Rockett is nobody's poster boy for decriminalization. This isn't a story that will please either marijuana advocates or opponents. For years, Rockett lived the life of an addict, in and out of prison, detox and halfway houses. He nearly destroyed himself with a perfectly legal substance: alcohol.
Beaver Cleaver to street drunk
Rockett had a charmed childhood. He grew up in Waltham, where his family owned the same home on Harris Street where State Rep. Peter Koutoujian now lives. Rockett was one of six children, the oldest of three boys, and his fondest memories are of playing with his younger brother Dick, one year his junior.
"It was a Beaver Cleaver existence," Rockett says. "Waltham was the best — there were kids everywhere, and friends on every block. There were all these woods, and we would just go out and run wild until it was time for dinner."
Things fell apart when he was 16. Rockett's father suffered a debilitating stroke that put him out of work. Within a year, the family was virtually homeless: his parents moved in with a sympathetic elderly couple; his siblings crashed with friends and family members; John dropped out of high school and shacked up in a boarding house on Moody Street in Waltham. He started drinking heavily.
In 1976, John was driving a Ford Mustang he says his brother, Dick, stole from the Wellesley High School parking lot. As he sat stopped at a light just blocks from his parents' house, Rockett noticed two men step out of a car behind him. They had been hunting for the Mustang; before he realized there was trouble, one of the young men was yanking Rockett's ponytail and reaching for the clutch. He hammered the accelerator, he says, sideswiped another car, and demolished a stone wall. For the next five hours, Rockett says, police chased him through the forest, until a state trooper found him in a phone booth at the Natick service plaza on the Mass Pike. It was Rockett's first arrest, and he served a 90-day sentence in the Billerica House of Correction. It would not be his last.
Over the next four years, Rockett, in his late teens and early 20s, was arrested more than 20 times, on charges ranging from insurance fraud to littering, trespassing to attempted larceny. It was also around this time that he started drugging; between 1979 and 1981, John was busted for weed on three occasions.
Then, when John was 22, his brother Dick died in a car accident in which the driver was intoxicated. "That whole period after my brother died is hazy to me," says Rockett. "I absolutely went off the rails. Booze was my drug of choice, and I'd do whatever drugs I could get my hands on. I went to New York, I went to DC, I stayed with friends, I'd save some money, I'd come back, I'd leave again. I never did heroin or anything like that before my brother died — after that, all bets were off."