens and how much more primal we get so quickly. It’s really interesting. Gabe, I’m blown away. So, you got sober in 2007, so you went to prison, and you didn’t… You stayed sober while you were in prison?
25:48 Gabe: Yeah, I was just in jail for months, so I wasn’t serving a super long time and I was able to… But I got sober before I went in and I usually I meditated while I was there, and it was one of those things. That’s another reason why I started that secular sobriety page on Facebook because I didn’t use AA. I did find a community, which I felt was important for my sobriety and I used Vipassana meditation where I could just… It was mainly scanning body sensations and being able to objectively look at things that come at you in life so that you don’t react to it. You stop being a reactionary. And so that helped and then by the time, I think 2011, 2012, is when I’m like, “I feel like there’s not anybody that I can relate to in terms of an agnostic atheist that’s sober, that is working other program that doesn’t include a higher power.”
26:49 Gabe: And also, obviously, you guys, you’re living it. The idea of powerlessness versus being empowered. Which is a big… I felt that was one of my biggest issues with being powerless. And also, just labeling yourself as an addict for the rest of your life. That was kind of… I just felt like it was counterproductive so that’s when I started the page. It’s not liked a huge page; I think there’s 700 people that follow it, but I was surprised how many people are out there that want alternate…
27:17 John: Oh man, huge, it’s huge, you know? And even people that might even believe in God and have a faith, they don’t necessarily want it to be part of their recovery. There’s some of that too.
27:27 Gabe: Well yeah, because even if you do like… I mean sorry, I’m just thinking because it made me think of the idea that a God will stop you from drinking a shot of tequila and is willing to do that, but not feed a kid in Africa? That is so bizarre to me.
27:42 John: Right, right, right. It’s ridiculous, it’s crazy. Yeah, it’s nuts. So, we have the secular AA group here in Kansas City and we actually have people who go to church and so forth, who prefer our meeting because they don’t have to deal with the religious stuff. They don’t want it part of their recovery, it doesn’t have anything to do with it. It’s like if you have any other medical issue or psychological issue or whatever, you don’t necessarily want your religion to fix it, you know? So, yeah.
28:11 Gabe: Right, right. That’s interesting. I didn’t think about that, that’s very interesting. Yeah.
28:15 Ben: Gabe, so did you spend some time or get forced to go to some AA meetings at some point? And if so, what was your reaction?
28:23 Gabe: Yeah, well when I got the DUI, they have the court card that you’re supposed to go to this many meetings and so I think I went to one maybe, but then I just forged every signature, because it’s anonymous.
28:35 John: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s right, that’s right. Not many people figure that out. [laughter] I used to tell people, “This is anonymous. No one’s going to check. No one will know who signed this.” [laughter]
28:43 Gabe: Yeah, so I just changed my handwriting, used a pencil, used a pen. Used a pencil, used a pen.
28:47 John: Right, right, right, right.
28:49 Gabe: But yeah, but then the kind of self-deprecating kind of thing, that was going on on a lot of… At least in some of the meetings that I went to, and how critical some of the people were in AA about any other program.
29:04 John: Yes, that’s a huge problem, that’s a huge problem, yeah. It shouldn’t be that way at all. And I hate that, because from what I’ve read, there really isn’t one way to do it. You really have to tailor the approach to the person, and a person might want to mix and match different things. That’s what I’m so interested in is the more I learn about what’s going on in the recovery community outside of 12 step programs, is really fascinating to me because you do see a little bit more mixing between those groups too.
29:37 Gabe: Yes, and meditation’s always an option too, you know what I mean?
29:41 John: Yeah, yeah. The one thing that you said that Ben and I talk about a lot that we think is just the key, is community.
29:49 Gabe: 100%. Yep.
29:51 Ben: Right.
29:52 Gabe: Right. And even if it’s not a huge community, if it’s just somebody you can reach out to that’s older than you, that’s got more time than you do. I have to admit that I never was in AA so when people talk about the steps and they mention certain things and they recite it like it’s scripture, you know what I mean? And it’s a trip and I’m like, “I have no idea what they’re talking about.” They’re like, “You don’t have to have a higher power, your higher power can do this, your higher power can… ” I’m like, “Okay that’s fine,” but…
30:20 John: You’re much better off where you are.
30:22 Gabe: Yeah, yeah, yeah. For sure.
30:24 John: Yeah, for sure. Absolutely.
30:26 Gabe: If I’m able to… I feel like I’ve been sober for almost 13 years, April 30th will be 13 years for me, and I feel like I’m a different person. Literally, I feel like I’ve changed the synapses in my brain to think differently, even though I still have using dreams, which is a trip.
30:43 John: Yeah, I do too still, after all this time.
30:45 Gabe: Right. And I have these dreams where… I realize in my dream I’ve been drinking the whole time and not told anybody, so I feel like when I wake up, I feel like…
30:53 Ben: I have that one quite a bit.
30:55 Gabe: Really? Good, good. I’m glad I’m not the only one.
30:57 Ben: Oh yeah, just wake up with this guilty feeling like I drank and didn’t tell somebody or I was doing it the whole time and I was convincing myself that I had been sober, but I’d been drinking… That kind of thing.
31:08 Gabe: Wow.
31:09 Ben: Yeah.
31:10 Gabe: Yep, that’s exactly it, that’s what happens. And it’s a trip too because, in the dream, I’m like “Yeah, I’ve been doing this and it’s okay. It’s okay because I’ve been only getting drunk in this section of the city or with these people.” But then waking up and then being relieved that that didn’t actually happen. It’s the best feeling in the world.
31:27 John: Well, you know what you’ve done is pretty amazing that, so you actually have had the experience of being inside the prison and now you actually have studied Criminology and Anthropology and so you can bring the science and the experience to the institution. It’s quite rare I would think.
31:53 Gabe: Yeah, you know it’s cool, you know how just prison being the ecosystem that it is, and how fast news travels. I mentioned SMART Recovery in my class once or twice and then I had five different inmates coming in being like, “How can we get SMART Recovery started here? Can you help us? I’m going to donate money to you now.” because the guys have money on the outside. “I’m going to have money sent to you, can you get us these books and have them here so we can start facilitating our own SMART Recovery meetings?” And I’m 100% supportive of that because the church comes in and you know whatever it takes, I don’t care what it takes for you to get sober obviously. But from what I’ve heard, a lot of the faith-based programs they’re just dealing drugs while they’re there. And then obviously, the whole idea of expecting this higher power to take this feeling out of you, a lot of the guys I think would benefit a lot from cognitive and behavioral therapy because with SMART Recovery it’s not just alcoholism or substance use, you can apply to criminal thinking too.
32:54 John: Right, right. It’s behavior, they focus on behavior more than they do the addiction which I find interesting. I’m still a third of my way through my SMART training and I better get back on it because they have a time limit and I don’t, I can’t remember, so I need to get on there before the time runs out, but…
33:12 Ben: Well, and you were talking to Gabe, it’s like there is such an overlap with the criminal thinking and addictive thinking and whatnot. I used to be a substance abuse counselor for a while too, so some people I worked with would try and separate all that and figure out what’s what. And you get biases amongst counselors even where they’re like, “Well, this guy’s just a criminal, get him the hell out of here. He doesn’t want treatment… ” Or…
33:33 Gabe: Right.
33:34 Ben: Especially in the matter of religion too. It’s amazing how many people who have just come out of prison that are looking to try and get by are very religious all of a sudden.
33:43 Gabe: Oh, yeah.
33:45 Ben: So often, often, I think, it’s just said just to make you think, “Hey, they’re on the right path,” and so you leave them alone a little bit, but that’s maybe the cynical side of me. But also I was going to ask, it seems like being a secular person feels very important to you to make that clarification and especially in the Latino community that has to be a little bit more difficult, I think, because it’s very highly Catholic, right? And you probably get a lot of pushback on that, I would guess?
34:09 Gabe: Yeah. Well, the guys that I’ve talked to, they aren’t so much Catholic as they’re Christian now, because Catholicism has just got so many rules to it and it’s kind of hard to follow certain things like you can’t… There’s a lot… The prisons have, every yard’s got a multi-faith thing, like a room and they have different… Even Native Americans can do smoke retreats and do… So, there are options. But a lot of the guys that I know have gravitated from Catholicism to Christianity and it’s like I get it. It’s the most appealing thing in the world because when the whole world forgets about you, especially because most of… I have lots of guys that have murdered somebody in my classes and when the whole world has forgotten about you and everybody hates you, you might not even hear from your family anymore, you always know that Jesus Christ died for your sins and He still loves you.
35:03 Gabe: So, it’s very, very, very, very comforting and I get it and I wouldn’t want to take that away from them. But specifically, when it comes to substance abuse too, it’s just one of those things where they have to just start thinking differently. And people don’t realize that hoping to put a Band-aid on it with an idea is different than living your life differently, you know what I mean? Which is you can still I guess if you’re following the faith of Jesus Christ, I don’t think anybody is, except for the Amish, you know what I mean? Because it’s like, you… Jesus is like, “Sell everything and follow me.” Do you know what I mean?
35:36 John: Right, right.
35:37 Gabe: Nobody’s doing that. Yeah, so you can’t do that.
35:41 John: I wonder if we can go into your art a little bit. I’ve had the privilege since I’ve been doing podcasts to speak with artists in recovery, but I’ve never spoken with a musician and I’m interested in hearing about that part of you and the Vital Nonsense album, how you, what motivated you to produce that album? Can you talk about that a little bit?
36:07 Gabe: Yeah, 100%. Being a side guy or backing up certain artists in the music community and being part of so many different bands, just as a musician, you write all these different parts and then you collaborate with other musicians. And so there are so many songs that I had brought to the table with the different bands and once I got sober and kind of distanced myself from everybody that I was with before, all the bands and stuff, I had all this music that was mine and I was like, “I can use it because it’s mine. I wrote every single part.” I wrote every single part. I wrote the keyboard part, I wrote the bass part, I wrote the guitar part, and so it was just a matter of singing and working and becoming a vocalist and becoming a lead in that too. So as a multi-instrumentalist, I always was listening to different parts, you know what I mean? And then also grew up playing all different styles of music, I put every kind of genre really that I like on this album.
37:03 Gabe: And when I was first putting it together and I was talking to my just colleagues, talking to friends that were other musicians, and every song is, when you listen to it you’ll notice, everything’s very different. Every song is almost a completely different style of music even. And I asked my friends, I’m like, “Do you think I should separate it and release it separately with different genres or should I just keep it on one album?” And one friend said, “Yeah, you should release five different aliases and then this.” But obviously, this isn’t 2009 too, the production of making CDs, nobody buys CDs, like physical CDs, they just use them as a coaster. And so one of my friends told me, they’re just like, “You’re going to waste tons of money to do that, put it all on one CD, just release it like that, because people are going to download one song off iTunes anyways.”
37:53 Gabe: And so that’s what I decided to do. And it actually ended up working out because when I do my live shows, I can play whatever I want, I can play any style that I want. And that’s generally what I do, I’ll start off by playing an acoustic guitar and singing, and it’s kind of like a singer-songwriter kind of thing, and then I’ll start rapping, I’ll put the guitar down and rap over some stuff and do like a hip-hop set, and then I’ll grab the bass and I’ll do another rap. And then I’ll do some jazz fusion, because I grew up playing funk and jazz fusion stuff too, and then instrumental stuff like real, just progressive Muzio stuff, and then I’ll put the bass down and then just do metal for the end of the night and I’ll scream and yawn.
38:32 John: Did you have any sort of a fear that, when you stopped drinking, that it would affect your art?
38:41 Gabe: Not necessarily, just performing was terrifying. You know what I mean? because it’s like I literally… because I started playing when I was 14, and I really started practicing and playing gigs when I was about 15 or 16. And I look back and I remember every time, every rehearsal, most gigs, I was under the influence of something. I’d smoke weed, I drank a bunch of booze. And this… I was always like this all through my early adulthood. And then when I got in on… And I even played on Saturday Night Live twice and I drank wine before I had gone up playing in front of millions of people on TV. And then when I got sober and I played in this tiny club on a Thursday night in front of 20 people, I was terrified. I’m like, it was so bizarre because I’ve already done all this stuff and now this is freaking me out? So, it took a while to acclimate to playing live and not being drunk.
39:34 John: And now you’re comfortable with it?
39:36 Gabe: Oh yeah, yeah, it’s been so long now. It’s like… I love it. And being in the entertainment industry, and seeing people drunk and sloppy in front of me reminds me of where I was too. It’s kind of a good healing process, I guess.
39:53 John: Yeah. I think that must be a myth that people think that their creativity comes from their drinking and when they stop drinking, they can no longer be creative. You didn’t find that…
40:02 Gabe: Well with marijuana specifically, yeah, because I’d smoke weed and I’d just play bass for hours and hours and hours and hours. And it was almost like practicing wasn’t as fun if I wasn’t high.
40:17 Gabe: But it’s one of those things. Different drugs will do different things. I always thought I was coming up with this brilliant stuff when I was drunk, and it was… When I go back and listen to the recording, I’m like, “This sounds like… ”
40:25 Gabe: “Horrible.” Yeah. So, it’s a good reality check, you know what I mean, and like… Yeah, yeah, wake-up call.
40:34 John: And finally, can we talk… Can you talk a little bit about the documentary, Shadow Nation?
40:39 Gabe: Oh yeah. So, George Lynch is the guitar player that I work with, he wanted to go around the United States and document the plight of Native Americans, and he kind of like… He hit me up just to do this movie trailer. And so, I did, and it ended up being perfect because I was very involved with a lot of indigenous people’s rights organizations, as well as the hip-hop community and a bunch of other organizations. So, it’s like it kind of just worked out. He’s just like, “You got to just be in the band because this other bass player that I have is not… It doesn’t make sense for him to do it.” So, I ended up recording a double album with them and we started in 2011, and a couple of trips to Navajo Nation in New Mexico and stuff like that, and Arizona. And then we took one big trip, I think it was in 2014 or ’13 where we just… We went up to North Dakota and went and settled in Lakota Sioux. We marched with the Lakota Sioux for the first official Leonard Peltier Day, and we hit… We try to hit as many different reservations as we could.
41:45 Gabe: And we got a bunch of high-profile musicians to comment on it who are activists themselves; Tom Morello, from Rage Against the Machine, he’s very known to be active in politics and stuff and an advocate for the Native American cause, and then Serj Tankian from a band called System of A Down, he’s been really big on the Armenian Genocide… He’s Armenian, so Armenian Genocide is one of his things. We got him. We got Noam Chomsky, John Trudell from the American Indian Movement, who passed away, rest in peace. And so, we had a lot of hard hitters to interview. And we went to Alcatraz Island as well because there’s a whole history of natives taken to Alcatraz in the ’60s. So yeah, it took a long time and it’s a lot of money, and hearing really horrible stories and seeing really kind of like how… The third-world America that people don’t see.
42:41 John: Oh, I know, the poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation is like totally third world, totally third world. And the alcoholism problem is unlike anything I can even imagine. And I wonder, what can be done to help? What’s the solution there?
43:05 Gabe: Well, Whiteclay specifically, they were able to… Whiteclay is a city that was outside… It’s not even a city, it’s like a strip of land.
43:11 John: Right, in Nebraska, where they had all the bar, all the liquor stores?
43:15 Gabe: Yeah, and they didn’t even serve hard alcohol, they just serve beer. And if the population of Whiteclay was like literally… I’m not even… It was under 10.
43:22 Ben: Yeah.
43:23 Gabe: And they sold millions and millions of dollars of beer.
43:26 John: Yup. See, that’s what I read at that article about the Whiteclay.
43:29 Gabe: Yeah. But luckily, Lakota Sioux or the Pine Ridge Reservation, we’re able to get that… That whole bar and other people that own that, they had to move far away someplace else in the city. I mean not far, far away, but far enough where it wasn’t going to be affecting the reservation as much as they have been.
43:49 Ben: The bad side of all that is they get all the problems associated with the alcoholism, but none of the, like say, “I’m not advocating for this.”
43:51 Gabe: You’re right.
43:51 Ben: Let’s say they were selling the alcohol on the reservation; they would at least have the funds to maybe build treatment centers or things like that. So, the problem is they’re just getting all the downside on the reservation.
43:51 Gabe: Yeah, nobody’s making any money and that’s actually a part of the Pine Ridge reservation.
43:51 Ben: Right.
43:51 Gabe: And so, yeah, they were able to move the bars and the owners, because it was like they were using guerilla tactics. Every time a beer truck would show up, they were like harassing the heck out of them. And so apparently, it worked, and as far as I know, they resolved that issue specifically. I’m sure alcohol is still a big part of it. I think it was something like 30% of the kids born on that reservation had Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
43:51 John: Yeah.
43:51 Gabe: It’s really bad. So, it’s… That’s just one example too. There’s lots of other places. And in fact, I’m really sad to say that the band member, the lead singer of Shadowtrain, which was the name of the band… With this album… I mean with this documentary; we released a double album worth of music. And so, in the documentary, it’s the whole band traveling around. And the lead singer, Greg Analla, he passed away in 2016, I think it was, and it was largely due to alcoholism. So, it was one of those things that it was just a super tragic ending. But positive is that good music came out of it and hopefully people look at it and learn something and understand just what the United States has done in terms of breaking treaties and pushing people to the outskirts and trying to forget that they exist.
45:36 John: Yeah. I’m just kind of interested in… I’ve got a couple of books, I still haven’t read them, about the recovery movement among Native Americans. Because I talked to somebody, they have a Native American general service office for… An AA. So, you have these Native Americans who are in AA. And I reached out to them because I wanted to talk to them about their recovery and what they’re all about, but they didn’t want to come talk to me because I’m an atheist and their spirituality is really important to them. And I thought, “Well man, that’s not going to be a problem. I’m still interested.” And I asked them, I said, “What’s the biggest problem with Native Americans in AA?” And he said that it’s the perception that it’s a white man’s program.
46:28 Gabe: Oh. Oh okay, I got it.
46:30 John: Is the problem. So, they don’t necessarily have a problem with going to the meetings per se, but the problem is that it’s a white man’s program.
46:39 Gabe: Delusion.
46:41 John: Yeah.
46:42 Gabe: Probably also the fact that they… I mean firewater, you know what I mean? That Europeans brought alcohol to… I don’t know how accurate that is in terms of… I know beer, for example, has been dated back thousands of years, I think, you know what I mean? Southern monks used to brew beer and stuff. But I think that might be another issue is the fact that maybe they consider alcohol being part of the problem from the Europeans in the first place, and then… But I can understand too that they might have an issue with AA also because of the religious component, you know what I mean? Because to the them, Europeans would go into church in the building and worship a God, and for Native Americans, nature’s God, nature’s all, you know what I mean? And rather than… And then having to subscribe to this higher power as opposed to just being part of all nature, that might be an issue too, I don’t know.
47:36 John: Yeah. It’s really a complex, complex situation. And also, as I was reading like the history of Pine Ridge and what happened is like, okay, so the United States took away all their land, they put them on this little reservation, but the United States said that they would pay them billions of dollars, millions of dollars, but they will not take it because it’s their land. All of the Dakotas I guess is their land. And so, they’re living in poverty to this day. Something’s got to be done. It’s just wronged the way the whole thing historically has played out. And then the problems that they have today is just… I just wish that there could be a little bit more compassion in this country for our history, because that that wouldn’t be so difficult to making amends for. [chuckle] And the people are suffering worse than anything. It’s something that our country should really be ashamed of, in my opinion. It just bothers me.
48:37 Gabe: No, definitely, definitely. And the Bureau of Indian Affairs too, there’s lots of corruption in that as well. So, it’s like, I feel really bad for the people that are living in poverty and they can’t trust their own people, like the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to allocate money to resources that need to be… Which is another whole issue, and it’s just terrible.
49:00 Ben: It was interesting in regards to all of this pandemic, I was talking to someone the other day and they were talking, “You know the poor, the people who are poor and homeless and all this, they’re really going to get hit by this.” And I’m like, “Yeah, just like every other day of the year with everything else. Welcome to reality of thinking about that.”
49:18 Gabe: Oh yeah. It’s a catastrophic domino effect. I’m a musician and all my gigs have been canceled; you know what I mean? It’s just like… And so that’s… because obviously, I get it. You can’t bring a lot of people in a small area and an entertainer, that means you’re supposed to be in front of people entertaining and you can’t do that. So, it’s a trip. We’ll see what happens. I mean I’m okay right now, but depending on how long this lasts, it’s a trip.
49:44 Ben: I hope not long. Gabe, the counselor and me would love to know, you said you grew up in an alcoholic home. How’d dad’s alcoholism resolve itself, or how’d his life go, and how’d that affect you, and how’s your relationship with your family now since you’ve been sober?
50:00 Gabe: Well, thank you. Yeah, everything’s been great with my family. They’ve always been really supportive. They visited me when I was in jail. A lot of them really didn’t even know the extent of what I was doing, how much I was drinking and what drugs I was using, my mom specifically. And then my dad, I was always trying to help him get sober. In 2014, I got a call from the emergency room that he was found outside of his house, face down in a pool of his own blood, because he had gotten so drunk, he passed out again in front of his house and he had… Once he got divorced from my mom, he got remarried again. He got another divorce with that wife. So, he had two failed marriages.
50:42 Gabe: And to him it was just like… It was pretty much like a downward spiral. He also had a cataract issue, he couldn’t see. So, I took him to resolve that. And then once he could see, it was better, he was better, but he just used that opportunity to find ways to start drinking. And he was planning to move to Mexico, because that’s where our family is from. And so, he went. My aunt passed away in 2015, and he went to go mourn her with his family, and then he died. So, he actually had a heart attack, and he was really overweight, and he was… Extremely, extremely, extremely high blood pressure. And so, from what I understand, he stopped taking his blood pressure medication, he started drinking coffee, and then he kept… He started drinking again pretty heavily while he was down there. And then he just got up in the morning and had a heart attack and was out. So yeah. So, I had moments where I was like pretty hopeful that he might be able to get better.
51:47 Gabe: I was trying to be the example to him that we could break the cycle and he could have something to look forward to. But yeah, it just didn’t work out and he… But I had… There was no ill will towards him at all, and I talked to him on the phone like a couple days before he passed, and he was… He knew I loved him. I told him I was proud of him regardless of anything. And so, we settled it like that. But it was rough. That was like one of the hardest things I’ve ever dealt with in my life is the passing of my dad.
52:19 Ben: I bet.
52:19 John: Yeah, Ben has a similar background with his father.
52:22 Ben: Yeah, my dad was an alcoholic too. And you said something earlier that, like your kind of just thrown into being an adult because your dad wasn’t the adult. So I was wondering too, I kind of found this for myself, I think some of my drinking was to relieve this sense of seriousness or feeling like I always had to be the adult so I could actually cut loose and have my own life and have my own fun because I probably wasn’t able to do that when I was younger because I grew up in an alcoholic home.
52:50 Gabe: Yeah, I mean that was definitely a part of it. I think for me specifically, too, when I look back on it, I realized it later, when my dad got drunk, he was an asshole, and he also scared me a lot when I was a kid. When he was drunk, he was just a completely different person. So, I was very, very, very against alcohol through my junior high school, and then once I moved in with him, it was kind of like, if you can’t beat him, join him kind of thing.
53:17 Ben: Right.
53:19 Gabe: And then I realized that when I was drinking and I was drunk, I wasn’t scared of him anymore. That fear of him, he didn’t seem… He was like way less… He just didn’t look like the monster that I remember him as a kid. And then also I wanted to out-drink him, I wanted to try to out-drink him to prove that you didn’t have to be an asshole when you got drunk. And so, I went out of my way to just try to out-drink him and he’d be passed out and I try to get him back up, “Let’s keep drinking.”
53:45 Gabe: Even in the morning when he was all hungover, I’d try to get him back up, “Let’s keep drinking.” Just kind of egging him on and being an asshole, and then throwing parties at the house all the time, having people over drinking till 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning on days he had work. And then he’d come to yell at me about that and I’d just be like “You’re really going to come at me about this? You’ve been drunk all of my childhood.” So, it was really… We were butting heads and it was an aggressive thing and I was unfair and mean and totally unnecessary. Obviously, now I look back on it as an adult, but that was definitely part of it.
54:20 Ben: But I would imagine that also set you up to always have a very conflicted feeling about your own drinking on some level too.
54:26 Gabe: Yeah, I mean I felt like it was okay, and I felt like it was just… Growing up was just part of life, because… I mean not everyone… I want to just generalize Mexicans, but, it’s like when you have the family over and specifically, we had family friends that would come over and they’d always bring a bottle of tequila, and it would literally end up everybody passed out, sprawled out around the house. And that was just kind of like the vibe. That’s like what we did. Growing up all through high school, and it’s like, “Yeah, when the compadres are coming over, we’re going to drink tequila and everybody’s going to get trashed and passed out all over the house.” And I was like, being blackout drunk was part of being a being adolescent, I guess.
55:08 Ben: So kudos to you, Gabe, because all those things you’re saying, those are all extra obstacles for somebody to get sober, to have to pull away from all that conditioning and all that, what you’ve been accustomed to. So great for you, man.
55:21 Gabe: Thank you so much.
55:22 John: Yeah, you’re bringing a lot of beauty and positivity into the world.
55:27 Gabe: Thank you guys.
55:27 John: Thank you Gabe, for that I really appreciate it. And as I said, tonight I’m going to listen to your album, and then later this week I’m going to watch that documentary as well, so…
55:38 Gabe: Cool!
55:39 John: What a great deal to discover that. [chuckle] Amazing. Thank you, that was really kind of you to join us today. So now I’m going to play this silly music again.
55:47 Gabe: Okay.
55:48 Ben: Thanks so much, Gabe.
55:49 Gabe: Thank you!
55:53 John: And that’s it, another episode of My Secular Sobriety, with Gabe Rosales, Ben Becker, and yeah, [chuckle] sorry…
56:00 Ben: Okay. No, it’s fine, John.
56:02 John: Anyway, thank you everybody for listening. Oh, by the way, I started the stream on YouTube late, but the podcast will have everything. I recorded it all on the podcast. Thanks again.
56:12 Ben: Awesome.
56:13 Gabe: Thank you.