Rising from Rock Bottom
Cameron Douglas in his own words

Cameron Douglas – the son of Michael, grandson of Kirk – has walked a long road. Born into Hollywood royalty, this third-generation actor’s career was sidelined by addiction-fueled destructive behaviors that left him behind bars for 7 years.

Last month, SJ Magazine’s Marianne Aleardi spoke virtually with him about his new book, “A Long Way Home,” for the Katz JCC Festival of Arts, Books & Culture. In this excerpt from their conversation, Douglas, 41, details the wild ride that led him to prison, and how he turned around the mess he made of his life.

Cameron Douglas talks to Marianne Aleardi on Zoom


The first thing you learn when dealing with the Bureau of Prisons is that you take common sense and you throw it right out the window. That’s the first thing. Our prisons are built to break people down. It’s not about redemption – I had to find my own way.

Being Michael Douglas’ son is the only life I’ve ever known. My family has always been supportive, but my father wasn’t home much, and my mother had me at 19, so she still had a lot of growing up to do herself. We all feel pressure growing up, but I always felt that I needed to stand out a little bit more than anybody else. Sometimes that manifested in negative ways.

At one point, my dad said to me that he was preparing himself for the potential reality that I was not going to make it or that I was going to do something that would have put me in prison for the rest of my life. I remember feeling betrayed. I remember feeling like I thought he had given up on me.

I once went to rehab for a heroin addiction I didn’t have at the time. I told my family I was addicted to heroin because I thought that gave me an excuse for my behavior. I just ended up getting high off the recovery drugs. An addict has to want to get better. If they don’t, there’s no magic place that you can go to, no amount of love and caring that will help.

At a certain point, you have to let that person find their way. Some people never do.

I was arrested in 2019 for selling meth, transporting it and shipping it from California to New York. I was indicted for a methamphetamine and cocaine conspiracy. I was set up in a DEA sting – a cooperator that I had known for years gave them my name.

When I was arrested, they wanted me to cooperate. I had a serious heroin habit, so I was in this holding cell for hours getting dope sick. My statement was just lies, but I got time off my sentence. They asked me to name names. I refused, and they gave me back my time. Not that I regret it. I got myself into this mess, and I needed to get myself out without bringing other people into the fold.

I started at a minimum-security prison and diligently worked my way up from minimum to low- to medium- and then high-security. That’s where I ended up doing most of my time. I was constantly in trouble. I spent 2 years in solitary confinement. I lost visiting privileges with friends for 4 years and privileges with my immediate family for 2 years.

Two years into my sentence, I went in front of the judge because I was found with heroin, and suddenly my sentence went from 5 to 10 years. I felt something inside of me sort of breaking, something shattering.

The judge was so angry – and this was the judge in the Southern District of Manhattan, where all the biggest mob bosses were prosecuted.

I knew there were only 2 paths for me: One I likely wouldn’t have made it home from. The other path allowed me to take back a little of my freedom. I promised myself that I would make each day count toward a fruitful life.

I developed a strict curriculum. I exercised, meditated, wrote and read 3 books at a time – a self-help book, a classic and a beach read. Without sounding cliché, I really stuck to that for emotional and mental survival.

The last time I used was in 2016. I was in the joint, and I had just got to a point where it didn’t fit in with the direction that I was going. When you’re in prison, everyone is looking for a way to take the edge off. It was the last thing I was holding onto. But it just got to the point where I couldn’t look myself in the mirror anymore.

There’s a lot of stereotypes about prisoners, and some are true. But a lot of what you don’t hear about is that there’s just regular men and women who made bad decisions and are now trying to make it through.

When I got out, I thought I was going to slide back into life and never miss a beat. I thought my acting career was going to go through the roof and everything was going to be amazing. But then I was released and I certainly wasn’t the same person I was when I went in. It took some time for me to find my stride.

Now, I’m living in LA with my partner Viviane and our 2-year-old daughter Lua. I’m in touch with friends I made in prison. A lot of them are doing fantastic. You develop a special kind of bond when you go through that kind of stuff with people. You see people at their best and their worst, and you’re there for each other.

I don’t regret any of it. I feel like we all have a path, a journey that we need to take for whatever reason. The idea is to evolve through the journey so we can accomplish what we’re here to accomplish.

January 2021
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