Frankly, it’s impossible to watch the television phenomenon “Cops” and not be intrigued. The audience is captured by the thrill of watching police tackle and serve justice to no-good low-lives. We get a certain satisfaction from seeing our tax dollars at work, keeping the streets of this great nation safe. And there’s no doubt: everyone likes watching criminals get busted.
The image that greeted Kristine Haenschke’s sophomore English class on Feb. 4 — Don Hashima, a benign-looking Asian man in his early fifties, reclining on her sky blue couch — is not one which would immediately recall a “Cops” episode. It was soon revealed, though, that Hashima had more in common with those “low-lives” than any student could have anticipated.
Haenschke, after reading a “Los Angeles Times” article that focused on how Hashima’s previous drug addiction has prompted his prevention counseling efforts, found him on Facebook and urged him to come speak to her English classes. She felt his knowledge and personal experiences would benefit her students especially because of statistics showing the rise of marijuana smoking among American teens.
“Don has a lot of ‘street cred…’ and he totally breaks the stereotype of the model minority Asian,” Haenschke said.
To the class’s surprise, Hashima was an expunged two-strike offender with a history of hardcore drug addiction, “gang-banging,” commercial burglary and supplying crack cocaine for the East Coast Crips. He stood comfortably in front of the class and spoke candidly : “My name is Don Hashima and I’m an addict.” He then began recalling stories from his past.
“[In high school] I would wake up smoking weed. I’d walk to school smoking weed … I was high as a kite every day,” Hashima said.
Hashima’s drug addiction led into run-ins with the law. After his multiple imprisonments, Hashima was left to sleep and “shoot dope” on Skid Row, a place he has found himself both sober and “high as a kite.”
“[When I got out of prison], all I knew was hanging out with gangsters and picking up hookers,” he said.
But gang life was difficult for him. “I wasn’t even a good gangster. My friends were good gangsters. I held the dope and looked like the innocent Asian guy, but I was still a bad-ass,” Hashima said, chuckling heartily with the class at his use of profanity.
Students in the class were intrigued by Hashima’s presentation and his inspirational story.
“I’m a straight-edge; I don’t do drugs and I’m not in a gang, but I was still interested in what Don had to say … I really think Samo kids could learn a lot from him,” sophomore Makenna Dano said.
As his gang endeavors escalated, matters only got worse for Hashima. Hashima was pulled over for an illegal U-turn while driving after being up for five days cooking crack cocaine.
“LAPD pulled up right behind me and I said, ‘See ya,’ and I led them on a 25-minute chase. I had two ounces of crack cocaine on my lap and I was throwing it out the window,” he recalled.
Hashima was later caught, booked and sentenced to three years in the state penitentiary for possession and evading.
“When you’d see this guy, you’d never guess the he had cooked crack. He was just more proof that people aren’t always what they seem,” sophomore Anthony Salazar said.
Ironically, both luckily and unluckily for Hashima, his entire pursuit had been filmed and featured on the popular television show “Cops,” without his consent. In turn, his father won a lawsuit against FOX networks for it.
After getting his act together with help from a mentor, Hashima, at age 38, went back to school and got a degree for substance abuse counseling. His life serves as an important lesson that regardless of one’s past, one can always turn their life around. Hashima now works for Los Angeles county in the mental health department, counseling numerous foster care kids, mostly ages 13-17, who are going through experiences similar to his own.
“I went through an entire year of Freshmen Seminar and no speaker or lesson was as interesting as when Don came to talk to us,” sophomore Tara Griffith said.
Students found Hashima’s own experiences made him a great counselor and guest speaker because of his honesty and genuineness — qualities, they believe, that are hard to find among adults. Hashima is realistic about the everyday risks faced by students.
“[Doing drugs is] up to you. It’s like rolling a die. You never know if you’re going to get addicted or not,” Hashima said.