I knocked nervously on the door of the high-rise condo.
I was late, to my dismay, despite leaving 45 minutes prior to our scheduled interview to drive the 12 miles from Hollywood to Santa Monica — a reminder from L.A. traffic that leaving on time means you're already late. But my tensions quickly subsided when the door opened and a smiling Garrain Jones, decked out in full Herbalife paraphernalia, pulled me into a tight hug as if we were old friends before giving me a tour of his $3 million home, just steps away from the beach.
“You can't live in your car for two and a half years and not care whether you live or die, and four years later be a millionaire and part of the two percent wealthiest in the world as an African-American man by accident," he says to me before getting settled at the dining room table.
And just like that, I'm reminded that I'm not just here for an interview, I'm also here for my own breakthrough.
Photo Credit: Kiah McBride
Growing up Garrain had an idea of what he wanted to do, and it wasn't working a typical nine to five job. He had a passion for running, something that started when his legs carried him from a walk into a full-blown dash at seven-months-old. He loved the arts, whether he was singing to himself in the mirror or sketching in his notepad. And he had this knack for giving great advice even at seven-years-old, though he wasn't quite sure at the time what that meant in regards to his future. But before he had the chance to turn those passions into paychecks, he stopped listening to his instincts, and started feeding into the idea that he needed a more stable career.
"I would hear people say, 'go get a real job,' so I'm listening to what everybody else is saying but myself," he says. "I stopped running. I stopped doing my art. I stopped singing. I stopped giving people advice, and I stopped giving. So in the act of doing all of that, now I'm just trying to do what everyone else is doing. Meanwhile, I have something on the inside of me saying, 'no, do this!'"
Like many, Jones spent his younger years conforming to an environment that didn't motivate or uplift him. His father — a drug dealer living in the 3rd ward of Houston, TX — was murdered when he was 12. His mother, taking on the role of mother and father, lacked the affection needed for her two sons. So Garrain turned to a life of petty crime — breaking into cars and houses, even doing a stint in stripping at the age of 17. The following year he found himself in a prison in France for drug smuggling with a twelve-year sentence hanging over his head. He didn't think he was getting out, but life had another plan for him.
His consulate handed him the The Power of Positive Thinking, which he studied intensely and began applying the principles to his own life. Before long, he was getting back to doing the things that he loved as a kid: running, sketching, singing, inspiring. "All of a sudden the other prisoners started running. I didn't know I was adding value, but there was nobody smoking, there was nobody stabbing each other, there was nobody fighting, so I didn't know that by doing what I love, I was bringing joy and adding value to an environment."
Photo Credit: Kiah McBride
"I didn't know that by doing what I love, I was bringing joy and adding value to an environment."
Bringing joy to those battling their own emotional demons gave him a sense of purpose, and eventually convinced the powers that be that he was worthy of a second chance. Two years into his sentence, he was released. The drugs that he was caught smuggling turned out to be fake. "I'd seen the test," says Jones, his brown eyes wide as if still in disbelief. "“They tested it three times; I saw the paper. But all of a sudden when I'm positive — despite what was going on in my life; despite not feeling like I'm ever going to get out — I still chose positivity."
While in prison, he had made a promise to himself and to his half-brother — comedian DeRay Davis — that when he got out, he would go hard for his music. “DeRay was like, you want to do music right? So you'll have all of your bills paid for, rent free, I'll get you some clothes, food, everything paid for. Only don't come home unless you have a song."
With no connections to the industry, he got to work with hitting up producers on MySpace for records. By the end of 30 days he had enough music to make an album, and he was on his way to L.A.
It was just five years ago that Jones — who then went by “Steph" — was one of the R&B crooners next up to blow. After a chance meeting with Disturbing tha Peace (DTP) label owner, Ludacris, he secured a recording contract with the record company and began penning tracks for big artists, all while maintaining a public relationship with American Idol winner Jordin Sparks. But in private, the very thing that he thought he wanted became the source of his suffering. The contracts he signed (and didn't sign) kept him from padding his pockets, and after his departure from the label for creative differences, he was left with the car that he purchased with his advance money and $357,000 of debt.
“People thought I was doing really well, and I was good at fronting like I was doing really well. Meanwhile, I was dying on the inside. So I still had stuff going on that made it look like things were popping, and I hated my life."
As if things couldn't get any worse, he was pulled over by a cop for having a suspended license and expired registration, just steps away from the courthouse. They took his car and left him and his five white trash bags full of clothes on the side of the road, despite that he was on his way to pay for said parking tickets. "In that moment I asked, 'God, why am I here? All of these people think I'm something and I'm just lying through my teeth.'" He says as he leans forward and looks at me intently. "I was so good at making things seem like everything was all peachy, but deep down inside when nobody was around and I looked in the mirror and the truth showed up, I wasn't good."
“I was so good at making things seem like everything was all peachy, but deep down inside when nobody was around and I looked in the mirror and the truth showed up, I wasn't good."
His mom wired him the money to get his car back, and that same day someone broke into it. "I remember that night I laid down in the middle of the road, and I wished that a car would run me over," he says. "I prayed for a car to run me over."
Instead of letting suicide be the end of his story, he got up, drove to the parking lot of the Mail and More on the corner of Hollywood and La Brea, and broke down in prayer. "I'd always been focused on what I didn't want, and when you focus on what you don't want, you'll attract that in your life. And I never said exactly what I wanted, but this time I did something different."
He threw his hands in the air and screamed out animatedly the specifics of his prayer: happiness, healthiness, positivity, inspiration, and getting paid to do something he'd do for free. "Silence," he says, finishing with a dramatic pause. "I'd never cried out like I'd cried before. And I gave everything in crying out."
He didn't hear from God that day, but a week later while at the gas station he ran into a homeless guy peddling for change who said to him "change your mindset, change your life" before walking away.
It's the same words that are now artistically framed on his living room wall, and that inspired the title of his forthcoming book. "I never had a set of words stop me in my tracks. Everything I'd ever learned — all the stuff that my mom taught me and my dad taught me — it stopped everything that I'd learned in it's tracks. It interrupted my thought process and made me think, so if I do the opposite of everything that I normally do, my life will change."
Photo Credit: Kiah McBride
He did an overhaul on his life, from his mentality to his poor decision-making with relationships. He started getting back to the things that he loved as a kid, that he was once told weren't realistic enough to pursue as a career. To this day, he believes that it's what we're taught from childhood that prevents us from living the life that we're destined for. He details, "Imagine a world full of people that are stuck in their patterns because of how they're raised — because every adult that you've come in contact with, every decision that they make and everything that they do, the way their life is played out is based on a set of decisions that they made when they were five or six-years-old that manifested in who they are today. I, in that moment, decided to break all of those agreements and do something different."
Photo Credit: Kiah McBride
It was while exercising his mental shift that he came across Herbalife, a multi-level marketing corporation that recruits “coaches" to sell nutrition and weight loss products. It wasn't quite the answer he was looking for when he shouted his prayer in the Mail and More parking lot, but it turned out to be just what he needed to take his motivational message of positivity and empowerment — and, of course, health and fitness — to a broader audience. Suddenly, the guy who had hardly two pennies to rub together was raking it in by the thousands.
"I would attract other people that were already in my life that just wanted to live a better quality of life, those people that wanted to be a part of my business that already had all of this money in the world but they didn't have themselves. When they saw me genuinely happy, genuinely able to make a difference in my personal friends and family's lives, that was a different conversation. From there, I was able to build massive successful leaders, not just in the company, but in their communities, based off of the philosophies and principals that I would learn from what I was reading."
Today, Jones is traveling the world sharing his story of going from homeless to Herbalife, and inspiring even the youngest of listeners to not allow their childhood dreams to be deferred by their circumstances or the people in their lives.
"This is a three-year-old of someone I didn't know but I had affected. I built a relationship with a complete stranger and their entire family in Virginia," says Garrain, picking up his iPhone. He scrolls through his photo album for a minute before stopping on a video of a blond-haired little girl named Calli. "I went to visit them and stayed two weeks in Virginia, just spending time with the family and everything, and their daughter comes into my room at five in the morning, saying something that I taught her mom, so it's also affecting children."
In the video Garrain asks Calli what she says to herself before going to bed every night. With just a moment of hesitation she goes into her monologue. "I'm a champion. I'm a winner. I'm powerful. I'm strong…I'm a winner. I make things happen. That's what I say when I go to bed," she says, proudly fingering her curls.
Garrain looks back at me with a knowing smile. "God is like, you've found your sweet spot just keep going. And I have all of these gifts that I give away." He stretches his arms out wide. "I'm stimulated everyday just from watching people change their lives. I wake up at 4:30 every single morning, and I'm just on fire for life knowing that I'm in purpose — on purpose — teaching other people how to be able to harness their gifts and their skills and give that away. It's like the most beautiful thing watching somebody transform into something that their soul has literally had the platform for since the day that they were born."
"I'm a transformation collector," he continues. "That's my thing, and for some reason God is like you get it my son, here's more. You need money to do this? Here are more opportunities; have as much money as you want. I just want to show people that they can have that if they want it."
At the end of our interview he goes into his kitchen, which looks like a personal Herbalife store, and makes me a cookies and cream shake. "Drink this," he says, placing the cup in front of me.
But after hearing his story and soaking up his words of wisdom, I'm already full.