It sounds like a tidy piece of inspirational fiction: A coke-snorting, booze-guzzling dropout squanders every opportunity in life, turns to armed robbery, burglary and sleazy telemarketing scams, spends much of his adult life behind bars as a self-proclaimed "worthless piece of shit" -- then discovers the secrets of better living from self-help gurus, totally reforms, emerges from prison in time to salvage a relationship with his young son, and builds a multimillion-dollar company from scratch in just four years.
But Weldon Long's just-published The Upside of Fear: How One Man Broke the Cycle of Prison, Poverty and Addiction (Greenleaf Book Group Press) is actually a memoir. And a surprisingly readable one at that. It won an award for best autobiography at the New York Book Festival and has launched Long, who spent much of his time from 1987 to 2003 in Colorado prisons, as a motivational speaker in his own right.
An Arkansas native, Long was just 23 when he and a man he'd just met came up with the brilliant idea of robbing two men in a restaurant parking lot in Colorado Springs, using a shotgun Long had been trying to pawn earlier that day. They were soon caught -- and Long was on the first of several trips to Cañon City. When paroled, he soon fell back to drinking and drugging and heists. A boiler-room telemarketing operation eventually landed him in federal prison, down the road in Florence, with more state charges pending.