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Jay Dobyns: ‘Catching Hell’ and coming back

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Courtesy Jay Dobyns | The Daily Wildcat Jay Dobyns is a retired Special Agent and under cover operative with the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive (ATF). Dobyns attended UA, being named the All-Pacific-10 Conference wide receiver in 1983 and 1984.

Left by his own government to face death threats from three international crime syndicates, Jay Dobyns wrote his New Yorks Times bestselling memoir “No Angel” to protect himself and his family. 

While writing the book that would drive his ongoing lawsuit against the U.S. government, he knew that there was still more of the story to tell. The former UA wide-receiver Dobyns recently released his newest memoir “Catching Hell: A True Story of Abandonment and Betrayal” on May 30 with plans of making it his second in a trilogy. 

Dobyns joined the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when he knew he wasn’t going to make it as a professional football player.

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“I went to the NFL Combine workout and thought I was going to show off. I was going to show everyone how wide receivers from the Pac-10 conference played the game,” Dobyns said. “Ten minutes into the drills I realized I couldn’t do what they could.”

Dobyns said that the two people who he was paired to work out against turned out to be the “two finest wide receivers of our era.” They were Andre Reed and Jerry Rice. “They both went on to Super Bowls and Hall of Fame careers.  I went on to do what I did.  I believe all of us are happy with our results,” Dobyns said.

In his career in the ATF, he went through over 500 investigations undercover and was the first to infiltrate the infamous biker gang Hells Angels. However, once his identity was revealed, a murder contract was placed on him, and farmed out to MS-13, the Aryan Brotherhood and the 18th Street Gang in Los Angeles. 

His agency said that they couldn’t help him, so he decided to expose his story in “No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels” to give a “pause in the minds who intended to harm us,” Dobyns said.

“The idea was my own. Going through traditional media, which I had already done, only offered limited staying power. I needed something more permanent,” he said. “I was invisible and insignificant to the shot-callers.”

The ATF sued him for publishing the book without their permission, but the case was dismissed in Dobyns’s favor.

He is still locked in a 14-year battle against the government, who he says is trying to frame him for arson in a fire that burned down his house in an assassination attempt in 2008. The closing arguments of the Department of Justice’s appeal will be made this fall. 

“After all that, the government continues to argue they did nothing wrong and that I deserve no consideration or compensation for what they put me through,” Dobyns said. “Fortunately, I have an attorney, Jim Reed, who is an even tougher bulldog than me.”

In three weeks, “No Angel” became a bestseller. 

“Housewives. School teachers. Mechanics. Tradesmen. Blue collar workers flooded me with messages saying that they were able to relate to portions of my story and asked for more,” Dobyns said, surprised that the book became successful even though it wasn’t a hero’s story. 

Writing the book had been very therapeutic for him, but it taught him a lot of things about himself he didn’t like. 

“I am very stubborn. I am selfish. I battle with depression. I have a short attention span which leads to impatience,” Dobyns said.

That’s why he said “Catching Hell” and “No Angel” aren’t hero stories. He doesn’t like to be called a hero, believing that he failed more than he set out to achieve. As a former football player, as an agent, as an author, a husband and a father — he said he often feels he has fallen short.

“Many times, throughout those stories, I was not very likeable,” Dobyns said. But everything he’s written is fact. “I did not want to write an ‘I-Love-Me’ story. I wanted to write truthful stories and allow the reader to decide on their own how they feel about me.”

Instead of his career in the agency, Dobyns said his greatest achievement is his children. “They far exceed anything else I ever or could accomplish.  Any legacy I leave will be lived out through them,” Dobyns said.

He mentions that his children’s greatest qualities might have actually come from his wife. “She has instilled that toughness in them, probably more than I have.”

Dobyns said his family, or wife at least, doesn’t allow him to get too big a head. “My wife loves to tell me, ‘Hey, Mr. New York Times bestselling bigshot, take the garbage out and clean up after the dog.’”

In “Catching Hell,” Dobyns touches more on the violence and threats his family experienced, such as threats to gang rape his wife and kidnap his children. He also sheds light on the aftermath of the court case. 

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Both books took him about five years to write, but there is still no telling when his third and last memoir will come out. But he promises it will, and he is already working on his draft — with a title that he doesn’t want to reveal just yet. 

“I have a process. Writing does not come easy for me. Once my outline is set — my skeleton — then the rest takes care of itself — hanging the meat on the bones to make it human,” he said. 

Dobyns is uncomfortable about promoting his books just the same as being called a hero. He views himself as a man who tried his best to stand up to bullies and protect his family, and wanted to share his experiences with others.  

“If I have written a good story, people will know,” Dobyns said.


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