From Ditch-Dweller to Industry Diamond: The Jeff Welch StoryMay 31st, 2023 by Chris Collier
Jeff Welch snorted his first line of cocaine in a tent under the stars at Talladega Superspeedway in 1995. He was 21 and his initial deep-dive into darkness was a hazardous leap that lead to two-decades-worth of consequences.
Those struggles, however, were not without their rewards. Today, Welch is a successful owner of a Georgia window film company. His story is a prime example of how the road to recovery is paved with perseverance.
Sweat and Sunlight
“We all used to go to the racetrack,” Welch says. “We would get there on Thursday and camp until Sunday or Monday. We stayed there getting drunk the whole time. My cousin showed up with some cocaine. We were smoking some pot and drinking and along comes this plate with a straw on it. I got a nose full of cocaine. The cocaine kept me awake most of the night, and at some point in the wee hours of the morning, I passed out. I was awakened by sunlight and sweat the next day, having missed the race we went so far out of the way to see.”
Welch, who grew up in a Christian home, says his parents loved him like “crazy.” But darkness hugged him closely during high school. “It was all about influences,” he says. “I hung out with the wrong people in high school and kept to myself otherwise. I never developed the healthy relationships that I should have during those years.”
After graduating high school, he moved away from home and had his first child within a year. “Fast forward a few years, I opened a tint shop and was in dire need of help,” he adds. “My brother was addicted to drugs. I tried to save him by giving him some work and a place to live. That went south really fast. I didn’t know anything about drug addiction.”
A Helping Hand
The year was 1998, and 24-year-old Welch was three years removed from his first line of cocaine. Welch’s brother had been living in an abandoned home with another addict.
“I let him move in with me,” Welch says of his brother. “I brought him to my house and gave him a place to stay. I let him occupy an extra bedroom and put him to work. I started using cocaine again because it helped me stay awake … Your influences are huge. How you allow people to influence you and the type of people you hang out with is who you end up being.”
Welch’s drug-usage increased and his life spiraled.
“I went from snorting a line of cocaine every night or two to stay awake to snorting [3.5 grams] of cocaine within a few hours,” he says. “It turned into an everyday thing of going and getting a whole new sack.”
“In 2003, I got divorced and lost my home,” says Welch, who was 29 at the time. “We had closed the business in 2002. When we closed the business, my drug usage got really bad. I no longer had the expenses of running a business, but I was still tinting windows. I had around $70,000 in inventory. I closed a bunch of that out, and bought a bunch of dope with it. I was spending $300-$400 a day buying drugs.”
Welch says he could only be normal for as long as it took to tint a car.
“I could maintain normalcy and try to make people around me believe that I was not as high as a kite while I was tinting their car,” he says. “But inside me, there was a war. It was a war to be that person during those two hours. It was such a struggle to be normal. When I woke up every day, the first thing I thought about was drugs. It was not food, money or what I needed that day—let me get high first.”
As Welch’s usage intensified, so did his encounters with the law.
“I had been caught with cocaine and got locked up on that,” he shares. “I violated my probation and ran to Michigan and stayed there for three months … I kept getting more charges.”
Down For the Count
“I was in a ditch about 50 yards off of Moreland Avenue in Atlanta,” Welch says of his living situation in 2009. “I had slept there for a couple of nights after losing the last place that I had to sleep. I had been homeless for six or seven months at that point.”
Welch says he experienced fear for the first time in years while in that ditch.
“When you’re on drugs, you are not scared of anything,” he says. “All of the emotions that keep us healthy are gone when you use drugs. I experienced fear of the results of my next move. I had already been pulling off robberies to maintain my habit and a place to live. This was in December, and I was freezing my tail off. I was already facing the results of what I had been doing by sitting in that ditch. I started thinking, ‘If I’m here, what are the next results of my choices?’”
Welch sought help for the first time in years in 2009. He called The Anchorage in Leesburg, Ga., a Christian ministry for adult men seeking freedom from alcohol and drug addictions. They had a bed available, and Welch signed himself up.
“I had to check out, turn myself in and serve some time in prison,” he says. “Fortunately for me, I had gotten two years of sobriety and learning under my belt before I had to go serve that time.”
Welch was on his way to spending more than a year in prison, but he felt hope for the first time in more than a decade.
Sober for six years, Welch founded Surface – Tint, Wraps, and Design in Forsyth, Ga., in 2016. He received the 2022 Horizon Award at the Hüper Optik and Autobahn Dealer Conference in Denver this year. He’s also the founder of Tint Hozilla, a tools and equipment supplier for the film industry.
“I had no idea where I would go from that ditch,” he admits. “I didn’t know if I would die. My career was the last thing on my mind in that ditch. My faith got me through this; it’s the thing that keeps me solid.”
49-year-old Welch, reflecting on the 21-year-old version of himself who snorted his first line of cocaine, says he hasn’t used drugs, alcohol or had a desire to live those things out since March 30, 2010. For those in their own ditch, he says it’s important to take recovery one step at a time.
“I tripped myself up for many years by trying to get clean all at once,” he says. “All I had to do was get clean for one day. Before you know it, I had 1,000 days under my belt … Addiction can take life from anyone. We have to understand its power.”
Editor’s Note: One of my favorite elements of my job is highlighting perseverance. Check out success stories below, and contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your journey.