Recovering addict finds purpose with wood shop

Posted at 8:35 PM, Nov 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-24 11:52:13-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - On this day when we give thanks and families gather around tables, it’s only fitting we focus our attention on one San Diegan whose livelihood is making tables, and thankful for doing so. In a way, they saved his life.

"I never would have thought in a million years that I would own a wood shop," says AJ Reyes cutting through a raw piece of wood.

And yet, that's where AJ Reyes finds himself these days.

"Tables are my bread and butter mostly,” adds Reyes. “Everybody loves the tables that I do."

Not bad for a guy who was doing this as a hobby just a year ago.

Ironically the wood is kind of a metaphor for AJ's life. He's worked many odd jobs and has already lived what amounts to be several lifetimes. So, like Reyes, the wood has a long and storied history.

"It's the whole point of working with wood,” says Reyes closely examining a block of stained wood.  “Because you can take a normal piece of wood and then when you add some stain to it, it really comes alive. It brings out the wood's story."

"My name is AJ Reyes and I'm 43 years old," says Reyes now standing at a podium.

Today, Reyes is sharing his story with the students at the School for Entrepreneurship & Technology.

"I've done everything from shoe salesman. I've been a bounty hunter, been a diver, I have been a loss prevention agent," adds Reyes.

Not just because he's an entrepreneur.

"Some of this is going to be dark," says Reyes preparing and taking a deep breath.

But because of the obstacles he overcame to get there.

"Ah, I am an ex drug addict. I've been clean about 20 years," says Reyes with a sigh of relief.

Not just any drug. Reyes was hooked on crystal meth. And he didn't get his drugs from just any dealer. He got it from his mother.

"Turns out my mom was one of the biggest drug dealers in southeast San Diego."

And like most drug dealers his mother was eventually caught. Barely out of his teens, Reyes was faced with a mother in prison, a father stricken with HIV, and a habit he was forced to break on his own.

"I didn't do any rehab. I just powered through a detox. That was ugly and hard," says Reyes. "Crystal meth, that was an evil, evil drug. I fought my way out of that."

And so, like that finely stained wood, Reyes now has a second life. A little worn, maybe a little damaged, but ready for show.

"He's done so much in his life and I was personally inspired,” says School for Entrepreneurship & Technology sophomore Gavin Ganey. "It just reinforces the idea that there is always a way out of something like that."

"Always get up. He took so many falls in his life and it never really mattered because he is where he is today," adds School for Entrepreneurship & Technology Senior Grace Engleman.

And where he is today is just fine with Reyes. Taking a plain piece of wood, reshaping it, and giving it a new life.

"You've got this concept in your head and the next thing you know it's a real thing right in front of you,” says Reyes now back in his shop. “That's a good feeling."