January 10, 1965 - February 3, 2010
Husband, Father, Friend, Peer, “A Cop At Heart”
Joe was an 18 year law enforcement veteran. He worked as a Police Officer and as a Special Agent with the California Department of Justice. His experience included being cross designated as a Federal Agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs, Patrol, Investigations, Dispatch, FTO, Traffic, Undercover Narcotic and Firearm purchasing, Special Weapons and Tactics, Violence Offenders and Gang Suppression, Special Operations Units, California Methamphetamine Strategies Unit, Clandestine Methamphetamine Laboratory Response and Investigations, Evidence Custodian, Press Information Officer and DARE.
Joe was a client of WCPR as a self admitted last resort after a path of self destruction which included substance abuse and a diagnosis of PTSD and depression. He returned to every session after he graduated from WCPR to serve as a peer counselor and was a member of the Board of Directors. Joe said he will always be a “Cop at heart, and proof that there is life after the badge and the ability to survive PTSD”.
Joe died February 3, 2010 after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. At the time of his death, he was pursuing a Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Work at CSU Fresno. Joe is survived by his wife Diana and children Joseph IV and Katherine.
"Life is like riding a bicycle; you have to keep moving forward to stay balanced." Boy, do I know about that. I am an avid bicycle rider now. Not the Lance Armstrong Tour de France type. More like the Harley Davidson "Live to Ride, Ride to Live" type. I not only ride to live, I ride to survive, because my driver’s license is suspended. I learned that DMV and the courts tend to frown on three DUI arrests, two within 48 hours. So, I ride my donated, used mountain bike to school, to the store, to A.A. meetings, to mandatory DUI classes, to meet my probation officer. You get the picture.
I build time in to reaching my appointments for weather, traffic conditions and the occasional stop and F.I.
Bicycle riding does not lend itself to "business casual", so inevitably it is work boots, blue jeans and thick jacket. I have been stopped by officers who checked for warrants. While standing on the sidewalk with my hands in plain view, there is no way that the officer could know that, at the top of my game, I was buying and orchestrating the purchase of multiple pounds of meth, dismantling clan labs, leading teams on high risk search warrants, testifying as an expert in Federal court, etc.
So, what took me from the top of my game? Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, hypertension and alcoholism to name a few things. My symptoms included extremely high blood pressure, not eating, withdrawal from everyone dear to me, nightmares and night sweats, waking up with my brain in overdrive, flashbacks at any given time, irritability, inability to concentrate or focus, and of course increased alcohol consumption.
At my worst, I could tell you what my pistol tasted like after firing a test round into the dirt. I truly believed without a shadow of a doubt that I was weak and going crazy. I thought that absolutely no one could begin to comprehend what I had seen. I thought that I was alone. And because I was alone, I thought that asking someone, anyone, for help would be about as effective as yelling for help into a jet engine.
My story is longer, much more involved. But, eventually I was homeless. I had become what, as an officer, I had despised ; a hopeless and helpless alcoholic, wandering the streets at night with an unsteady gait, red, watery eyes, the odor of an alcoholic beverage on my breath. So sad that it physically hurt, if you would have looked at me, you would have seen expiration dates in my eyes. I had, in fact, lost everything. My family, job, friends. Mainly because I did not ask for help.
I had been found homeless, and was forcibly checked into a medical detxox facility. After 28 days, I was picked up and taken to WCPR to attend session 29. WCPR is led by clinicians, but it is peer driven. I found out that although my story was unique and heart wrenchingly painful to me, it was not unique to my peers. Our stories may vary, but our pain was the same. I reached out to the offered hands and support of my peers. And reaching out saved my life.
I am now 1 year and 4 months into my recovery. Life is not perfect and cleaning up the carnage of my past is not easy, but it is possible. I believe that if I show up and do the next right thing, good things will happen. And I know that I have my friends from WCPR who will help me in any way that they can. All I have to do is reach out."
~ Joe Bañuelos 2009