From ‘full-on drug addict’ to youth outreach

Kamloops man tells tale of redemption in new book

A former Kamloops man who went from businessman to biker gang member to homeless drug addict to the head of a youth organization will be in the Tournament Capital this weekend signing copies of his first book.

To Hell and Back chronicles the ups and downs of Joe Calendino’s life. The son of Italian immigrant parents, he was born in Prince Rupert before growing up in Kamloops.

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Calendino said his father suffered from mental illness. He said he struggled to deal with the effects of having a schizophrenic father and ultimately turned to drugs.

“I didn’t know how to cope,” he said. “I grew up a bit angry. I continued to make poor choices. By the time I hit Grade 8, I started identifying with drugs, drinking.”

Calendino said he was addicted to cocaine by the age of 21, but he managed to stay sober and put himself through business school before operating a chain of Telus cellphone stores — including a location at Sahali Mall.

His business was thriving, Calendino said, when a run-in with an old friend changed everything.

“A blast from my past came in,” he said. “Even though I was clean and sober, it took one second, one moment, and the journey began for me.”

The friend was a full-patch member of the Hells Angels, Calendino said. He began hanging out with the outlaw motorcycle gang in the Lower Mainland before officially becoming a prospect.

After years of working his way up the ranks, he achieved member status in the organization.

Calendino was forced to sell his business when higher-ups discovered he was affiliated with the Hells Angels, he said, and his drug use picked back up.

“My behaviour started getting erratic,” he said. “I started using more and more, and I was a handful even for the club. They kicked me out.”

That was 2005.

Jobless and without the safety net provided by his biker buddies, Calendino wound up on the street.

“I fell deeper into addiction,” he said. “I spiralled all the way, I lost everything and I ended up on Main and Hastings, a full-on drug addict.”

After three years on the street, Calendino said, a chance run-in with another old friend — this one a police officer — changed everything once again.

“I was at the end of the line,” he said.

“I got caught with $10 of crack cocaine and I was in prison and I see Kevin [Torvik] walk in. I look up at him and say, ‘I never want to see a kid go through this.’”

Torvik, a childhood friend of Calendino’s who was working as an outlaw motorcycle gang investigator, helped him get clean.

When he was sober, Calendino co-founded Yo Bro Yo Girl, a youth outreach program aimed at steering kids away from gangs and drugs.

Calendino said he’s excited to get back to Kamloops and meet people on Saturday.

“I’ll be there to answer questions,” he said. “Chapters is going to have a good event and we’re just trying to get the word out that people are not alone in their struggles.”

Saturday’s book signing is slated to take place at 1 p.m. at Chapters, 1395 Hillside Dr. For more information call 250-377-8468.

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