As a part of my series about people who made the journey from an addict to an entrepreneur, I had the pleasure to interview Joseph Cover, 40 year old consultant and founder of the environmental non-profit 1 Piece Each.
Joseph Cover became addicted to opiates at the age of 22 after a car accident caused a back injury. At the age of 26, Joseph was incarcerated for conspiracy to traffic Oxycontin (the exact drug he was still addicted to from the car accident). After doing 38 months of time between prison and work release he left prison and went on to receive his bachelors degree in marketing management from Western Governors University a few years later.
In 2015 he started his own merchant credit card processing consulting firm called Cover All Consulting. In 2016 he started to pay close attention to what was going on in our environment and the need to raise awareness. He founded the environmental non profit 1 Piece Each. Today they have chapters in the US, Austria, South Africa, Germany and Switzerland.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you describe your childhood for us?
My childhood consisted of living in foster care from birth until I was about 2 and 1/2 years old, when I was adopted by my parents. I had a unconventional yet loving home and extended Italian family growing up. It was not perfect, yet we were always loved and always had food in our bellies and a roof over our heads, so I must say we had it better than a lot of other kids.
I’m the oldest. I have a younger brother, Richie, and sister, Crystal. My parents told me I was adopted right away and later on around the age of 14 I found out that my biological mother was an alcoholic and couldn’t take care of me. I remember always having a feeling of inadequacy deep down. Always thoughts of feeling like other kids were better than me. I became aware of status and money right away when I went to a private school and was surrounded by kids with a lot of wealth. I guess I was insecure a little bit about money and not having what others did right away.
Can you share with us how were you initially introduced to your addiction? What drew you to the addiction you had?
What introduced me to my addiction was my car accident in 2002. I was involved in a hit and run with a commercial delivery truck where the other driver was at fault. I injured my lower back and was in significant pain at the age of 22. After the accident I was referred to a pain management doctor in Orlando, FL, and was prescribed to OxyContin pains pills (the same pills I would be arrested for a year later).
What do you think you were really masking or running from in the first place?
I believe what I was masking initially, once my addiction kicked in, was my insecurities. Pain pills made me feel confident and I believed I could talk to anybody under any circumstances. Retrospectively, I realize now that I wasn’t communicating on a very high-level and was making a fool of myself for the most part because I was always high. I can definitely connect the artificial feeling of confidence with my drug use. I was also 22 years old and did not possess a very mature approach in life to handle all this.
Can you share what the lowest point in your addiction and life was?
My lowest point in my addiction was after my second overdose on methadone in 2005 (years after my arrest). I had fallen into a coma and, by the grace of God, I came out of it. I remember putting my family through so much pain and agony with my addiction and after staying clean for about 90 days I went right back to the same exact drug that put me in the coma & started getting high again. At this point I was positive that I would die an addict and never have an opportunity to live a fulfilling life. I believed this was my lot in life and I had no choice but to be a pill head/addict.
Can you tell us the story about how were you able to overcome your addiction?
Eventually, after extending my court dates from my arrest and avoiding my problems and trying to escape them by moving to different places, I realized that my addiction followed me everywhere I went. Finally, in 2006 I was still on drugs and exhausted, and finally gave in and accepted an awful plea deal with the courts. I was incarcerated for 38 months. Just before the holidays in 2006 I started my prison sentence in Central Florida. I was depressed to say the least and rather suicidal. Yet little did I know this would be the turning point in my life and the opportunity I always wanted to get back on track.
Unfortunately, when you are incarcerated in the state of Florida they are not concentrating on rehabilitation. Rather they are basing their prison business model on recidivism. They 100% want inmates to reoffend and come back, no matter what bought and paid politicians says otherwise. The state of Florida is renowned for building privatize prisons and the only way to keep those prisons profitable is to guarantee an 85% occupancy. This is a whole other subject matter and can be saved for a whole other article. But I bring it up only because while I was incarcerated I decided to change my life and spend my time there wisely. I read voraciously on a plethora of subjects ranging from the medical and scientific side of addiction to spiritual growth to biographies and really anything that was educational that would help me grow. I felt that there would be no other opportunity in my life where I would have this much time to myself to be able to read and grow as a person, so I wanted to take full advantage of it.
I even completed an extensive correspondence course on addiction to learn about the ins and outs of what I was dealing with. Two and a half years later I headed to work release and I can honestly say I was a different person. The one book I would like to mention is the Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. Through it all, I overcame my addiction by getting to the bottom of all my internal pain and forgiving myself for things that I was responsible for and things that I never should have felt bad for to begin with.
How did you reconcile within yourself and to others the pain that addiction caused to you and them?
As far as reconciling with my past and the pain I caused others and myself, the first step was forgiving myself. It didn’t help to beat myself up over things that have been over and done. Instead I used my actions moving forward to show people. I did not expect my family to just all of a sudden forgive me and welcome me back with open arms after all I put them through. I decided to let my actions do all the talking. I got involved with my local church. I got involved in narcotics anonymous meetings. I got involved in volunteering and community service. In reality, I just learned to get outside of myself and realized that if I can put positive energy into the world I can let go of some of the pain that I have been carrying, and finally move on in life.
When you stopped your addiction, what did you do to fill in all the newfound time you had?
When I stopped my addiction I would fill my time with whatever I could: reading, yoga, volunteering, softball, meditation, community service, pursuing my bachelors degree in marketing, among other things.
What positive habits have you incorporated into your life post addiction to keep you on the right path?
I would say the most important habit I developed to keep on the right path was meditation. I would also continually do daily inventories to see what I can work on to get better the rest of the week and what I did well and wanted to continue to do. Most importantly I surrounded myself with the right people who I observed living healthy & successful lifestyles and fashioned certain aspects of my life to be similar to what they did. For example, if I had a business associate that was successful & he focused on continuing education, I would do the same thing and receive some of the same results in time.
Can you tell us a story about how your entrepreneurial journey started?
My entrepreneurial journey started after I got out of prison and realized I had that proverbial F (felony) on my record. It became very difficult to land an upper tier job or get licensed in something as simple as real estate or insurance. So I decided to go to college and get my degree and reinvent myself. I became involved in business-to-business sales and eventually found myself in the merchant processing industry, where I can help business owners lower their costs on accepting credit cards from customers. This was a very nefarious industry to say the least, similar to automobile sales or being a lawyer or Politician. People in the industry would tell me that in order to make the kind of money I wanted to make that I would have to screw over a few people here and there. Believe it or not, that was the norm in the industry for the higher ups. That went against everything I believed in and so I decided right then and there that I would go out of my way to provide the highest level of customer service and give my clients the best possible treatment to help them save money.
I started my own company, Cover All Consulting, and with timing being everything in life, it turned out the industry had changed and no longer were the business owners responsible for paying these fees. Instead they are now allowed to charge consumers a small convenience fee for using those expensive credit cards for purchases. This in turn allow the business owners to flip what was once a 3% monthly liability and turn it into a gain instead. For example, if a business owner accepted $100,000 in credit cards every month from their clients they would normally pay approximately $2500 out of those sales to Visa/MasterCard/Am Ex/Discover. Now they’re able to shift the cost to the customers on transaction basis and can save that $2500 every month. In this case they would save $30,000 a year. I loved how the math worked and was hooked. So that is how my entrepreneurial career started and I’m proud to say is going very well.
What character traits have you transferred from your addiction to your entrepreneurship. Please share both the positive and negative.
I would say my trait of persistence in finding my drugs and staying high during my addiction years transferred nicely to my post addiction/ entrepreneurial life with my persistence in business. I also realize that after overcoming addiction everything else seems quite trivial in comparison. That transfers to me being more confident and able to handle things when they don’t go so well in business. Overall, I would say that most of the traits that transferred over have been positive as opposed to negative.
Why do you think this topic is not discussed enough?
This subject has not been talked about because there is a stigma around addiction and incarceration in this country. There is an entire industry built off of the pain and suffering that addicts and their families go through.
First of all, there’s the pharmaceutical companies, like Purdue Pharma, who are responsible for pumping out Oxycontin and marketing it to doctors in the early 2000’s as a reasonable drug for pain. They had pharmaceutical reps pushing this so hard and it started the beginning of this epidemic. Then there is the rehabilitation industry that makes tons of money off of addicts trying to get clean.
Then there are the courts, bail bondsmen, prisons and everything and everyone else who profits off of those in the system. We can also blame our politicians (mostly republicans) who are bought and paid for by the pharmaceutical lobbyist who have infiltrated Washington DC for the last 20 years. It’s not talked about because people simply write off those who have suffered from the disease of addiction as misfits and losers rather than suffering from a real disease.
If people want to get well they really have to be responsible and take the initiative to do the things to get well, but it takes time and help, and they can’t do it if they can’t talk about it. That’s a big reason I’m sharing my story and putting it out there because I believe the more we talk about this & the more we shed light on it the more we can make improvements.
Can you share three pieces of advice that you would give to the entrepreneur who is struggling with some sort of addiction but ashamed to speak about it or get help?
There are people suffering from addiction all around us, in all walks of life, including entrepreneurs. If you are suffering and want help but are maybe too embarrassed and your pride won’t let you, I recommend:
- Getting involved in the rooms of narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous.
- They also have addiction treatment hot lines where you can talk to somebody who has been in your position and can talk to you about some of the solutions in the paths that they have taken to recover. Foolish pride is a dangerous thing when it comes to this disease, so no matter what, find a method you are comfortable with and stick with it.
- It can even be researching via the internet or finding a good book and reading up on other people who have been through this and give yourself some options for solutions. Knowing that you are not alone, and that you, and others before you, have had the strength to overcome.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Readers can follow me on social media on my personal pages on FB – Joseph Cover / on IG @josephcover100.
Also, a few years ago I became very passionate about the environmental crisis that we face in this world so I founded an environmental 5013C nonprofit aimed and education & raising awareness called 1 Piece Each.
We have chapters in Austria, South Africa, Germany and Switzerland and can follow us on FB & IG @1pieceeach
Thank you so much for your insights. That was really inspiring!