For seven years the only TVs I saw were the ones offered to me in exchange for ice, as we call it in Australia, or crystal meth, as it’s known around the world. When you are in the relentless grip of this drug, leisure time doesn’t exist. The only thing that matters is where your next puff is coming from.
I became addicted to ice just when Breaking Bad was coming out. As I started to deal more and more, a few people mentioned the similarities between me and Walter White, the lead character in the series – a family man turned bad. But Walter White became motivated by greed alone – I just needed to pay for a $1000-a-day habit. If I saw any episodes of Breaking Bad during those lost years, I don’t remember. But I watched it when I came out of prison, safe in the knowledge that my story would end much more happily than Heisenberg’s. That’s why my book is called Breaking Good.
While Breaking Bad is obviously fictional and dramatized, the Australian series Underbelly is much more true to life. When I got sucked into a life of crime, I would hear stories about the actions of Carl Williams, Mick Gatto or Lewis Moran, the kingpins of the Melbourne underworld. At the time, I thought it was the typical meth-fuelled bullshit that I heard every day. Then, when I watched the series, I realised it had all been true. I even knew some of the characters from my kick-boxing days and once fought on the same card as Benji Veniamin. Who knows? Some of these guys could have been pulling the strings when I was shot and stabbed in my factory. My co-author of Breaking Good thinks we should create a TV series around my story and, considering my frame, suggested we call it Overbelly. No-one likes a wise guy!
"Who knows? Some of these guys could have been pulling the strings when I was shot and stabbed in my factory."
Before I tried meth for the first time, I was drawn – perhaps tellingly – to films about addiction to money and power. Scarface was my favourite. Al Pacino’s character, Tony Montana, rises from being a Cuban refugee with nothing to a powerful drug lord. I’ll never forget that final scene where, having been shot, Montana’s corpse falls into a fountain in front of a statue with the inscription “The world is yours”.
More recently, I enjoyed the John Wick films, American Made with Tom Cruise and the TV series Sons of Anarchy. I may have left the world of bikies, drugs, guns and women behind, but that outlaw lifestyle will always be fascinating.
And I also enjoyed the Netflix series Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons. I know presenter Raphael Rowe and I take my hat off to him for going into these places voluntarily, having been wrongly imprisoned himself. The series shows the massive range of ways that countries approach their penal systems. Norway, for instance, is all about rehabilitation. Russia and the US are more about out-and-out punishment. But in countries like Brazil or Columbia, the prisons are almost like self-enclosed cities, with the hierarchy built around control of the black market. I found prison to be hell-on-earth, but Australia’s prisons are like palaces in comparison.
If I was to recommend a show that warns people away from crystal meth? That’s got to be Netflix’s The Tiger King. Some crazy shit happens when this drug takes control.
Simon Fenech is the author of Breaking Good: A harrowing journey to ice-fuelled hell and back (Echo Publishing $29.99) now available at all good bookstores.
Grab a copy of the latest Penthouse here.