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Life Dream Gets Crushed by Drugs

“Being a child watching college football games on Saturdays, those stadiums were like cathedrals and the players are like gods when you're a kid,” Damon recalls. “I told my dad one time, ‘Hey dad, one day I'll be there.’ And he was always telling me, ‘You know, Damon, I believe that.’”

Damon West always dreamed of becoming a professional football player. “I thought, you know, hey, one day I'll be in the NFL, I'll play quarterback. But it didn't work out that way.”

Damon attended the Catholic Church and was even an altar boy, but his conception of god was more utilitarian than personal. “My view of God back then was the view of God that my family gave me. God was the source of everything. God is the center of our universe. God is the center of our world,” he says.

When he was just ten, he began being abused by an older female babysitter. “It's like entering into a world of adult behaviors that a kid should never be in. It kind of robs you of something in childhood, of an innocence. By the time I was 10, I started drinking. By the time I was 12, I was having sex on a regular basis.”

At his high school in Port Arthur Texas, Damon became the star quarterback. his father’s friendship with Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson offered him a chance to see the world of pro sports. “Whenever I’m in high school, Jimmy's coaching the Dallas Cowboys and I got to bring two receivers with me to their training camp,” he says. “We’re out there with, with Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman and Steve Beuerlein and those guys. We're running routes and throwing passes as those guys are getting done with practice. What high school kid gets to do that, you know?”

He was recruited by a number of colleges, but chose nearby North Texas. but, his career wouldn’t last long. “September 21, 1996 against Texas A & M--I call that day in my life a big fork in the road,” he says. “I separated my shoulder. And then when I got healthy again in the spring and got back into rotation, there was an accident that I had at home where I severed my Achilles tendon in half and that was it. That was the end of the career. That was a game changer there. My life, my existence was wrapped up in playing football. I'd put all my eggs in one basket of being a college football player. And once that was gone, I was mad at God. I was mad at the world. I was mad at everybody.”

His doctor prescribed painkillers, which added to the list of substances he was abusing.

“The painkillers, I abused those too, and now I’m putting in cocaine, ecstasy, the pills. I’m doing all the hardcore stuff now. I would abuse anything that was in front of me. I would abuse.”

After college, Damon worked as a broker on Wall Street and in politics, but the drug use finally caught up with him. “That’s where I ran into the one vice that would be the end of me: methamphetamines,” he recalls. “It took me no time to lose my job, my apartment, my car, my savings account, my sanity. I went from working on Wall Street to living on the streets of Dallas. And eventually I ended up in other meth houses, in other meth dens with other meth addicts.”

He also began stealing to support his habit. “We started breaking into homes. I took a lot of their property. I stole, you know, with that burglary crew, we stole over $1 million worth of people's property.”

Eventually, he was arrested. “July 30th, 2008. It's a day I'll never forget,” Damon says. “I'm sitting around this little rundown apartment in Dallas and I'm smoking meth with my meth dealer on my couch. Bamm! This flash bang grenade goes off in my face. Bright white lights, loud noise. When I can see and hear again I’ve got this cop in full S.W.A.T riot gear, man. He’s got his boot on my chest and he’s screaming at me, ‘Don’t move! Don’t move!’ I heard one of them scream out, "We got him. We got the Uptown Burglar."
When his time came for his sentence, the jury showed no mercy.

“When the jury came back and said 65 years, I mean, it took my breath away,” Damon says. “I remember when the sentence was read, I hear my mother gasp from the front row, you know: the sound that only a mother can make when she hears her son get a life sentence in prison.”
 
Before Damon went to prison, a friend shared some advice to help him survive. “He said, ‘Look here’s what prison is going to be like. Imagine prison's like a pot of boiling water.’ He said, ‘And you've got three things you can be in a pot of boiling water." He said, ‘You put a carrot, an egg, and a coffee bean.’ He said ‘The carrot goes in there and turns soft. The egg goes in there and turns hard.’ Neither one of those are good options for you.’ He said, ‘If you want to be something in prison, be the coffee bean, change the environment around you, no matter how hot it is.’”

Damon then got a call from his mother.  “I told him ‘You are a captive audience and you need to get on God’s back and let Him carry you through,’ she says. “I reminded him of the footprints in the sand. God was walking down the beach with someone and the man was looking back and saw, at times, saw two sets of prints, and other times just one set. And he asked God, ‘Why is there just one set of prints? Did you desert me?’ And He said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘I carried you.’ And that's what I told Damon, "Get on God's back and let Him carry you."  

“Finally, when I got alone and I could cry, which you can't cry in front of anybody in there. I’m sitting in there, and I’m a little confused because I’m into my Bible. I’m praying to God, but I hadn’t learned how to pray,” Damon says. “I cried and I just prayed, ‘Jesus, please, I can't do this alone. I can't do this anymore.’ I remember being broken down, about as broken down as I've ever been. And that's when I finally asked Jesus to take over. “

Damon refused to join any of the prison gangs. instead, he began attending Bible studies and seeking out mentors. “I’m not into a gang--and that’s what they do. They isolate you. They send other groups after you, because they want you to come into their fold, in the white prison gangs. But I couldn’t do that. I made a promise to Jesus. I made a promise to my mom and dad that I would come home as the man they raised.”

He also entered a recovery program in prison.“I got taken into sobriety at gunpoint. I tell people that all the time. I'm clean, I'm sober, I have a program of recovery and I'm still letting Jesus drive that car.”

After serving just eleven years of his 65 year sentence, he was paroled. “A total God thing I made parole,” Damon recalls. “I was blown away with the grace that Jesus bestowed on me. Jesus had a plan the whole time. I remember turning back to look around, because something told me to turn back and look around, and it's this voice inside your head saying, "I want you to remember what this looks like. You're going to work for me now. And if you ever stop working from me, you'll be back. Don't come back."

Damon is now married and speaks all over the U.S. He has also authored two books. “My purpose now in life is to go out to be an example to others of what not to do, but the other part of my life is to be that message of hope. That message of hope of what Jesus' grace and Jesus' love can do for someone,” he says. “I was a drug addict and a thief and a liar and a cheat and everything else you can think of that’s bad. And He turned all that around to (make me) a person that's useful again.  And people love a good redemption story: a person that goes out and can be the change agent, a person that goes out and can be that coffee bean and turn whatever pot of warm water he's in into a pot of coffee. And it's a testament to what He can do.” 

Check out Damon's books, The Coffee Bean: A Simple Lesson to Create Positive Change and The Change Agent: How a Former College QB Sentenced to Life in Prison Transformed His World.

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