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"The thing with Jack was, I learned to be honest with him 100 percent. He didn't judge me. He'd share some of his experiences he never talked about before the book," Sepulveda says. "I feel more related to him than any family member I've ever had—I have more of a connection with that weirdo than my own father. [Punk rock] saved my life. If you're a fucked-up kid who's been raped and beaten his whole life, punk rock just kind of saves you. T.S.O.L. and the Damned were my two favorite bands ever. Those songs just lit me up inside."
Sepulveda is credited in the epilogue to An American Demon as the spark who finally taunted Grisham into writing the book he'd always talked about.
"Bobby comes up with these plans that's, like, 24-hour Laundromat/50-cent taco/dry punk-rock swap meet. Or laundromat/punk-rock massage. So I told him, 'Fuck you, if you just do one of them, I'd back you.' I'd be the Lieutenant Dan to his Forrest Gump," Grisham says with a laugh. "And that's when he said, 'What about you? You've been talking about writing a book for years, and you haven't done shit.' So we were on tour in 2005, and I came back, and by the first week, I'd written 20,000 words."
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Community is a big thing for Grisham.
Sitting in an RV parked behind the main stage at Irvine's Punk Rock Picnic on April 9, he complains that the sense of community in the original punk-rock scene, which attracted him to the genre, has been sucked out of it. Grisham wears frayed, tan flip-flops, mid-calf-length purple board shorts and a royal-blue button-up. Shiny, rhinestoned, beige women's sunglasses top the outfit.
"They ruined something so cool. If you saw someone walking down the street with colored hair or wearing a Sex Pistols shirt, you'd pull over and ask what they were into. Instant friendship. 'What are you doing around here?' 'Hey, what are you into?' 'You wanna go to a show?' It was a real family," Grisham explains. "That's what attracted me. That sense of community. And it still does today and now."
It's hard to reconcile this new Jack Grisham with the menacing sociopath everyone knows he was. While the broad shoulders and towering stature (his exact height varies depending on how his back feels that day, he says) remain, Grisham has welcoming, sad, green eyes that stay intently focused on anybody he's talking with.
Throughout that conversation shared in that warm RV trailer that afternoon, it's obvious Grisham is well-read. He quotes Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X; jokes he "ran into Lampwick"; references reading from the Koran, Deepak Chopra, Dickens and the Jefferson Bible; and even cites Luke 11:17.
A sense of community even played into Grisham's campaign for California governor (other names on the ticket? Arianna Huffington, Gary Coleman, Mary Carey and, yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger) during the recall election of 2003, running on a platform of health care—a real buzz issue only now, some six years later.
And it's community that really helped Grisham himself.
In the summer of 2009, Grisham's address was his gunmetal-gray Toyota Corolla, parked by the Dumpsters behind a Starbucks on PCH. He was homeless, bankrupt and without a job.
He had lost Georgia May, a clothing business he owned in San Juan Capistrano with his ex-wife, after the recession hit. He would take showers on the beach thanks to his state-beach pass.
One night, Grisham posted a status on Facebook saying he needed a job.
A friend, Elizabeth Shober, noticed the message and left a note: "Will you do whatever I say if I help?"
Grisham agreed ("What am I going to do? I live in a fucking car!"), and Shober suggested he undergo hypnosis training, in addition to neuro-linguistic programming—a somewhat controversial method of bringing together the conscious and your subconscious for a sense of self-awareness to alter mental and emotional behavior.
"I sat him down, and I told him he was wasting his time and talent," explains Shober, who sent Grisham to the Transform Destiny facility in Fountain Valley for training on her own dime. "It was time to step up and do something. Jack is an incredible speaker, he has this way of drawing people in and being able to communicate with people in a way they want to hear."
Grisham emerged from his 520 hours of training knowing not just more about himself, he says, but also about ways he could help and counsel others on addiction, fear and other topics. Shober became Grisham's manager, or, as she puts it, his business partner. He became a Personal Recovery Assistant, speaking to audiences small and large around the world on recovery and sobriety as often as 10 times per month.
But Grisham doesn't find much solace in the fact he has dedicated the past couple of decades to helping others.
"If you look at something horrible that happened, it stays horrible," he says. "Yeah, you can talk about kindness afterward that was shown. Reconstruction, reconciliation—but the horror is still horror. It just doesn't take away the horror from the past."