Convict speaks about digging himself out of trouble

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) Living a life of recovery. That's the triumph of a local man who now shares his story to help others do the same.

Lyle Swangle talked with KOLO's Kendra Kostelecky about how he became addicted and the turning point that helped him get his life back.

"Once I did the first line of cocaine, it was insane. I loved it."

Swangle says he was just 15 when a friend introduced him to cocaine. Almost instantly he was hooked.

"The feeling that I get when I'm on uppers and stimulants - it gives me that confidence."

As a kid who saw himself as an outsider, he says the drugs helped him fit in, but only for a time.

"Every drug there is starts out as a social drug. even a cigarette, all drugs start out social, with the exception of pain medication."

When cocaine got too expensive for the teen, he turned to meth, which was cheaper and easier to get. But it drove him to bad decisions.

"After 2 or 3 days with no sleep - then everything starts going haywire. You start losing your confidence and start getting paranoid. I have been arrested for drugs many times, i've been arrested for stolen cars. everything from butterfly knives to pistols to stolen property, burglary."

Caught and convicted 35 times, he was in and out of prison in Texas, California and Nevada, he says for a total of 18 to 20 years. After a prison riot in San Bernardino left him battered, pepper-sprayed and with two teeth knocked loose, he realized it just wasn't worth it anymore.

He turned to Ridge House in Reno, a substance abuse treatment and re-entry facility.

"The first thing they do is strip you down. I don't mean take your clothes off, I mean strip you down bare bones, emotionally & mentally. There's something wrong up here and it takes a lot to admit that. and you go in and you ask to help me fix what's going on up here. you know?"

He worked the program diligently and did everything he was told, but was sad, lonely and ready to give up.

"I remember calling my mom, almost ready to start crying and i'm not a crier, I don't cry at all - but I was just ready to break down. "Is this what it's all about?" And she's like just hanging in there. well I made a commitment to myself. If I got in trouble right now - a minimum 18 months of my life was gone. A minimum - that was if I got a slap on the hand - so I committed myself to that whole year and a half that I was going to look down at the ground. Do what I needed to do and see if it gets better."

"I ended up with employee of the month on my second month, and that was my first spark that damn, this works."

He went from working at a local hotel to managing the halfway house where he had once been a client, then getting a job at Tamarack Junction Casino. His punctuality and attention to detail brought him to the attention of managers who eventually offered him a promotion to slot attendant, but that required a gaming card. His criminal history made him ineligible, but Swangle wasn't ready to give up.

He collected endorsements from his counselors and employers, then went to the gaming board to fight for that card, which could help him reach a better life.

He won.

"I don't know, but I'm pretty sure I probably am the first person to have a gaming card with 35 felony convictions since maybe the mafia ran Vegas."

He's proud of that fact because it was his behavior getting clean and staying on the right side of the law over the past several years that paved the way for that to happen.

Swangle is now a fill-in night manager at Tamarack and hopes to continue growing with the company.

He wants others who are struggling with addiction to know help is available, and a better, less lonely life is waiting for anyone willing to commit to change.