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Selling Sunset: Jason Oppenheim says he and Brett transformed lives

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Selling Sunset star Jason Oppenheim has revealed how he and twin brother Brett managed to turn their lives around after a troubled childhood left them at ‘rock bottom’, living in a halfway house and facing a future behind bars.

Real estate moguls Jason and Brett, who feature on the hit Netflix show running a firm that sells mega-mansions to the rich and famous, were out of control teenagers, regularly getting into fist fights and scrapes with the law.

The wild pair were expelled or suspended from five schools and spent several nights in a jail cell, all while being raised by their struggling single mom Deborah in Fremont, Northern California.

But in a dramatic change in fortunes Jason, 43, exclusively sat down with DailyMailTV to reveal it took an intervention by his hard-line Vietnam war veteran father Bennett to help straighten him and his brother out.

After three years living with his dad Jason says he found a focus that led to him doing better at school before graduating with honors from leading university UC Berkeley.

After working at a law firm he then traveled the world before creating a successful real estate practice on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard with brother Brett – the focus of hit TV show Selling Sunset which is Netflix’s biggest realty series of the summer.

Jason told DailyMailTV: ‘I am not ashamed of my past, but I am not proud of it either.’

Selling Sunset star Jason Oppenheim has revealed how he and twin brother Brett managed to turn their lives around after a troubled childhood left them at ‘rock bottom’, living in a halfway house and facing a future behind bars

The wild pair were expelled or suspended from five schools and spent several nights in a jail cell, all while being raised by their struggling single mom Deborah in Fremont, Northern California

Real estate moguls Jason and Brett, who feature on the hit Netflix show running a firm that sells mega-mansions to the rich and famous, were out of control teenagers, regularly getting into fist fights and scrapes with the law

After three years living with his dad Jason says he found a focus that led to him doing better at school before graduating with honors from leading university UC Berkeley

After working at a law firm he then traveled the world before creating a successful real estate practice on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard with brother Brett – the focus of hit TV show Selling Sunset which is Netflix’s biggest realty series of the summer

He continued: ‘I made mistakes, a lot of them, but right when it seemed like there was no hope, I was given a second chance and I made the best of it.

‘I found purpose in first school, then as a lawyer, and now in real estate. That direction saved me. I wouldn’t change any of it. It made me who I am.’

Reflecting on his past as a teen runaway, he continued: ‘I was a frustrated, aggressive, trouble making kid, raised by a single mom.

‘Brett and I were incorrigible; very difficult to raise as we were intelligent, but argumentative and had huge antipathy towards authority.

‘We went to seven different high schools and boarding schools, and were either expelled or suspended from five of them. 

‘My brother and I were really truly wild, I thought I would end up in jail or in big trouble at least.’

 We were frustrated, belligerent and often found ourselves in bad circumstances. We had gone to jail for fighting or doing some stupid things five or six times.

Jason says he and his brother were never interested in getting an education, despite both being intelligent and capable.

‘I wanted to be a mechanic and the only thing I loved at school was an occupational program, working on a 1969 Camaro in a body shop all day,’ he recalls.

The wayward twins had several brushes with the law, spending brief overnight stints in jail on five separate occasions, but never served hard prison time.

‘We were frustrated, belligerent and often found ourselves in bad circumstances,’ he said.

‘We had gone to jail for fighting or doing some stupid things five or six times.

‘There were a couple of bar fights, which got out of control.

‘I was even arrested for drunken fan fighting after the [Washington Football Team] played at the San Francisco 49ers stadium. I was drinking too much, got into it with some people.

‘Even after I was put in their stadium cell, I got into another altercation there with a rival fan, which was scary because this guy was a lot bigger than me.

‘Concerned for everyone’s safety the police moved me to San Francisco County Jail. That was a low point.’

Jason told DailyMailTV: ‘I am not ashamed of my past, but I am not proud of it either. I made mistakes, a lot of them, but right when it seemed like there was no hope, I was given a second chance and I made the best of it’

 Jason attributes his inner anger to having no direction as a teenager and young man. His busy mother was working as a speech therapist and struggled to hold down her job and keep an eye on her troublesome boys. Jason blames underage drinking for much of the fall out

Reflecting on his past as a teen runaway, he continued: ‘I was a frustrated, aggressive, trouble making kid, raised by a single mom. ‘Brett and I were incorrigible; very difficult to raise as we were intelligent, but argumentative and had huge antipathy towards authority’

He added: ‘We went to seven different high schools and boarding schools, and were either expelled or suspended from five of them. My brother and I were really truly wild, I thought I would end up in jail or in big trouble at least’

Jason added: ‘When I look back I didn’t have a care for my safety, health or well being.

‘I was pretty abrasive and protective towards my brother and friends. So it would not take much for me to jump in, first verbally then fists would follow.  

‘I was never the biggest guy and I had a bigger mouth than I should have had.’

Jason attributes his inner anger to having no direction as a teenager and young man.

His busy mother was working as a speech therapist and struggled to hold down her job and keep an eye on her troublesome boys.

Jason blames underage drinking for much of the fall out.

But he insists that it was all minor stuff, no serious or violent crimes, adding that he and Brett were inseparable.

 I never bended to authority and didn’t care about getting in trouble.

‘Another time my brother went out underage drinking before Thanksgiving,’ he said.

‘He was arrested for fighting and I made sure the officer arrested me too so that he would not be in jail alone,’ he said.

‘These incidents were adolescent fist fights, not guns, bottles or rocks or anything and no-one was seriously injured or convicted.

‘I never bended to authority and didn’t care about getting in trouble.

‘I have never been convicted for a serious or violent crime, just spent nights in cells because cops gave me time to cool down.’

Jason does admit, however, that he did pick up a DUI conviction two decades ago.

He recalls: ‘It was stupid to drink and drive. I didn’t get into an accident or harm anyone, but was pulled over by a cop, arrested, spent two nights in jail, lost my license for a year and served community service.

‘I learned my lesson and I haven’t had any alcohol and got behind a wheel in decades, ever since that DUI.

‘I am not proud of these actions, but that is the past.’ 

He said: ‘I was even arrested for drunken fan fighting after the [Washington Football Team] played at the San Francisco 49ers stadium. I was drinking too much, got into it with some people. Even after I was put in their stadium cell, I got into another altercation there with a rival fan, which was scary because this guy was a lot bigger than me. Concerned for everyone’s safety the police moved me to San Francisco County Jail. That was a low point’

The wayward twins had several brushes with the law, spending brief overnight stints in jail on five separate occasions, but never served hard prison time

Mom Deborah, who was at her wits end with the behavior of her two teenage boys, tricked the then 13-year-olds into flying to Idaho for a basketball course, which was in fact a brutal reformist teen correctional camp 

The real estate mogul said: ‘We went to seven different high schools and boarding schools, and were either expelled or suspended from five of them. My brother and I were really truly wild, I thought I would end up in jail or in big trouble at least.’ Pictured: Jason’s report card in 1995, showing while he got an A in English and another subject, he received all Ds in economics, fine arts and auto tech 

Mom Deborah, who was at her wits end with the behavior of her two teenage boys, tricked the then 13-year-olds into flying to Idaho for a basketball course, which was in fact a brutal reformist teen correctional camp.

‘Mom worried that our aggression would escalate and wanted us out of her home after we’d fought with her boyfriend,’ Jason said.

‘We thought it was basketball camp, but after landing in Idaho, terrified, we were handcuffed and driven four hours in the back of a 4 x 4 truck.

‘These two big guys took our clothes, gave us army fatigues and then marched us for hours on end through the desert.

‘There was no running water, showers, clothes changes, bathroom tissue and just a tin of lentils to eat daily. They took our shoes at night to stop us running away.

‘The only extra food available was by killing and cooking deadly rattlesnakes or crushing ants onto our lentils to create flavor.

‘Once for three days I had just half a rattlesnake to eat alone on the shady side of a giant rock.’

One night desperate Jason endured ‘excruciating pain’ after a march led them through an onion field, where he scoffed dozens of raw veggies to overcome his hunger.

‘I’ve never experienced pain like that. I lay there in agony thinking it was my last night on earth, crippled from the excruciating stomach cramps, fever and discomfort,’ he recalls.

‘The night felt like a month. It broke me down into the most raw human state, where your only concern is eating and staying alive.

‘Journals they’d provided were meant for us to write how we’d change as human beings, instead I wrote about nothing but food.’

Dad Bennett, who’d seen his sons every two weeks since the divorce, decided to adopt his own tactics to save his sons from disaster. Bennett, a community college teacher and part time real estate broker, convinced authorities to allow Jason to leave the correctional school he was in for a ‘last chance’ normal public High School education in Fremont

Jason said of his dad: ‘He made me work out daily in the garage at 5am, cut my long hair, made me quit cigarettes, took my earrings out, took away my baggy clothes, and picked me up from school’

Jason says the entire ordeal affected him more than any other experience.

‘That was my rock bottom as a 13-year-old. It was f***ing terrible – the worst time of my life.

‘It was meant to reform us, but it forged a steeliness and outlook that nothing could ever be worse than that place. And not to be scared of anything.’

He adds: ‘A few years later [after] a TV expose the government shut those types of camps down thankfully over inhumane treatment.’

Unfortunately, the camp did nothing to change him and his brother’s wayward behavior.

Jason was suspended and then expelled soon after from his next boarding school, before being sent to a correctional high school, for troubled kids.

Dad Bennett, who’d seen his sons every two weeks since the divorce, decided to adopt his own tactics to save his sons from disaster.

Bennett, a community college teacher and part time real estate broker, convinced authorities to allow Jason to leave the correctional school he was in for a ‘last chance’ normal public High School education in Fremont.

‘I would have amounted to nothing at the correctional school, and luckily my dad took me in and moved me into his home,’ says Jason.

‘We’d always been pretty well behaved when we were with our dad, because he would whoop our a**.

‘He was a Vietnam vet, who did two tours and was a very strict disciplinarian. And I was always scared of him.

‘He made me work out daily in the garage at 5am, cut my long hair, made me quit cigarettes, took my earrings out, took away my baggy clothes, and picked me up from school. ‘

Back on track, Jason and Brett excelled as grade A students at community college, before being accepted at prestigious UC Berkeley. ‘My parents always valued education and we saw the way out of trouble was by applying ourselves. I graduated first and Brett second in our class out of more than 10,000 students from Berkeley with highest honors’

‘I wanted to be a mechanic and the only thing I loved at school was an occupational program, working on a 1969 Camaro in a body shop all day,’ he recalls

Smiling he added: ‘I cried the first day of school because he dressed me like a nerd.

‘But I did not have a minute to myself so I could not get into trouble.

‘That is no exaggeration. He was so militant I did not leave his side for months, not even seeing friends. I stopped screwing around. He really whipped me into shape.’.

Jason says that Brett soon moved in after being kicked out of another school and by their senior year the brothers were graduating together.

‘Had my dad not been there to take us, we definitely could have gone down a different path no matter how intelligent and capable we were,’ Jason says.

‘My dad changed the entire trajectory of my life, he knew we were close to our last chance.

‘And there are not many parents that can take that time and energy.’

Back on track, Jason and Brett excelled as grade A students at community college, before being accepted at prestigious UC Berkeley.

‘My parents always valued education and we saw the way out of trouble was by applying ourselves,’ Jason said.

‘School came easy to us and gave us a ladder away from our problems.

‘I graduated first and Brett second in our class out of more than 10,000 students from Berkeley with highest honors.

‘Brett went to UCLA and I stayed at Berkeley to earn law degrees graduating at the top of our classes.’

The pair joined prestigious law firms O’Melveny & Myers, and Latham And Watkins working on major cases, including Enron and Worldcom.

But not long after, looking for a fresh challenge, the pair walked away from the pinnacle of their careers, sold their possessions and packed a 50lb bag to travel the world in 2007.

Jason says that parents Bennett and Deborah and brother Brett are now ‘an extremely close and loving family.’ He smiles: ‘My past sculpted me and created the traits, which helped me become successful. I am not ashamed of it. I don’t mind talking about it, I am a better person and man with respect for my life’

But not long after, looking for a fresh challenge, the pair walked away from the pinnacle of their careers, sold their possessions and packed a 50lb bag to travel the world in 2007

Jason said: ‘In Egypt the most powerful thing I experienced was playing soccer with kids in 120 degree heat on a sand pitch with a duct taped ball having the time of their lives. To most people these kids had nothing, but they felt they had everything’

‘Everyone thought we were crazy given our jobs and future prospects,’ Jason said.

‘To see the world was something everyone talked about, but never did – and we visited 75 countries, six continents and hundreds of cities.

‘We drove through every nation in Europe.

‘It made me realize the world’s people may speak different languages but are united in wanting to have fun, enjoy life and be fulfilled.

‘In Egypt the most powerful thing I experienced was playing soccer with kids in 120 degree heat on a sand pitch with a duct taped ball having the time of their lives. To most people these kids had nothing, but they felt they had everything.

‘It made me realize that life is about perspective. Happiness is not defined by money, property or location always. To this day in my mind perspective is the most important thing to define happiness.’

Returning in 2010 Jason, in $40k worth of credit card debt, turned down several six figure legal jobs, preferring to chase his dream of real estate at Coldwell Banker.

‘I started at the bottom, sitting in the office listening and it was almost a year before I got my first deal. I was in massive credit card debt,’ he said.

‘I had to drive my grandfather’s 1980 gold Cadillac, which was always overheating.

‘But I learned everything from that job, 10 hours daily alongside two successful and smart women, who were my mentors.’

Jason hopes that his life journey will help inspire others.

I have been so successful for so long but people do not understand how I got here. If I can inspire anyone and be an example… that would be the ultimate goal.

He remains ‘unaware’ what impact his parents’ divorce had on him aged five, but knows his combative teen nature has matured into entrepreneurial prowess.

‘As kids we questioned everything we were told and took our own decisions and judgments and were seen as extremely difficult,’ he said.

‘Everyone said we should be lawyers. The point is that you are not defined by your childhood.

‘There are a lot of second chances out there. It is never too late to apply yourself, pick your passion, repair relationships and to not be discouraged in situations. It is important to keep trying.’

Jason says that parents Bennett and Deborah and brother Brett are now ‘an extremely close and loving family.’

He smiles: ‘My past sculpted me and created the traits, which helped me become successful. I am not ashamed of it. I don’t mind talking about it, I am a better person and man with respect for my life.

‘Fearing failure is now no big deal, and taking risks in business has served me well.

‘I have been so successful for so long but people do not understand how I got here.

‘If I can inspire anyone and be an example… that would be the ultimate goal.’

All three seasons of Selling Sunset air on Netflix.

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