Joe Terborg knows firsthand the damage crystal methamphetamine can do to one's life: He did a dozen years in prison because of the drug. While Terborg's history with meth isn't particularly unusual — casual use led to addiction, which led to dealing, which led to a series of progressively harsher prison terms — his post-incarceration story serves as a testament to the power of faith, love, and heavy metal to change one man's life and possibly even save the lives of others.
"I started doing drugs at 8," Terborg says. "Back in the '70s, it was a normal thing — mom was a hippie, dad was a biker. You didn't think about drugs as a bad thing. Everybody did it. When I hit about 19, 20, I started using cocaine, and when I hit 29, I was introduced to meth. From that point on in my life, I never did any other drug. I got three terms in prison, 12 years out of that. It was a lifelong incarceration over what? A drug addiction? Are you kidding me? I went in as a bright-eyed little kid and came out a big scary guy."
As an air-conditioning repairman, tattoo artist, and husband, Terborg has found personal and financial stability after prison. As the lead singer of local metal band Beyond Our Recognitions of God (BORG) and the founder of Dads Against Meth Use (DAMU), he has found his passion. When a member of his band was stabbed in the neck outside a show recently, ostensibly because of DAMU's message, he found a little notoriety, too.
Terborg and BORG's guitarist, Waylon Wood, met in 2007 after Wood posted a Craigslist ad about starting a band. They recruited drummer Matt James, who eventually suggested his brother, Chris, as a bassist. When Matt left for a tour of duty in Afghanistan, they auditioned several drummers before settling on Jon Landato to complete the band's current lineup. Although Terborg is nearly 20 years older than his bandmates, the four share a common passion for metal and a common disdain for meth, which ultimately led to the formation of DAMU.
Terborg, his band and his wife/manager, Ginger Brunson, started DAMU (pronounced "damn you") in 2008 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with the goal of keeping kids off meth and educating both kids and parents about the drug's dangers.
"We were doing fundraisers at our shows for the Child Crisis Center [in Mesa], and then we realized that there was a bigger need there," Brunson says. "The reason there were so many children at the Child Crisis Center was having to do with this meth problem in our state."
It wasn't hard to get the other band members on board.
"My dad basically did meth most of my childhood. He died of meth in 2004. He was clean and sober for two years, but he had heart issues, and meth doesn't add years to your life, know what I mean?" Wood says. "So we were talking about it for a while and we just decided to launch it."
BORG's crusade against meth took an even more personal turn after a recent show when Landato was stabbed in the neck, allegedly by Darrell Robertson, whom the band described at the time as a "crazed junkie." As originally reported by Martin Cizmar in the New Times music blog, Up on the Sun, Robertson threw a rock through an open window in the band's van, which led to an altercation between Robertson and the band. According to Mesa police, Robertson pulled a knife and made a "slashing motion," hitting Landato.
"The blood was going down my throat and out of my wound, so I started puking profusely, just nothing but blood," Landato says. "My friend, she was just sitting there, covered with blood. I kept telling her, 'Tell my kids I love them; tell my kids I love them,' 'cause with all the blood that I was losing, I seriously thought that I was going to die."
Fortunately, the knife missed major arteries and Landato made a full recovery. It was the kind of brush with death that often leads people to embrace religion, but despite their vaguely religious name and anti-drug stance, the members of BORG say they're not a Christian band.
"It's metal with a message," says James. "That's pretty much what we try to go by. It's not so much Christian. It's not so much anything. It's just positive . . . The main importance, the main goal of why we play music is so that your fans relate, that everybody can relate to what you're talking about, whether it be drug addiction or prison or loneliness or depression or whatever it is, it's being able to relate. That's what metal with a message is — being able to relate to the music and have some kind of understanding and connection with the band that's playing the music."
Although Terborg and wife Brunson identify themselves as Christians, Wood says, the band name represents more of an existential question.
"God means a lot of things to a lot of different people," Wood says. "Speaking for myself, I don't necessarily believe in God as a bearded man in the sky, but I do believe in a higher power, as far as something that gives life, whether it's the energy of the sun or some sort of spirituality, or just energy, whatever it is, I believe in that . . . The reason why we picked Beyond Our Recognitions of God is because it's just what it means. It's beyond our recognitions. No one really understands it, other than crazy people who say they spoke to God. No one knows for sure, so it's beyond our recognitions of it. It's whatever it means to you."
In contrast to the thousands of unsigned bands hoping to land a record contract, BORG envisions a slightly different path to success. Brunson would like to see a reality TV show developed around the band. She envisions a camera crew following BORG on tour, with each stop featuring a BORG gig, free ink from tattoo artists Wood and Terborg, and local and national celebrities providing "testimonies" on the dangers of meth use.
"Honestly, in this day and age, they're not really signing a lot of [bands] anyway, so if you want to become famous, you need to find another way to do it," Brunson says. "So we thought that, because we do a lot more — I mean, we would love to sign a record deal and go on tour. Which band wouldn't? — but we thought another way for us to get the word out and have our band get noticed and maybe take it to the next level would be another direction, so that's why we're trying different avenues."
Terborg would love to see the reality show idea pan out, but he sounds like a man who has already accomplished more than he ever expected to, especially considering his rocky past.
"I've had parole officers tell me 'You know, it's just odd that you would do 12 years in prison, and get out and get a $100,000 a year job. How in the heck did you do that?' I say to them: In 12 years, I got nine college degrees, and they were all free, so I took full advantage of it. But the bottom line is, when I go back to the parole office next week, I'm gonna tell them 'Hey, what's going on, guys? I've got my own air-conditioning business. I came out and got into an air-conditioning business. Now I own my own. Now we have this nonprofit foundation and this hellacious metal band that's out there layin' it down and preachin'.' It's awesome. These are my dreams come true."