By his own admission Rick Osborne was once a “monster”.
A longtime member of an outlaw motorcycle gang, he spent 24 years in prison and almost ended his life with an overdose to avoid being killed in Kingston Pen for his role as a soldier during the biker wars of the 1990s.
Now the 55-year-old is a happily married father of four who spends his spare time traveling the province and speaking to kids about the dangers of drugs and gangs, and the need to make wise choices in life. He appeared at Cornwall Collegiate and Vocational School (CCVS) on Thursday as part of the Cornwall Community Police Service’s Youth Symposium, designed to deter students from a life of crime.
The Niagara Falls native told the students gathered in the cafetorium that he was a “good kid” until he was 14, but a forced encounter with drugs sent his life into a tailspin. Osborne said he was bullied as a kid, so sought the friendship of a neighbourhood boy named Billy. He was drawn to Billy because of the older boy’s “cool car.” Sadly, what he didn’t know was that Billy was a drug user.
One night, that same friend forced Osborne into a life of drugs, injecting him with a speedball while another of Billy’s friends held him.
While the drugs were free, the cost was high. “Nobody touches drugs for free,” he said.
Osborne eventually became addicted, ran away from home and made his way to Florida, where he worked at night cleaning up the beaches. While there, he was befriended by a “chicken hawk” or pedophile who sexually attacked him and then attempted to stab him to death.
He woke up later in a hospital bed following emergency surgery, and was deported to Canada where his father picked him up. His father wept at the sight of what he had become.
Concerned about his son, he took him home. However, Osborne soon fled again to seek out the drug culture that had become such a large part of his life.
The drugs and violence he faced turned him into a “cutter” – driving him to slash his skin with knives or razors to deal with the misery of his life. “It was a way to mask the emotional pain I felt with physical pain,” he said.
He didn’t have money for drugs so he simply took a baseball bat and began robbing known drug dealers for their stashes. “Eventually I did something dumb,” he said. “I robbed a biker.”
Despite the biker’s bad-ass reputation – and the two pit bulls that guarded his home – Osborne snuck in and put a knife to the biker’s throat. He tied the biker up and dragged him around face down across a rug until the pain of the rug burn forced the biker to tell him where the drugs were hidden. “I took his drugs, his money and his gun and then came back later and robbed him of his bike and his pit bulls,” he said.
The biker demanded retribution. He wanted Osborne killed and his body dumped in the Welland Canal. Instead gang leaders, impressed by the brazen nature of the attack, encouraged Osborne to join them, so Osborne started robbing drug dealers on behalf of the bikers.
Unfortunately, and while he can’t prove it, he suspects that the suicide of his cousin – who drowned in the Welland Canal – wasn’t actually a suicide at all but retribution for the attack that gave Osborne his birth as a biker.
The lifestyle later landed him in jail for a 16-year stretch. He escaped, and became involved with the biker wars of the 1990s, going after a rival gang leader. He was arrested by police and went in for another stretch.
On his arrival, he was greeted in Kingston Pen by a friend who was actually a member of the rival gang. There was a kill order out on him. The friend shook his hand, passing him a balloon filled with three grams of black tar heroin – offering him a way to kill himself before half a dozen of the soldiers from the rival gang attempted to kill him on the prison grounds.
He was put in protective custody and was ready to take his life but had a revelation. “I realized I can’t function in prison suffering the consequences of my lifestyle,” he said. “I thought that if it’s all over anyway, why not try to turn my life around. At least I’m not going to be a junkie when I die.”
He flushed the drugs down the toilet and vowed never to use again. “It’s strange,” he reflected. “If you move in the right direction people who are good come into your life and good things will happen.”
He met a law professor from Queen’s University who succeeded in getting him – by special order of the warden – transferred to a medium security prison where he could get into drug rehab. “It probably saved my life,” he said.
An elderly Queen’s psychology professor – who had been a sniper in the Belgian Resistance during World War 2 – recognized that Osborne was intelligent and had potential. He helped him get his high school equivalency and then his undergraduate degree from Queen’s. He became only the 17th convict in history to get a degree in prison.
He was able to attend his graduation at Queen’s – with the hall surrounded by guards.
The same professor who helped him get the undergraduate degree said that “BAs are the kindergarten of higher learning” and then helped him get a master’s degree.
Today he runs a hot rod and custom chopper shop, is married to a successful woman and lives with his three stepsons and the couple’s daughter. He works as a program leader with Astwood Criminal and Social Justice Strategists.
Over the years, he has helped several people – including a biker’s son – to kick the drug habit.
Above all, he wants kids to realize that the biker’s lifestyle is not one they should ever aspire to, urging them to avoid the mistakes he made in life. “Gangsterism is not cool,” he said. “Being a gangster is predatory and the person it preys on is you.”