Counterfeiter finds value in God (video)
Written by Craig Dirkes, writer/photographer for The Salvation Army Northern Division
Jason Roberts used to fund his meth addiction by printing millions of dollars worth of fake cash and traveler’s checks. He made a fortune selling the bogus money for 20 or 30 cents on the dollar.
“I taught myself how to make (the money) with an ink-jet printer and a color laser printer,” said Roberts, 37, a lifelong Minnesotan. “I’ve always been a computer guy.”
Federal authorities arrested him in 2005 when he was trying to sell nearly $450,000 worth of phony money for $80,000. He was sent to prison for almost four years, convicted of printing a total of $4.3 million worth of counterfeit money over the years.
After Roberts was released in 2009, he became addicted to heroin and would spend the next five years in and out of jail and prison.
“I couldn’t be on the streets for more than a week without getting arrested,” he said. “I wasn’t a very good criminal.”
In 2015, he finally found something he was good at: loving God. The two met at The Salvation Army Rehabilitation Center in Minneapolis (pictured), where Roberts spent six months getting clean, reading the Bible, and developing lifelong friendships.
Today, Roberts has a new and beautiful life after graduating from the center about a year ago.
Roberts’ problems started when he was a little boy.
At 4 years old, he watched his mom die of a brain aneurism on Christmas Eve. She was 33.
“I can’t remember much from when I was 4, but I remember that,” said Roberts, who grew up in North Minneapolis. “I remember it vividly.”
His problems got worse at age 7, when his dad remarried. His new stepmom was cruel and abusive to him.
“She’d wake me up and beat me,” recalled Roberts, whose three older siblings went untouched. “She’d put her cigarettes out on my hands. Nobody knew about it.”
One night, Roberts’ brother caught their stepmom in the act of abusing him. Roberts’ dad found out and divorced her.
“At age 13, I weighed 350 pounds,” Roberts said. “At 18, I weighed 450 pounds (pictured). I’d make four or five sloppy joes, cover them in cheese, and eat, eat, eat.”
His high school classmates made fun of him for his weight, which drove him to eat even more. Despite being a straight-A student, he felt so ashamed of his appearance that he left high school early and obtained a GED age waiver.
Medicating the pain
By the time Roberts reached his early 20s, he had obtained an associate’s degree in computer technology. He began working for a major credit card company while living with his dad in Minneapolis.
One day, his eating disorder gave way to a new addiction.
“This guy I worked with was always so energetic and amped up, so I asked him how he got all his energy,” Roberts recalled. “He introduced me to meth, and once I started, it was love at first sight.”
He began using meth every single day. Before long, he quit his job.
“Going to work became too much of a hassle,” he said.
To earn money, he began shoplifting and selling drugs. He went on to create the counterfeit money operation that led to him spending almost four years in prison.
“The drugs eased my pain,” Roberts said. “I had never dealt with the pain and abuse of my past. That’s why so many people use drugs. It’s not a chemical problem – it’s an emotional problem.”
Sadly, Roberts’ dad died just before he was released from prison. Without a support system, Roberts dealt with the pain of losing his father by drinking heavily.
Eventually, the alcohol wasn’t enough and Roberts turned to heroin. He would spend the next five years in and out of jail or prison for stealing and drug-related crimes.
“I’d steal from stores,” Roberts said. “I’d steal whatever I had to. I’d run out of the fire exit with a bin full of stuff.”
By 2015, he’d reached the end of himself. He was facing another four years of prison in Anoka County, plus almost two years in Dakota County. In a last-ditch effort, a judge agreed to allow Roberts to enter The Salvation Army Rehabilitation Center in Minneapolis.
“I’d found out about the place from my brother,” Roberts said. “He used to be on heroin. He graduated from the center in 2013 and had been sober ever since. I saw the success he had and I wanted to try. I was at the end.”
Roberts arrived at The Salvation Army Rehabilitation Center on July 31, 2015.
“I got down on my knees and surrendered to God,” he said. “I was ready and willing to do whatever it took.”
The center provides mostly-free residential treatment services for up to 130 men like Roberts. The men receive six to 12 months of food, housing, counseling, and spiritual support, all of which is funded by sales at Salvation Army Stores.
Roberts took the program seriously, worked hard, and prayed.
In the end, he succeeded.
“God took away my obsession for drugs,” said Roberts, who graduated from the program on Feb. 7, 2016. “He’s been giving me an abundance of life ever since.”
Today, Roberts works as a donation-truck dispatcher for The Salvation Army’s nine metro area stores.
“I’ve taken dispatching to a whole new art form,” he said proudly. “I use my computer background to manipulate the truck routes. I’m like an air traffic controller, but on the ground.”
When Roberts isn’t at work, he mentors men enrolled at the rehabilitation center. In addition, he talks with his own sponsor every single day.
“Two years ago, I never imagined I’d be living a normal life, saving money, taking care of my credit,” Roberts said. “The Salvation Army saved my life. They gave me the opportunity to find out what Christ has had in store for me, and they’ve given me the resources I need to live a sober, happy life.”