Wheeler paints a vivid scene of his buddies spiriting him out the back door of the UTC student center incognito to avoid the campus and city cops staking out his car, which they knew from an informant had dope in its trunk. Despite that narrow escape, expulsion soon followed and Wheeler went on to become a major player in the Southeastern drug trade.
Both Griscom and Wheeler graduated from Chattanooga to conservative national politics. While Wheeler was distributing cocaine, Griscom was serving as press secretary for then-U.S. Sen. Howard Baker and later as communications director for President Ronald Reagan. Wheeler eventually made it to conservative D.C., too, after detouring through three jail terms, more than a few years as a wanted fugitive and an unfinished assignment as ghost writer for a self-described “mafia whore.”
Looking back in print 30 years later, Wheeler doesn’t exactly wallow in what he has now left behind. From the first page it’s clear that he’s putting some distance into his you-are-there retelling. But there’s not a bit of preaching while he’s telling tales on his earlier self. He takes the reader vividly through some harrowing experiences, as seen from his catbird seat at the epicenter of late-70’s drug culture—and in the cross hairs of every level of law enforcement.
After many recounted episodes of dealing, doping and carnal congress, Wheeler’s bumpy road to Damascus begins with some spontaneous and heartfelt appeals to God, even while he remained deeply embedded in a drug-fueled career as a bigtime coke dealer. This nascent religious awakening helps him make it through—barely—what he sees even 30 years later as a satanic encounter, even though he admits there was a lot of “rocket fuel” (25 percent PCP, 75 percent cocaine) in his system at the time. Were the neighbors at his safe house trying to kill him? Was he trying to throw his girlfriend off a bridge, or was she really the devil?
His final conversion comes a few weeks later. He’s gotten out of the mental hospital he checked himself into to avoid an involuntary commitment after the bridge episode, but he’s still in “the life.”
“I got saved down in Miami in a biker’s duplex with a chopper sittin’ in the living room and a naked go-go girl on the couch beside me, all the drugs spread out on the table, and a picture of the devil on the wall. That was March 18, 1981,” Wheeler said.
After his conversion, facing federal gun charges, he stares down the temptation to let his Colombian cartel amigos make the legal problems go away. Instead he stays clean and argues his case in court.
“Thanksgiving 1982, I was standing before a federal judge in Norfolk [Va.]. Every lawyer had told me. ‘It’s impossible; you’re going to federal prison.’ The judge stopped the witness on the way to the [witness] stand, halted the proceedings and said, ‘I don’t know why I’m doing this, but I’m going to let you go. I’m going to give you probation.’ If that’s not God, I don’t know what is.”
Ten years later Wheeler made it to Washington, D.C.
“Flash forward to 1992, August. I’m driving my own car through Secret Service security clearance at the White House to walk inside and interview Vice President Dan Quayle” as the founding editor of the Christian American, a national newspaper published by Pat Robertson of The 700 Club. “God did that, I didn’t,” he said.
“What happened to put me in that mental hospital and what happened as a result of that—which brought me to that deliverance moment in Miami—that’s the whole reason the books were written. Everything else is back story,” he said.
“It’s a long story. Some of it is degenerate. A lot of it makes me look kind of foolish,” Wheeler said. “If I were going to portray myself as a hero, I probably didn’t do a very good job, because I did a lot of stupid things. Most of them are right there in the book.”
He’s been gratified by response to the books at book-signings last year and at his 45th reunions at the three high schools he attended: Baylor, Brainerd and Central.
“Some people think it’s reprehensible, some people are scandalized,” he said. “One pastor told me that it was a celebration of carnality and I should repent and take the books off the market. Four of five pastors that I’ve talked to about it disagreed with that.”
For more information or to purchase Wheeler’s books, visit cadillac-dave.com.