Bardia Rahim was born in Iran and came to the U.S. at the age of 5. He lived in L.A. for a couple of years before settling down with his family in Escondido, CA. When Bardia was 15 years old, his father’s produce company went out of business, leaving the family with a house in foreclosure and no way to pay the bills. In the midst of the turmoil, Bardia’s father up and left the family, and moved back to Iran, leaving them penniless and unsure of how to survive on their own.
“My dad divorced my mom, left my sister and I,” Bardia says, “I don’t hold any resentment towards him, but it was painful and hard. When our house went into foreclosure, I was in my junior year of high school. We lived there for about 9 months until the bank kicked us out. My senior year, my mom and I moved into a one-bedroom condo. We had no money.”
Bardia’s mom didn’t speak English, so finding a job was not easy. In order to pay their bills, they maxed out her credit cards, leaving her with bad credit. With his sister off at college, “I had to support my mom and I financially,” Bardia says.
At 16 and in high school, Bardia was left to figure out what he could do to make money. Unfortunately, he found his answer in a bad crowd. “I associated myself with the wrong people to make money,” he says, “I’m not making excuses, but as a 16-year-old kid, I knew I wouldn’t find a job where I could go to school and support my family. I had to make some money quick, so, I resorted to growing weed.”
“We didn’t have anyone else to depend on,” he says, “We didn’t want to go back to Iran where it wasn’t free. I’m proud to be an American. There’s no better country than here.”
Bardia knew in his heart that what he was doing was wrong, but he was paying the bills. “After high school and college, it got to the point where it was hard to get out of the lifestyle,” he says, “But I didn’t feel right about it.”
When Bardia was about 21, he met Matt Stansell, a professional MMA fighter, and took a Jiu-Jitsu class with him. “I fell in love with the sport,” Bardia says, “I was addicted to it. I couldn’t believe how incredible it was. Matt was professor Marcelo Pereira’s student. He referred me to Gracie Barra San Diego and I’ve been with Marcelo ever since. He’s treated me really well. He’s been like a father to me.” Professor Marcelo had no idea what Bardia was doing off the mats.
In the meantime, Bardia’s lifestyle began to wear on him. “I didn’t know how to get out,” he says. “I didn’t hide anything and eventually it caught up with me.”
A friend of Bardia’s who was also a “grower,” was busted by the police. He gave them Bardia’s name. “I was investigated for about 8 months without my knowledge,” he says, “They put a GPS tracker on my car. When I went to my various grow houses, they knew from satellite where I was.
What happened next was straight out of a movie. “I was on vacation in Kona, Hawaii with my girlfriend for a buddy’s wedding,” Bardia says, “There was a knock on my hotel room door and I heard, ‘Room service!’ Next thing I know, the police are rushing in with guns blazing. They cuffed me in front of everyone. They went all the way to Hawaii to get me.”
Bardia was placed in the federal corrections holding facility in Hawaii. “Two months later, I was sent back to San Diego for my hearing and spent four months at the San Diego Metropolitan Corrections Center.”
At Bardia’s hearing, prosecutors told him if he cooperated with them and gave up the names of the other marijuana growers, they would let him off the hook. He’d receive very little, if any, jail time and he’d be allowed to keep all his properties. They were willing to cut him a deal.
Bardia refused. “I said no. I wouldn’t rat someone else out, so I took five years in jail. I felt I needed to own up to my responsibilities.” For Bardia’s lack of cooperation, he says he was transferred around the country 14 different times. “They call it ‘diesel therapy,’” he says, “They put you on a bus and transfer you from prison to prison every few months completely shackled to keep you from feeling settled. One trip took 26 hours. It was pure hell.”
“The overall prison experience can make you or break you,” Bardia says, “You can go into prison and become a better criminal, you can get into drugs, or you can read books and educate yourself. I chose the latter. I took a lot of college courses.”
When professor Marcelo found out Bardia was in jail, he was very supportive. “He called my mom to check on her and told me he’d always be there for me,” Bardia says, “He wrote me letters and called my mom to see how I was doing, just like a father would do. My mom was devastated. So I thought: I’m going to get everything back. I’m just going to do it the right way this time.”
The right way for Bardia has to do with what he defines as “true honor.” At one point during his sentence, he was locked up in solitary confinement for 30 days for a fight he was involved in. “I started contemplating my life,” he says. Bardia decided then and there that when he got out, he was going to start up a clothing company called “True Honor.” For him, true honor meant “keeping my mouth shut and taking accountability for my life.” But he says, “It’s whatever you believe in. Fighting for your country, taking care of your 80-year-old grandma, being a good citizen. I wanted it to stand for something a person believes in. Doing the right thing when no one’s looking; not just when people are looking. Having values and scruples. That’s true honor.”
He is now working his way back to the legitimate success he’s always dreamed of. Like Jiu-Jitsu, where you win or you learn, he doesn’t feel like he’s failed, only that he’s learned a valuable life lesson. “I have my dignity and my honor,” he says, “I keep my head up. I feel good about the person I am and the direction I’m taking with my company, myself, and in the Jiu-Jitsu world. It feels right to me.”
Bardia’s prison experience was humbling. “I saw a different world,” he says, “I got to see the bitter side. Life is sweet now. I get to do Jiu-Jitsu, surf, see my family, and hang out with my friends.”
Bardia thanks God for Jiu-Jitsu. “When I came back, my Jiu-Jitsu friends were there for me,” he says, “They supported me with open arms. I broke the law and I was willing to pay the price. I paid my debt to society and now I’m back training Jiu-Jitsu all the time. It was there for me before and it’s even there for me more now. It keeps me grounded.”