Kei Ochiai is a rag-and-bone man for the Kanto region. He drives his small truck through neighborhoods in Tokyo and Yokohama, circling the areas while sounding his pitch with a loudspeaker: "Furniture, bikes, fridges, anything big and heavy, I'll take it." His jovial demeanor instantly wins him hearts and lots of business. He helps people get rid of the things that they would otherwise find difficult to throw out. As he flexes his communication skills — along with his arm muscles — he's straightforward about his colorful past that has included both great hardship and high points. He's suffered drug abuse, been to parties in Ginza clubs, worked as a member of the yakuza — and has even spent time in prison. Twenty years ago he finally made a clean break from crime and has been on the right track ever since.

A good upbringing does not guarantee a life of decency. Once the environment changes, so do people. My parents were the most honest and hardworking folks I know. My father was an executive and my mother was sweet and elegant. I was spoiled with love and gifts. How did I end up in a gang? Although my home environment was good, the bad outside influences won me over. I touched drugs. That was my undoing.

Drugs will ruin even the best life. And they'll do it very quickly. Even trying it just once can turn you into an addict. Trust me, I know. I was 19 and had money to blow. Tragically, I tried kakuseizai (methamphetamine), a drug so powerful that I got hooked immediately. I lied to everyone about my habit. By the time I turned 25, my wife had left me and I knew that I would either die or end up in prison. I had to quit. But no matter how many times I tried, I couldn't give up the habit. I heard that some yakuza groups didn't touch drugs. I figured that if I joined their ranks, I'd be saved. In a way, I was.