Dan White: A man who beat the odds
by Glen Doss, Major –
Dan White is on a mission. But recently that mission has changed.
“People used to tell me: ‘you’re rushing toward death.’ The things I did in my addiction shame me today,” he confesses. “Now I apply that same energy toward my new life.”
After his first prison term at age18, prison was a “revolving door” for him. By 2005 he had spent altogether 35 years behind bars.
“I never allowed myself to stay out long enough to learn to take life on life’s terms. Then three years ago God showed me I can have a better way of life with him,” Dan declares.
Growing up in the San Gabriel Valley of California, Dan’s life was hard.
“My father, a heavy drinker, hit me with everything from a switch to an extension cord, and he beat my mother. I hated him until he died. My mother tried to instill the love of God in my older brother, my younger sister and me. She took us to church when we were small, but I never developed a connection with God.”
When police escorted him home for shoplifting at age 9 Dan asserts he learned a lesson: “Don’t get caught.” By age 14 he was huffing inhalants and two years later injecting barbiturates. His parents divorced that year, and, as his mother struggled to provide for the family, he started stealing car stereos to fund his drug habit. By the time he was sentenced to the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco at age 18, Dan already had a string of felonies on his record.
Released nine months later, he reverted to his old behavior and soon afterward discovered heroin, and was his drug of choice for 37 years. The legal charges now grew more serious, including armed robbery and kidnapping.
“The addiction cuts off the pathway from the head to the heart,” Dan said. “So you can’t make a connection.”
He did five more prison terms, ranging in length from 18 months to more than nine years.
“It was easy to accept the prison life,” he stated, “because I always had the drug there to comfort me. Of course it takes money you don’t have, leading to conflict, such as stabbings over drug debts. I learned through trial and error that if you give your word you’re going to do something, you better do it.
“Walking the prison yard those last days I thought a lot. There weren’t many options for somebody like me—who had spent his whole life in prison. ‘What are my odds?’ I asked myself. But I made a commitment that somehow, some way, I was going to stay clean.”
In November 2005, on orders from his parole agent, Dan checked into the Riverside County ARC in Perris, Calif. However, a few months after completing the six-month residential program his old addictive thinking returned. He relapsed, but soon afterwards surrendered himself to his sponsor, his work supervisor, and his parole agent. He asked—and was accepted—to reenter the ARC program.
But first things first. Soon Dan was walking the yard in Chino, fulfilling a five-month commitment to the prison system, but this time with a whole new mindset.
“I’m doing this time as a Christian,” he told himself and for the first time stayed clean in prison.
Dan returned to the ARC a different man. At The Salvation Army Wildwood Ranch retreat he was one of a small group of ARC delegates who tackled the steep ascent to the cross.
“I had just begun the hike when I felt chest pains,” he recalls.
However, despite the pain, he persevered to the top. Later at the hospital he was diagnosed with a mild heart attack and strongly encouraged to quit smoking.
“But if the dope was my left arm, the cigarette was my right arm.”
Dan had learned that belonging to a church family was essential to recovery. At the spring, 2008, ARC sobriety dinner, he confided in Major LeAnn Trimmer, Murrieta corps officer: “I want to be a soldier real bad. But I’ve got to kick these cigarettes.” She suggested a “disciple’s fast,” Dan says. He listened carefully and in December 2008, was enrolled as a Murrieta Corps soldier. His prayers for employment were answered when he was hired as the corps custodian.
An avid Narcotics Anonymous twelve-stepper, today Dan assists in leading a weekly meeting at the ARC and sponsors some of the men. “I have to stay busy in my recovery,” he insists, “because I want to keep this victory that had eluded me for so long. I’m on a downward-going escalator. I may be facing upwards trying to do the right thing, but if I’m not taking positive steps forward in my recovery, that escalator is going to take me down. I used to be all in for my addiction, but today I’m all in for God.”