Stories of Impact
Saint Andrew's Court Alum
Danny is the fourth of nine children growing up in Danville, Illinois in the late sixties and early seventies. He lived at home with his parents, grandmother and most of his siblings. As with many teenagers at that time, Danny recalls wanting to be a “hippie” looking to enjoy the freedom, life style and counter culture associated with hippies. There was a drug culture associated with hippies and Danny began smoking pot at 17 years old.
Danny also knew people returning to his community from Viet Nam who were bringing harder drugs back from their tours of duty. It was not too long before Danny discover LSD, opioids, stimulants and methamphetamines; and Danny liked them all. He was trying to be like “everyone else” but was actually losing himself in the process.
Though Danny held jobs in manufacturing plants with both his mother and father, there were few, if any, who knew of Danny’s drug use. However, as Danny says, “my dad knew, he knew his kids. He tried to help me but I was hard headed. I was going to do my thing in my way.”
As Danny fell deeper into the drug lifestyle and culture, it began to catch up with him. His performance at work suffered and he was given the opportunity to go to rehab at the company’s expense. He declined and fell deeper. At the age of 21 Danny was using a variety of drugs, not really working, staying out late and being in places where, if he wasn’t finding trouble, trouble found him.
While still living at home, Danny began committing burglaries and robberies. As Danny said, “I didn’t need the money. I liked the excitement.” Danny shared he would stake out the local bank and when he saw people with bank deposit bags, he would push them down and take their money. Danny describes himself as, “out of control!”
Danny decided to break into a police supply store in Danville, a choice Danny sees now as bad on many levels. Not surprisingly, Danny was arrested, received a year probation and was sent to a residential drug rehab facility for six-months. Danny did very well, he began to answer phones, worked with other residents, and set an example of what success could look like. However, as Danny said, he changed his behavior but he didn’t change his ways. Danny eventually got caught smoking pot and was asked to resign.
As he was preparing to return to Danville, Danny recalls very specifically that on November 2 he had a dream he would murder someone. He didn’t know how or when, but it shook him. He woke up sweating, swearing the dream was very real; he even stepped outside in the cold weather to cool his worked-up body and mind.
A month later, December 2, Danny was living in Danville with his family and had resumed using drugs. That morning, having not done any drugs yet, Danny’s grandmother asked Danny if he would take her to the store and the bank. Danny did and he and his grandmother returned home about noon that day.
With consternation in his voice and pain in his eyes, Danny explains, he walked through the kitchen, off the back porch, and walked cattycorner across the ally and into a gift shop. Danny was alone with the gift shop storeowner; when Danny left the gift shop, the owner was dead and Danny walked out with a radio.
Danny went about his day, went out to party with friends and returned home around 10:00 that night. The next morning the police were at his parent’s door looking for Danny. The police arrested Danny and charged him with burglary and murder.
Danny’s parents wanted to get him a lawyer; they wanted to help him. Danny realized at that point the power of his father’s unconditional love. Danny is still his son! It mattered what Danny did; it mattered more that Danny was his boy. Danny told his parents that he did it, never denied it. He told his parents he would have a bench trial and would use a public defended. Danny told his mother and father, “enjoy your life, you know where I’ll be at.”
Danny received 100-150 year sentence for the murder charge and a 10-30 year sentence for the burglary and was sent to a maximum-security facility in Menard. Danny received potentially 180 years of prison time. When asked about what he thought about the sentence at the time and the possibility of ever being a free man Danny responds, “never crossed my mind. I was young, naïve and didn’t care.”
Danny shares maximum-security prison was “total chaos!” This was the seventies, prisons were different at the time, and maximum-security prison was much different then. “Drugs were plentiful at the penitentiary!” Danny explains. Given Danny’s propensity for substance use and the accessibility of drugs in prison, Danny’s prospects were at rock bottom.
However, Danny decided to go cold turkey in prison, no help, no support-he quit seeking and doing drugs all at once. When asked how he was able to go cold turkey and white knuckle through to sobriety, Danny said, “they threw me in a place where anything can happen at any given time and I knew if I was high, I wouldn’t be aware of my surroundings. It was a matter of survival.” Danny’s survival instincts created the philosophy, “I won’t see daylight, don’t want to think about it. As long as I can get through the day, I was okay.”
After ten years, Danny was transferred to a medium security prison. An attorney came across Danny’s case and was able to get his sentences to run concurrently. With the lawyer’s help and changes in sentencing, there was now a possibility parole. Remote, but a possibility nonetheless.
With more than two decades passed, Danny received a letter from his victim’s step-granddaughter, Sue. She wanted to come and visit Danny in prison. Danny was reluctant but put her on his visitors list. Sue came to visit Danny for two consecutive days. Sue was just trying to make sense of the senseless; she was not even sure Danny had committed the murder. Danny sat across the table from Sue, they held each other’s hands and Danny looked her in the eye and said, “I killed your grandmother, it was me. I’m sorry.”
Forgiveness comes in many forms and on its own timeline; Sue forgave Danny and became an advocate for him at parole hearings despite that support causing a riff within her family. Sue felt Danny had served enough time and should have the opportunity to restart his life. After 44 year of incarceration, Danny was paroled with the stipulation he could not return to Danville. Danny was free.
After any period in incarceration, transitioning back to our communities is an incredibility challenging process. Saint Leonard’s Ministries has been meeting those transitional challenges for nearly 70 years and Danny found his way here to begin his process of reentry. Danny felt he could finally breathe.
Like all new residents, Danny was required to meet with Shelia, Saint Leonard’s nurse practitioner from Rush University College of Nursing. During Shelia’s initial exam of Danny, she detected what might be an advanced stage of prostate cancer. We learn how to advocate for ourselves with medical professional and we learn how to navigate the healthcare system. Danny did not have those opportunities and he cannot exhale yet!
Though Danny is without family and friends in Chicago, Danny is part of the Saint Leonard’s community of care and support. Saint Leonard’s has Danny’s back. Shelia, who some would say went above and beyond, went to Danny’s doctor’s appointments, explained the process and helped Danny navigate the challenging healthcare system he had no experience with. For Shelia, it is what she does and who she is. The nurses have incredible integrity at the Rush University College of Nursing and Saint Leonard’s residents like Danny experience it every day. With Shelia’s help, guidance and care, Danny has successfully negotiated his cancer diagnosis, completed treatment and is now in the monitoring stage for his cancer.
Today, Danny is employed, sober, has secured housing while continuing to take advantage of every opportunity presented him at Saint Leonard’s Ministries. Danny though he would never see the light of day, went cold turkey with his addictions in prison because it was a matter of survival, developed a lasting, positive relationship with his victim’s granddaughter and is a cancer survivor. Danny greets each day with gratitude and joy. You can count on Danny for a warm and positive greeting every time you see him!
We are glad Danny is here at Saint Leonard’s, healthy, setting an example for others and working on himself daily. Danny is another Saint Leonard’s success story and a Face of Saint Leonard’s!