In 2005, Boeing engineer Anthony Hathaway was prescribed the pain reliever OxyContin after surgery for a ruptured intervertebral disc in the back. He is now out of prison for nearly three years after robbing 30 Seattle banks to fund his addiction.
Campside Media co-founder Josh Dean details Hathaway’s life in detail in the On the Hook podcast series, based on Dean’s original coverage for Bloomberg Businessweek. Dean found a news article about Hathaway’s arrest while looking for an article about a “particularly prolific bank robber.” It wasn’t until after reading an email from Hathaway in prison that Dean realized that Hathaway’s story was about so much more than criminal fun.
The Seattle Times spoke to Dean about his desire to create a podcast, his experience exploring Hathaway’s emotional history, and what Hooked can teach listeners – and what he taught Dean himself – about addiction.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
What prompted you to create a podcast with Hathaway’s story?
What I had to leave [the Bloomberg story] there was so much context. … Much of this story is Tony’s relationship with his son, which I think presents a picture of addiction that most people have never seen before. Imagine if I told you, here’s a guy who was taking heroin with his son, and you said, “What a scumbag. How can you do this? “But when you hear this story, you will understand how this can happen, and it will not make any of them bad. And the fact that they stick together is powerful for me. Maybe the parents should do the really kinky way of trying to get through it together. So I had to leave a lot. But the other really important thing is that he’s a really good speaker and character. … If you are focusing on a personal story and the person cannot speak, you should not be doing a podcast. Tony is a storyteller, he can immerse himself in his emotions – he will laugh, he will cry, he will feel bad. There is always a concern that this person is not telling you the whole story. And I don’t understand that Tony was faking his emotions, he wears it on his sleeve. And that’s what you want from a podcast theme.
What was your experience with Hathaway?
Never before has any subject opened up so completely to me. Tony was and remains very open and rude, he is not afraid to confront the ugly sides of himself and what he has done. … Can I be sure that he was 100% honest with me in all respects? No, I cannot, and it is impossible to verify the stories of people about what they did alone 10 years ago. But I think the guy who took heroin with his own son and ended up in the car and his son went to jail – everything that happened to Tony is stories that I would not want people to know about me if it were me, and yet he tells them. … As a journalist, I am grateful that they believed me and gave me such an open book to work with. The downside to this is that you are really immersed in someone else’s story. … It is difficult to remain completely objective when you spend so much time talking to someone who is telling their story. So it was different for me. While this has nothing to do with me, it has become more personal than most stories.
What shocks you the most about Hathaway’s story?
It’s such an extreme story. When you read these things, you don’t even think about who this person is. And I think the most amazing thing is when I found out who Tony was, then suddenly it seemed to me that it might be someone I know. In a slightly alternate universe, it could have been me. … I think the biggest shock for me was how a number of things can happen to you that you may not be able to control. And then the next thing you know, you are a completely different person, doing something that you never knew existed. Tony is the most ordinary guy who got into an extraordinary situation. As a journalist, I use this extraordinary story to tell people the ordinary things that happen to a lot of people in America.
What Can Hookers Teach People About Addiction?
If you have not spent time with drug addicts, if you have not been close with a drug addict, it is very easy to be judgmental. Until recently, we mostly vilified drug addicts. By the definition of most people, the distance between a drug addict and a criminal was quite short. … [The podcast] designed to humanize, empathize and help people see what it is like to go through it. It’s like a bank robbery and the dynamic parts of the story are the kind of candy that makes you eat broccoli, and broccoli is a story about addiction and opioids. … And indeed, we don’t need a bank robber to listen to the stories of drug addicts, but I think it’s good for people. … And I hope that while there are depressing moments in the show, it is not a depressing experience. I hope you leave with empathy for people you may not have empathized with before.