COLUMBUS, (Ohio) — Robert Lee Garmany III started selling drugs when he was just 15 years old. It was his career, and it was a lucrative one.
"It was a job. It was a job that paid more money than any job I ever held. That’s how I looked at it. I can honestly say, I touched anywhere between $150,000 and $400,000 (a year)," Garmany III said, speaking to ABC6/FOX28 for The Core documentary.
He started selling marijuana in Portsmouth and then began selling pills.
"All this was a cheaper way for me to use the drug. Selling is a cheaper way to use it if you’re an addict," Garmany III said.
After pills, Garmany III was introduced to heroin in 2011.
"It’s an illegal way of customer service because it’s supply and demand," Garmany III said. "Me selling heroin by the gram, not really caring about who or what I was selling my drugs to, I never looked it at like I was taking from people’s families."
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In 2013, two years after he started selling heroin, Garmany III was indicted on federal charges.
"When I caught my case, my eyes were open to a lot. I’d been selling drugs since I was 15. I didn’t get caught selling drugs until I was 35," Garmany III said. "First time ever getting caught with a major felony, I caught a federal charge."
Garmany III plead guilty to the top charge on his indictment, conspiracy to distribute 400 to 700 grams of heroin, and served five years in federal prison.
"I lost everything," he said. "I lost out on five years of my kid's life. I didn't know who my kids were. They didn't know who I was. I get off the bus, I looked different. They looked different."
Garmany III primarily sold drugs in Portsmouth.
"Most people know about it now because it’s one of the overdose capitals in Ohio," Garmany III said.
He said Portsmouth is a good town with good people, but he saw first-hand the effects drugs had on the community.
"Drugs evidently take over wherever you at," Garmany III said. "I say there's three things you can do down there. You can get a job, but most people don't get a job if you don't know nobody down there. You can sell drugs or you can use them."
Garmany III said he really saw the impact of the opioid epidemic when he returned to Portsmouth after he was released from prison.
"It got worse. The epidemic which I feel I had a part in starting got worse because now you have not just heroin, you have fentanyl."
He said he lost most of his family in Scioto County to heroin in fentanyl. He said he's lost 15 friends to opioids since he was released from prison.
I didn’t ever think I was taking from people. I thought people were giving to me. Not only are you taking lives of the people you’re selling drugs to, you’re taking the lives of the kids of that they have. The husband they may have who loves them. And that’s something I didn’t to be part of anymore.
Garmany III not only sold opioids, he was addicted to them.
"I was 250 pounds when I started using opioids. When I caught my case in 2013, I was 160 pounds. I didn't know it. I was walking around like I was normal. That's a rough fight," Garmany III said.
Garmany III is sober now. He went through a nine-month program in prison called RDAP.
"When I went through my process of being locked up, you know they have Suboxone and all that. I didn’t use anything. I literally went through withdrawal for 31 days."
Not only did Garmany III complete the program, he also got his GED. After his release, he got a job at McDonald's and then at Wendy's. For the last two years, he's been working at the Hilton Hotel in Columbus.
"I’m a dishwasher," Garmany III said. "It may sound weird, and most people may look at me like, ‘he’s a dishwasher.’ But, guess what? I’m a dishwasher making legal money and don’t have to worry about any more federal penitentiaries. And that’s what drives me."
Garmany III is still on parole and is still dealing with health problems related to his drug use. He has heart and breathing problems and deals with PTSD and anxiety.
"It's a challenge I'm taking head-on."
Garmany III is now spending time with his five children and his grandson.
"Everybody is happy for me being home."
He said he has taken the lessons he learned and prison and is now trying to help those around him. His wife and youngest daughter's mother were both addicted to heroin. He's helped both of them get clean and is now helping them find jobs.
Garmany III said he still blames himself for many deaths in Scioto County.
"Looking back, I can honestly say, I'm sorry for everything I sold. I am truly sorry for it. It hurts."
As someone who has sold drugs, been addicted to drugs and has overcome addiction, Garmany III has a message for those battling addiction:
So all I say to people is wake up. Look at yourself in the mirror. Ask yourself if that’s where you want to be. If that’s where you want to be, if you look in the mirror and you’re fighting addition right now, and you’re happy with what you see in that mirror than so be it. but if you want to change it, change it. Cause only you can change it.