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How getting arrested and going to jail helped 1 young man turn his life around

Today Doug Bopst is a fitness trainer helping other people on the road to recovery.
/ Source: TODAY

Doug Bopst remembers the moment his life changed forever. He was 21 years old, high on opiates, and driving a car with a broken taillight, on his way to make a drug deal.

Then he saw a police officer.

"Everything just kind of froze," Bopst, now 31, told TODAY. "And my anxiety was through the roof."

The officer found $2,000 in cash and a half of pound of marijuana hidden under the spare tire in his trunk. Bopst was arrested on a felony drug charge and served just over two months in jail — certainly not the harshest punishment as far as drug sentences go, but plenty of time for Bopst to sober up, get in shape and decide that he wanted a new life path.

"If I hadn't gotten arrested, I'd be dead," said Bopst, who lives in Timonium, Maryland. "It was just a really, really bad time in my life."

Bopst, now a fitness trainer who often works with other other people in recovery, struggled with depression and anxiety as a teenager and used drugs to self-medicate, he said. He was apathetic about maintaining relationships with anyone who didn't use drugs, and cared little about his health.

fitness trainer Doug Bopst
Doug Bopst before he was arrested.Courtesy of Doug Bopst

"I was smoking well over a pack of cigarettes a day," he said. "I was snorting several hundred milligrams of OxyContin every day. A regular meal for me would be going to a pizza shop, getting a foot-long cheesesteak and a couple slices of pizza."

"I was the unhealthiest person you could possibly think of," Bopst continued. "Never exercised. Never ran. Never cared, you know, what I looked like. I mean, deep down, I did. But I felt so hopeless about myself and had no self-confidence and I didn't even think anything really mattered, that anything I did even mattered."

In jail, he had no choice but to quit drugs cold turkey — a detox he remembers as incredibly painful.

"It feels like you're trying to crawl out of your own skin," he said. "You're vomiting regularly. You're going to the bathroom regularly. You've got stuff coming out of you. You don't know where it's coming from. You feel like a zombie, almost. A lot of pain. A lot of aches. A lot of anxiety because for me, I was self-medicating with the opiates."

It was his cellmate who inspired him to start working out.

"He's climbing the bars in there, doing a million pushups a day and all kinds of ab stuff," Bopst said.

"I remember getting down to do a push-up from my knees and I couldn't do it, and I could barely hold myself up," he said. "I looked at him. I'm like, 'Dude.' And he's like, 'You're fat, Doug. You're fat.' While that might not resonate with a lot of people, for me, I didn't like being called fat. ... That just really struck a nerve in me, and I wanted to do better."

Doug Bopst fitness trainer
Bopst with his mother at his high school graduation.Courtesy of Doug Bopst

With his cellmate's help, Bopst set a goal: He wanted to be able to run one mile without stopping and do ten pushups in a row by the time he got out of jail. When he was released in December 2008, on the day after Christmas, his cellmate gave him a handwritten workout plan to follow.

"He trained me every day when I was in there," Bopst said. "I left with more self-confidence, more self-esteem. And fitness was a big part of that. And also that fact that somebody had unconditionally helped me was something that I really appreciated."

He stuck to the plan and lost 50 pounds. While Bopst has since lost touch with that cellmate, he keeps the workout plan framed in his apartment. And now Bopst is spreading the message and helping other people get clean and use fitness as a positive force.

He's also written a book about his experience, "From Felony to Fitness to Free," and is currently working on a second book.

Doug Bopst fitness trainer
Today Bopst is a fitness trainer near Baltimore, Maryland.TODAY

"I'm thankful every day," he said. "I mean, I honestly didn't think I was going to live to see my 25th birthday, let alone 31 that I am today. It really breaks my heart to see the amount of kids that go down the same rabbit hole I did and that's why I feel it's my mission to be open and share my story and help as many people as I can. To help encourage them to get and stay sober in whatever way works for them."

He suspects that for many people struggling with addiction, fitness could be that way that works.

"Aside from the physical benefits, fitness can help you in so many other ways — mentally, emotionally, spiritually," he said. "You feel better about yourself. You have improved self-esteem. You have more confidence. You have more energy."

"And the ability to be dedicated to something is huge not just in recovery, but in life," he continued. "Knowing that you're going to go to the gym at X time on these days and knowing that you're going to eat these certain foods on these days."

For anyone who might be in the same position he was all those years ago, Bopst has some advice.

"You've got to keep putting one foot in front of the other," he said. "Just keep focusing on the little things that are going to allow you to become that version of yourself that you really want to be."