So tell me a little about your roots. Where did you grow up? Tell me a bit about your family.
I was born in Monroe, NC in March of 1950. At a real early age my parents split up so I ended up living most of the first part of my life, the first 7 years, with my grandparents. My mother remarried and moved to SC where we lived a couple years and then we moved on to Washington, D.C.
Why did you move to D.C.?
My step dad moved us up to D.C. because work was a lot better up there. He was actually a carpenter and movin’ up north meant better pay.
Do you have any brothers and sisters?
Yes, I’ve only got one sister left. I had another sister and a brother. I also had two sisters that, when my mother was goin’ through hard times, were put up for adoption. I don’t have any contact with either one of them. And then I lost another brother, my younger brother, Bubba. He died in a
motor cycle accident on January 2nd of this year.
Were you raised in a religious family?
No, not really. We spent a couple years in SC where we had some religious backin’, but once we moved to D.C. it wasn’t there. Not until I started in the Marine Corps did I start goin’ back to church.
Tell me about that. Did you join the Marines right out of high school?
Yes, I did. I joined the Marine Corps in 1967. I went to aviation school in Beaufort, SC for two years before I went to Vietnam. I was an F-4B and an F-4J plane captain in the Marine Corps. I inspected the jets, got them ready for flight, put the pilots in them, they went out for flights, came back in and we did a post inspection to make sure the aircraft was OK. It was in Beaufort that I joined my first squadron. It was there that I volunteered for Vietnam.
You volunteered for Vietnam?
Yes. I was in Vietnam for a year. I picked up a little shrapnel and they pulled me out and sent me to Japan where I finished out my time. When I left Japan, I came back and was honorably discharged from four years of active duty.
When you got back what did you decide you wanted to do with your life?
I was pretty much lost in the beginning. There wasn’t too much work goin’ on. I started doin’ some construction work. I got married and moved to Sumter, SC for several years until that marriage failed.
Yes, I’ve got a son, Jamie, I’ve got a son, Michael, a daughter Sarah, a daughter Patty, and a daughter Roxanne.
Are you still in close contact with your children?
Most of my children are a pretty good ways off. I see my daughter out in Arizona maybe once a year. My oldest son lives in CA. I’ve got one son in Sumter that I see more than I see the others.
Were all these children from your first marriage?
No, they were spread out. Actually I’ve been married several times Rev. Let’s see, I married Karen, then I married Regina, then I married Angie.
So during these years, how were you making a living?
The majority of the time I had several different jobs but I guess it was all pointing towards drivin’ tractor trailers. I drove 18 wheelers everywhere from the east coast to the west coast. That’s pretty much why my marriages didn’t last, because I was gone all the time.
Was that a good career; did you find it fulfilling?
I’d say it was. Once you become a truck driver you still have to get a break before you can make the big money, keep your nose clean, try not to do too many drugs.
Did you keep your nose clean?
No. I kept a pretty good habit of crystal meth., which was high intensity speed, which allowed me to cross the United States, from coast to coast, without a break. I’ve actually crossed in 56 hours, from South Carolina to downtown LA.
That’s a pretty quick trip. Did you ever get picked up for speeding?
Oh yea. At one point in time I had 19 existing tickets. The name of the game was to take the load and run with it! Of course truckin’s changed a lot these days, but back when I was doin’ it, that’s pretty much the way it was. We had a log book that we called the “lie book”. Drivers always doctored their books.
Danny, I recall talking with you one time about a group of cyclists you were involved with. Could you tell me about that?
It was in the early 90’s and I was still drivin’ tractor trailers. I lived near Charlotte, NC. I was ridin’ a Harley Davidson, and got up with some biker’s that were Outlaw affiliated, meaning we were affiliated with the group call the Outlaw’s. We were an anti-Hells Angels group. I rode with that group for 6 years.
What made you decide to get into that group?
What it was is that their way of life pretty much fit mine at the time, other than I kept on workin’. It was probably about the wildest I’ve ever been. There were plenty of drugs: crystal meth, pot, cocaine. We rode through neighborhoods and the other biker’s around the Charlotte area would kind of cause hate and discontent.
Were you ever arrested or serve any time in prison?
No, I never served any time in prison. Most of the times I’ve been to jail were for drunk, disorderly conduct. One time I was busted for Marijuana back in my earlier years. I spent a couple weeks in jail for that. No felony charges ever.
So you were a truck driver for many years. What did you do after that?
I quit drivin’ trucks because I lost my license and went back into building construction full time. The company I worked for was family oriented, so when my wife and I split up (another marriage), I decided it was time to leave Charlotte to get away from the motor cycle life (actually I had a lot of my brothers from the group that were either dead or in prison and I was hurt). I just had to leave. My lifestyle was just not goin’ the way I wanted it to so I picked up roots and moved to Charleston. That was around the year 2000.
What kind of work did you do once you moved to Charleston?
I worked mostly day-labor jobs. My first actual full-time job was workin’ on the Ravenel Bridge. I stayed on the bridge for about a year and a half. The construction I did took me all the way to the top, 575 feet in the air. I could look right into the blinking red light on the top of the spires. I was a carpenter. I helped build and set all the forms for the concrete to be poured into. Even though I was hooked on with four hooks, the height still gets to you.
So how did you happen to come to the Star Gospel Mission?
After the bridge job was completed, I went back to day labor jobs. I was still doin’ drugs. My nephew and I rented a place on Dorchester Road. When we split up, I’d been working with a man who thought the Star Gospel would be a good place for me to live and I contacted you. Actually when I came to Star Gospel, I walked up to the front door, I had enough money for one weeks rent at the time, with about ten dollars to spare, and half a paper bag of clothes. That’s all I had. I was pretty much at the bottom. The weekend before I came here (which was my birthday weekend) I did cocaine, smoked reefer, and that was the last weekend I did cocaine or meth, ever again.
Tell me what it was like when you moved in. Was it a conducive environment for you to make some significant changes in your life?
Oh, yes it was! When I moved in I seen right from the beginning that this could be a new beginning for me. It was as much a home as anyone could imagine, considering I was movin’ in with 20 some other men. I called it my home. I still felt homeless, but at the same time, I felt like I had a home here.
How long did you stay at the Mission in total?
March 15 of this year (2015) made it seven years.
Danny, you were a really great resident and after a couple of years I felt that you would make a great night manager, and hired you to take that position. Do you recall how that came about?
I always tried to follow the rules. We never had any discipline problems. I always kept up with my rent. I think it was good because it helped me get more stable in my life, to be able to work steadier, to hold on to a job longer and save money at the same time. It was the perfect opportunity for me.
It meant taking a leadership role as well, didn’t it?
Yes, and I kind of liked that because I always felt as though the reason I ended up at Star Gospel was because it was where God really wanted me to be.
Do you feel you were an example for the men and that you were able to help these men get on the right track?
Yes, because every different thing I had to do with the men was setting an example for them. I wasn’t goin’ out doin’ drugs, I wasn’t coming’ in staggering, and I think they saw that. Plus, there were always times that I would sit down and talk with different men, repeatedly over the years, tryin’ to get them to do what was right. Since I’ve left here, I’ve had other people tell me that they just kind of followed me by example, they were proud that I was able to do that, and it set them wanting to do the same thing.
You had a really good bond with the men here. They both respected you and many of them considered you to be a friend.
I was friends with a bunch of them here, but my friends didn’t get away with any more than anyone else. There were even times when I had to put friends out to straighten up their lives, and they understood.
Danny, in the seven plus years that you were here I’ve never really talked with you extensively about your faith. What I can say is that you never missed a Sunday church service, you sang all the hymns, and you were always very attentive. Can you tell me, were you affected in any way, shape, or form, while living here, in terms of your spiritual life, your faith, your relationship with God?
The whole time I was here! I never felt it was a mandatory thing to go to church. I always felt like, it’s Sunday morning, it’s time to go to church, and I actually looked forward to going to church!
Did you feel that this was a time of spiritual growth for you?
Oh yea. I had spiritual times, in my earlier years, goin’ to church with my mother and all, but for the last handful of years I didn’t go to church. I felt that once I started goin’ to church here, it was somethin’ that was supposed to have been in my life all along.
Despite your past, what you’ve done and what you’ve been through, multiple marriages, drug use, your involvement with the biker group, do you have any regrets about any of that?
No, I really don’t. I feel like my past has made me who I am today. Rev., I’ve talked with God many times and I believe He has forgiven me. I’m a forgiven sinner, just like you.
This past February, when you turned 65, you retired from your day job as maintenance manager at the Airport Hilton, and shortly thereafter from the Mission? Before leaving the Mission some dramatic things happened in your life. Could you say something about that?
I was going through a really bad time. My little brother had just died in a motorcycle wreck when I met Shirley. She was the mother of his girlfriend. I met her and I kind of had that feelin’ that she could be the one. I pursued it for months and months and kept tryin’ to date her but couldn’t get weekends off. After I retired from the Hilton, it made it possible for me to see her. We’re very happy together.
I understand that you also got a new job in your retirement.
That’s right, I’m a delivery man with NAPA Auto parts.
Where do you see your life going from here?
Only to the better, only to the better!
Danny, is there anything else you’d like to say?
Only that I think that this place is open to anyone that wants to make it work, to do right, that wants to get their life back together. When I came here, I had no license and was $3,000 in debt. When I left here, I had a five digit savings account, I’d gotten my license back, had purchased a Ford pickup truck, I had a steady job, and found a great woman, Shirley!
So would you say that the Star Gospel Mission made a significant impact on your life for the better?
Oh, yes indeed, completely! When I came here I was at the bottom, and now after seven years here, I’m at the top.
An interview of Danny Daniels by Pastor Christian