Profiles in Recovery

Michael DeLeon

“It can’t happen to me.” Michael DeLeon crushes that mindset when he shares his life story with young people, and urges them to take another path.

The ex-convict, former gang member and recovered heroin addict has been speaking to schools and youth groups since 2000, when he founded the non-profit, Steered Straight.

Born into a loving home, DeLeon tells students he tried caffeine pills to boost his productivity at a marketing job he loved. He never imagined that decision would lead to a cocaine habit and then near-fatal heroin addiction. His life choices, he says, had tragic fallout: gang involvement and crimes to finance his addictions, the breakup of his marriage and the murder of his mother by other gang members after a drug deal gone bad.

DeLeon spent 12 years in prison and halfway houses before reshaping his life in recovery. He’s earned multiple degrees, is a certified substance abuse counselor and has produced four documentaries on the drug epidemic. Over the past two decades, DeLeon has shared his life story with young people in 47 states, encouraging them to make sound choices that enrich their future.

Day Job:
Founder of Steered Straight, motivational speaker, author, documentary filmmaker, radio and TV host, National Outreach Liaison for Evolutions Treatment Center

What I lost to addiction:
My mother, due to gang-related violence and drug activity. My wife. My son, who grew up without me. My business. I lost 12 years of my life while incarcerated.

When cravings come:
I turn to God.

Advice to my younger self:
Avoid the ‘It Can’t Happen To Me’ ism.” If I had paid attention and realized how I was harming myself and those around me, if I understood that drugs were more powerful than me and that, yes, I could be one of those people whose life is destroyed by bad choices, drugs and gangs, I would have not taken the path I did.

Rules I live by:
Jesus Christ is my savior and truth
Every waking moment, I will do what I can to end addiction, get people into treatment and save lives from this horrible pandemic
Prevention is key. My mission is to reach youth and young adults before they make bad decisions and find themselves on a path of pain and destruction.

Best advice for newbies:
For youth and young adults: Don’t ever start. Cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana ARE gateway substances to harder, more addicting drugs. If you find yourself in a vulnerable situation, talk to your parents, or someone you trust. It can happen to YOU!

For the young or new addict: It will never get better until you make the choice to end your addiction. Do whatever you can to find help now!

On my schedule today:
Speaking to middle school youth, then serving as keynote speaker for the Positive Youth Coalition in New Jersey – joining the community to keep youth on a positive path. Invited speaker at Mercer County Prison, then attending a board meeting for an addiction prevention organization

I get inspired by:
Kids telling me that they were impacted by my message, that I changed their life. Knowing that I am making a difference. Saving lives from addiction.

Follow Michael: Steered Straight;
on Facebook at michael.deleon.5030

If you’re a person in long-term recovery who wants to share your
insights, please contact us at [email protected].