Uncapped: GREED’s Journey from Graffiti to Holistic Doctor
Hello, my precious Uncapped fam. Freddy Alva is back with us, offering up an exclusive interview with GREED to celebrate the launch of his new book Heal Profoundly: A Graffiti Thug’s Transformation to Holistic Doctor. You can cop that on Amazon, but for now check out the story behind the autobiography.
FREDDY ALVA: Queens writer GREED has undergone a remarkable journey, from bombing his neighborhood and beyond, to acclaim as the respected Chiropractor and Healer known as Dr. Robert Ciprian. This new memoir details that transformation, in at times candid detail, with juicy stories to satisfy street Graffiti aficionados as well as sage advice from an Alternative Medicine viewpoint. I recently got a chance to pick his brain on a Graffiti book the likes you’ve never seen. (Get the book here.)
Congratulations on getting this book done. The title is really compelling, what was the impetus for writing it?
GREED: Writing the book was catharsis for me. I was going through some deep and emotional rough times and I decided to sit down every night for several months and write out my life’s story. After I left New York City to become a doctor, I would tell friends and colleagues stories from the younger days. They couldn’t believe some of the stuff I have been through. One of my spiritual teachers and healers even said, “You have to start writing these stories down you will probably use them one day.” I was in a place where I needed to, yet again, go through some major transformation and writing out my journey really helped. I also wanted to educate the average person about what is out there in the natural health and spiritual wellbeing world. I figured my story of discovery could be a great way to do it.
FA: Tell me about earliest memories of growing up in Queens and the graffiti writers that influenced you; was GREED your first writing name?
GREED: I was inspired by graffiti as a very young kid when my grandmother would take me into Manhattan on the train. I had such visceral feelings seeing these huge trains with colors, pieces, and characters on them. Then as I got older, I started seeing RIS and TPA crews up in Queens. I went to Ryan Junior High School in Fresh Meadows. Once in a while I would see some of Ghost’s work on our handball courts. There were some others too, but Ghost was up everywhere so he always stuck in my mind. I was pretty good at writing my name “Robert” on my notebook covers in bubble and straight letters with 3D and shines. I would battle others kids in the school on the desks. But then I started hanging out with the guys form 46th Avenue in Flushing and 64th Ave traffic circle in Fresh Meadows, and started marker tagging, racking paint, and did my first piece on a utility house in a park.
My first tag was “Kong.” This was in 1983 I think. When Style Wars, Subway Art, Spray Can Art came out, I got really determined to get good at graffiti. Then I started to hang around some more graffiti connections besides the guys from my hood. I went through some transformations writing different tags. The biggest ones were when I was writing SOR. Then in 1989 I started writing Greed.FA: What was the main crew or crews you were down with and who were some of your primary writing partners?
GREED: In the early days it was the 46th Boys from 46th Avenue and Utopia Parkway in Queens. Then in Fresh Meadows KAC (Kings At Crime) and LOD (Lords Of Discipline) started up. Through Rece, Vec, Lenz, and Cren of LOD I started hanging out with IF, END, and DMS. In about 1988 I met Neur from END, aka Waqs A3, Aka Cortes, and his partner Este, aka Gacha. This is about the time where I really started to get inspired to do more work. Then Enuf IF introduced me to Roler TM7 and Web One Kaos Inc. I used the opportunity of hanging out with these writers to really grow as a graffiti artist.
FA: You mention in the book a wild night of mayhem with rival crews going at one another at a club Downtown. Can you tell us about any other similar Graf-beef related incidents?
GREED: Seeing other writers in nightclubs and bars was expected. I remember one night going into a place with about 8 or 10 of us. We knew the bouncer at the door, who is well known in the NYHC scene, and when he frisked my friend Zant and I, we heard the bouncer say, “What da fuck man!?” As he pulled a Mac 10 assault pistol from Zant’s waist band. Zant shrugged his shoulders with a smirk on his face and said, “you know man, we gotta watch out back out here.” At this point the bouncer shakes his head and said, “I will keep this here until you guys leave” and he placed the gun behind the front desk. Whether it was at a park with some beers, a small bar, or a larger club, there was always something going down. One night in 1991 there was a small mob of us going to see The Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill at The Building. We hustled our way in through security without paying and when inside we saw a writer there who we had problems with. As soon as he saw us he ran behind one of the bars. He knew the girl who was bartending and talked to her in a panic. As we approached the bar he was using as a barricade, the bartender said, “Hey guys, he stays back here with me safe and I will give you free beers.” We accepted and had a great time. Some of us were even chatting with the writer during the show because of the temporary peace agreement. Other times there would be major brawls, bottles being broken, chairs used as weapons, and unfortunately some hospitalizations from time to time.
FA: Why did you consider yourself a graffiti thug, and was violence part of NYC Graf culture?
GREED: The way I grew up, I was always being tested with violence. I am an empath and a nice guy, and I tried to avoid fights. I feel these traits saved my life a few times back in the day. I had stopped a few attacks against other writers and I was returned the favor at times. But I was continuously fucked with by friends and others. Even though I tried to hold back, at times I would explode. If I was driven to this point, I was not going to fight a fair one, I was going to be out to hurt someone. My father was someone who knew many people throughout NYC on a spectrum from Hells Angels to NYPD captains. He showed me to try and be a nice guy and befriend everyone. But he also showed me to make sure that someone will not get up off the floor if they mess with you. Some of the violence I was part of and witnessed would haunt me and keep me up at night. The crowd I hung with was graffiti writers, drug and gun dealers, thieves, and people who would just enjoy starting a fight for the fun of it. This is why I consider myself a former thug. Not to say some of us were not good at heart, it is just the environment and lifestyle we were part of. This was not the time of hipster, legal, street artists. This was a time of risking your life if you wanted to write Graffiti. If you think about it, illegal Graffiti is probably the only art form where you would risk life, limb, and your freedom to get up. You had to watch out for police, workers, the public, and other writers who wanted to beat you down for beef or just rob you for your paint. You also had to risk trespassing, being in train tunnels or elevated tracks, climbing like spider man onto rooftops, and sprinting across highway all to get up. This was the old NYC Graffiti culture.
FA: In the book you describe a physical ailment that led you to try Chiropractic treatments, what else about this holistic modality inspired you to become a Chiropractor yourself?
GREED: The truth is, initially I looked into becoming a chiropractor because of the money. My plan was to be a sports medicine doctor and maybe work on football players. My mother was going to one for a back injury and I went a few times for motorcycle injuries that I received. I realized that this was a good profession to get into. Although this particular chiropractor was not helping me out a lot. He actually told me not to become one. But my intuition didn’t let his opinion sway my interest. A close friend who was a bartender at the time was getting ready to start school for chiropractic. He was doing a lot of research and taught me some uses of chiropractic other than just pain relief. He had more of a holistic model of chiropractic, telling how chiropractic helps with other health issues as well as pain. This really sparked my interest in it. Then while I was at school in Los Angeles, I started to become very sick. I was having chronic fatigue, irritable bowel, and symptoms of brain fog. I was seeking out many doctors who worked holistically (taking into account all aspects of the person’s life when looking at their health) and I had an immediate recovery. This caused me to take a different approach to my education while in school. My recovery and the miraculous changes I was starting to see in the lives of others spiked my passion. I eventually became a post graduate teacher of a holistic medicine method called Applied Kinesiology.
FA: Chiropractors have undergone a remarkable transition in the past 100 years, from “Quack Science” to accepted complementary/alternative medicine practitioners. Do you see any correlations between its trajectory and Graffiti’s?
GREED: Hell yes! I never for once thought about becoming a medical doctor. I had to do something that was on the fringe and nearly underground. And within the chiropractic field, I am still considered a voodoo doctor. When I see someone who was told they couldn’t be helped with their health problem by the conventional medical field, and then they find relief and recover from their problem against the odds, I am ecstatic! And even more rewarding for me is when I can teach other doctors to do what I can do.Some of our doctors have gone to jail because they believed in it so much when it was considered illegal. The American Medical Association was trying to put an end to chiropractic altogether. They made claims of it being an “unscientific cult” and dangerous. But they were sued in court for misleading the public and now we are legally allowed to be doctors. So yes, you can see the similarities with graffiti.
FA: You talk about muscle testing being the key component to your practice, could you us give a brief layman’s description of what that entails?
GREED: Muscles turn on and off regularly so that you can move, stand, walk, etc. Muscle testing is using the muscles of the body for feedback to see how the body is working. It is pushing down on a part of the body and seeing if the muscles can hold strong during that push. This can relate to the immediate structures locally around the muscle (ex: muscle, tendons, ligaments, joints, nerve communication) or it can also be used as a measure of other functions of the body (energy flow in the acupuncture meridians, cellular function, brain and spinal cord function). More esoteric applications of muscle testing can be used to check energy in the body. Energy is everything. All matter goes down to basic atomic structure. When we are in a happier, healthier state of being, we have a higher state of energy. When we are in an unhappy or in an unhealthy state, our energy becomes lower vibrating. When something brings our energy up, our muscles will stay facilitated by the nerves and seem “strong.” When something brings our energy down our muscles will start to inhibit and seem “weak.” Through seeing what makes our muscle stronger or weaker with a muscle test, it can help a doctor know in a very small amount of time what can help a person with a particular problem. This helps to take the guess work out of what a doctor is going to plan as treatment for a patient.
FA: What are some of the more remarkable successes you’ve had in treating a particular ailment?
GREED: I do not treat any particular ailments. I never heal a person, I allow them to heal. I help a person’s body to function better and efficiently. When the body is working as it is supposed to, all sorts of health issues will clear up. We cause our own issues and prevent health because we have imbalances in out physical body, our biochemistry because of toxicity or nutritional deficiency, our mental and emotional wellbeing, and energetics of the body. All of these systems work in partnerships with each other. I have witnessed many miracles. One of the earliest ones was while I was doing my residency in the school clinic in Los Angeles. I helped a 27 year old woman with Multiple Sclerosis get function back in her legs and out of a wheel chair in about 6 moths. I helped a young woman with petit mal seizures recover. She would have several a week and was not able to work or be intimate with her boyfriend. She is now able to live a normal life. I helped a young man recover from fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue that was so bad he was not able to hold down a job or have a romantic relationship.
The philosophy I have learned is that there is no incurable conditions, just incurable people. The patients I work with have to want to get well, want to change their lives, and they have to follow through with what is needed to do that. I am just like their coach. I may push a few buttons there and there, but I also guide them into the right direction. Unhealthy lifestyle is one the biggest reasons for chronic health issues. If a person is not willing to change the things that got them there, you can’t get them out. You can cover up a symptom but the underlying dysfunction will still be there.
FA: Your treatments throughout the years have grown to include more esoteric modalities such as channeling, remote healing, psychic mediums; how have these tools helped expand your practice?
GREED: Humans are spiritual beings that inhabit a physical body. If there are issues on that energetic and spiritual level, your body and your life will manifest it. I went through lots of searching for my own healing. When something had a profound effect on me, I would learn it so that I can also help others with it. Yes, my first “exorcism” story is in the book. That was one of the most eye opening experiences I ever had. When a tuff guy who has been shot at more than most police, been stabbed, beat down, and through the wringer in NYC like I have is told by a 27 year old female shamanic healer to hold on this may get scary, I chuckled inside. Little did I know that within moments I wouldn’t be able to control what my body was doing and I was struggling to breathe because I was being choked by some unseen force. All this was happening while she was sitting across from me with her eyes closed orchestrating a battle between good and evil within me. Then she said, “give me a few more seconds and it will be done”, and almost as quickly as it started it ended. The only thing that was on my mind was that I had to learn to do what she just did to me.
The more tools that I have, the more people I can help. That is what being a holistic doctor is all about. I know when I need to adjust someone’s spine back into place, I know when a zinc deficiency is causing a digestion and endocrine imbalance, I know when someone needs some flower essences to protect them from negative energetic influences, and I know when I need to tell someone to get to the emergency room because they have a problems that requires immediate medical attention. That is who I have been led to be as a doctor.