I was five when I realized that there was something terribly wrong in our home. I had awakened to the terrible sound of things breaking. Frightened, I called out to my mama, but she didn’t come. Instead, my cries were met with a deep, threatening voice: “If you don’t shut up, I’m coming in there.” Even at five, I knew what that meant. So I hid my face in the pillow and cried myself to sleep.
In the morning, I walked into the kitchen, ready for breakfast. My heart broke when I saw Mama’s face. Her eye was black and blue, her nose bloody, and her lip split. I gasped. She quickly signaled for me to keep quiet so that I didn’t wake Dad. I put my arms around her waist, pressed my little face against her hip, and cried.
My dad was a violent alcoholic who reached for the bottle instead of the Bible. The drinking and abuse got so bad that Mama moved us kids from Illinois to California to stay with her brother so that we’d be safe. I was ten at the time.
About a year later, she called us into a room and said, “Your dad is dead.” He had been killed in a one-car accident. Strange emotions emerged. I had loved my dad and felt terrible that he had died, but at the same time, I was relieved because I was so afraid of him. And then, I felt sad. I had never once heard my dad say he loved me, and now that he was gone forever, I realized I never would.
The absence of those words haunted me for decades as I pondered the question: Why didn’t Dad ever tell me he loved me?
The only answer I could come up with was that I must be unlovable. I mean, if my own flesh and blood didn’t love me, surely there was something wrong with me. Feeling rejected, I bought into that lie and sought to be loved and accepted at any cost.
We moved back to Illinois and lived with our grandmother in a federal housing project. The projects were a step up from the fleabag apartment we’d lived in with Dad. We were so poor. I often went to school hungry and ashamed. I vowed that one day I would live a different life, one that didn’t include poverty and rejection.
When I was 16, my mother married another alcoholic, and our family became more dysfunctional by the day. I couldn’t wait to graduate and forge my path to success. When the time came, I was elated. I was the first in our family to graduate from high school. Not only that, I’d finished in the top third of my class, and I held five varsity letters.
At my graduation, my stepdad handed me a beer and said. “Drink up. You’re a man now.” I was ready to be my own man, so I drank up. Unfortunately, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree—and I would soon discover that I had the same addiction to substances that my dad and stepdad had.
The day after graduation, my stepdad evicted me from our home. According to him, I was old enough to be on my own. I quickly looked for other guys in my situation who could rent a trailer with me. The four of us made ends meet.
I took out a college loan to attend a university close to our trailer park. I did well in school…until I became more focused on smoking pot, popping pills, and tripping on acid than I was on my studies. After two years, I dropped out of college.
I loved to drink, so at 26 years old, I decided to open a neighborhood tavern in my hometown. It took off like a rocket. I went from living on mac and cheese to making $1,500 a week in no time. That was 1976. Having free booze at my disposal was a dream come true.
The money flowed in fast, and I felt like I was in heaven. I bought a Cadillac off the showroom floor and then a house with an in-ground pool. I was 28 years old and making a fortune.
Within a couple of years, I had five successful businesses. I had a knack for the business world. But no matter how hard I worked, no matter how much money I made or how many things I accumulated, something was still lacking. I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was.
One day, a bouncer who worked for me asked if I’d like to try cocaine. Desperate to fill the hole in my heart, I tried it. With my weakness to addiction, I quickly developed a $700-a-week habit.
When I complained about the high cost of cocaine, my dealer suggested I start selling a few grams to my friends so I could get my drugs for free. Now that’s what I was talking about—free booze and free cocaine? Uh, yeah. Without another thought, I started dealing drugs.
I sold my small tavern and some of my smaller businesses and signed papers with a friend to open a 1.2-million-dollar nightclub that could hold 2,000 people. It was packed nightly. After that, I opened a racquetball club and fitness center and added free workouts to my benefits list. I was living large, and for the next decade, I was running with the big dogs.
I was a respected businessman by day and a party animal by night. Limousines, private jets, ocean cruises—I took the party wherever I went. In my mind, I was king of the hill—a man who made his own rules. But in truth, I was completely out of control; the booze and drugs owned me. They called the shots now, not me.
I always figured I could stop at any time, but I was wrong. The more I used, the emptier I became and the more I sought love, acceptance, respect, and security through drugs, alcohol, loose sex, and money. I was spinning my wheels in a deadly cycle.
A functional alcoholic and drug addict, I was still able to manage my businesses. But that all changed when, at the age of 40, some “friends” talked me into trying crack cocaine. I was instantly addicted, and my life crumbled before my eyes.
Suddenly, the only thing that mattered was getting my next fix. I smoked crack around the clock, three to four days in a row, without eating or sleeping. Misery loves company, so I invited close friends to party with me. Since they couldn’t afford the crack, I covered their bill.
My habit soared to well over $2,000 a week. I began selling cocaine by the kilo to pay for my addiction. Inevitably, I lost all of my businesses because I was whacked out on crack for days on end. And then I lost my freedom when DEA agents arrested me and charged me with drug trafficking. They read me my rights and told me that I’d serve 20 years in a federal penitentiary. That was April 10, 1991. I was 42 years old.
Heading to the county jail, I imagined that those six black DEA vehicles looked much like a funeral motorcade as they tailed one another down the highway. In my heart, I was wishing it was and that I was the one dead. But God would soon use this “death” to lead me to the life I had always desired.
Once at the jail, I was booked and thrown into a cell block with 16 bunks; I was inmate number 28. Twelve of us slept on the floor in the day room. It was a nightmare. All day long, the TV blasted, guys slammed cards on a table, rival gangs threatened one another, and men screamed and cussed on the payphone. I was living in a zoo!
“I have to get out of here,” I thought. “I’m surrounded by lowlife losers.” I was so arrogant in thinking that I was better than those other men. The Lord would soon reveal to me just how low I had gone.
Twice, I sought bond. I was denied both times. The judge deemed me a flight risk. I didn’t know how I could survive such chaos.
I did my best to lay low and avoid conflict. Then, a week after my arrest, I received a letter that changed my life. As I held it, I felt something like an electrical shock run up my arms, and it scared me. I opened the letter and began to read.
“Danny, no matter what you’ve done, God still loves you!”
What?! God loved me and accepted me?
Love. Acceptance. They were what I’d always desired. Somehow, in that moment, my soul was pulled out of my body, and I went to a peaceful place filled with a powerful love. Instinctively, I knew I was in the presence of God. Even an atheist would have known that. God’s presence overwhelmed me and revealed the depth of His love for me—for every cell of my body that He had purposely and intricately knit together (Psalm 139).
I hadn’t thought of God since I was 12 years old, and that was 30 years ago! Back then, a man had come to the projects driving a church bus and had invited me and the others to go to a revival. I had no idea what a revival was, but I sure thought it would be cool to ride that bus. So I went.
While there, I heard fiery evangelists preach about God. I enjoyed being in the powerful assembly of believers. I went to that church throughout the summer and learned about God. But when school resumed and I began to excel academically and athletically, I forgot all about the Lord. I quit going to church and reveled in the attention of my friends.
Thankfully, God didn’t forget about me. He pursued me, even to a jail cell, to reveal His love for me and my need for Him. He did this through a vision. In my mind’s eye, I saw a large screen playing a slideshow. It was the story of my life, and man, was it ugly.
One by one, the slides revealed the great sin in my life. I was undone. Until then, I hadn’t given my actions much thought. I just did whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, with whoever I wanted. I’d never considered my actions sinful or a violation against a holy God. I was on a highway to hell, and I hadn’t even known it! The truth broke my heart.
As the slides played, I couldn’t speak, but I thought, “Jesus, will You forgive me for my sins? Will You save me from this life?” Suddenly, I awoke from the vision, and I knew something was different. That hole in my heart, that emptiness that had led me down so many dark paths, was finally satisfied. I felt completely loved and at peace.
I looked around the dayroom from the confines of my cell; everything looked and felt different. No longer did I see losers; instead, I saw men that God loved. And I had compassion for them. I was most definitely a new creature in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Even my addictions were broken. I knew it instantly. I rushed to tell others about my encounter with the Lord, and many of them trusted in Him.
I was locked up for 18 months while waiting for my trial date. During that time, I had many opportunities to witness God’s faithfulness. In fact, while I was still pretrial, I served time in six prisons and five county jails. Being dragged by the feds from prison to prison made life difficult, unpredictable, and lonely, but nothing I experienced ever caught God off guard.
The Lord was my constant companion, and He showed me that as long as I was willing and available, He would use me at every pitstop. He was preparing me for a lifetime of ministry.
One of my favorite places to serve the Lord behind bars was in hospice. Comforting men that the world had forgotten in their last days and hours was a high privilege. I experienced much joy and contentment being the hands and feet of Jesus.
God brought great comfort to me, too, when I faced death. Three years after being sentenced, I was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It’s a disease with no cure and no treatment. The doctor told me I’d be carried out of prison in a body bag within a year.
I prayed every day to the Divine Healer and proclaimed the promises of His Word. I believed that God would heal me, even when I lost 45 pounds of muscle and walked with a severe limp. I trusted that, with God, all things are possible (Mark 9:23).
I had to choose, every day, to take my eyes off my terminal disease and focus on God, my Healer. Then I was unexpectedly transferred to a one-man cell. I made it my custom to worship the Lord with all my heart there. I was so free as I basked in His presence, for where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).
One day while worshipping, I received a revelation from God that I was healed. I took Him at His Word, and in no time, I gained back all the muscle I had lost, and my limp disappeared.
Doctors were skeptical and ran tests, but they couldn’t find any trace of that deadly disease in my body. There was no denying that God had reached through the razor wire of prison and healed me from that incurable disease.
Friend, it ain’t over till God says it’s over! I don’t know what your challenge is, but I know this—God is bigger. Give your situation to God, lift your eyes to Him, and watch what He can do.
When I received my healing, I also received confirmation that God was calling me to be an evangelist. I began fulfilling that call in prison. The Lord made sure I had many opportunities to deliver His good news of salvation—I ended up serving time in a total of twelve federal prisons and five county jails in eight states!
During my last six months in prison, I wrote a book about my incredible journey, called High on a Lie. It shares the many miracles God did in my life, including blessing me with a wife and allowing me to father a child while in prison. You’ll have to get the book to hear more about that.
I was released from prison after serving my full 10-year sentence. That was 20 years ago. Five years after my release, the Lord said to me, “You went to prison for doing bad; now I’m going to send you back to prison to do good. And this time, you’ll go through the front door with honor.”
I gladly accepted His invitation to take the Good News of Jesus back into prisons. So many men and women are searching for love and acceptance. Like me, they have never heard the words “I love you” from their loved ones. I have the privilege to share the life-changing words of that letter I received in jail—that no matter what I’d done, God still loved me.
You know, that good news is for you too. The love of Jesus Christ is available to every person who calls on His name (Romans 10:13).
If you haven’t already done so, would you call on the name of Jesus? Will you look to Him for forgiveness and salvation? Will you accept His love and acceptance? It’s all a free gift, and it’s waiting for you.
The Lord once said to me in prison, “Danny, you’ve gone through life doing things your way. How’s that working out for you?” I admitted, it wasn’t. Then He said, “Now we’re going to do things My way.” I am so glad I handed Him the steering wheel of my life. His way has never failed me.
Now, how about you? Are you clawing your way through life as I was, searching for love and acceptance? Joy and peace? Are you trying to be the god of your destiny? I ask you what the Lord asked me, “How’s that working out for you?”
Take it from me. Move over and let God be in the driver’s seat. He won’t fail you. Trust His love for you and His plan and then, rest. He’s got you. He won’t fail you.
In Christ, you’ll discover everything you’ve ever desired—love, acceptance, purpose, and happiness. Receive it today. All you have to do is ask.