Jon Erickson: Please tell us a little about yourself to get started.
Danny Byasse: Hello. My name is Danny W. Byassee. I am 52.
JE: Why should we be interested in your story?
DB: I am telling my story to those who read this, knowing in faith that it will help you to not have to go through what I did to know that God should come first in your life, as He does in mine. Until you understand that about God, life is meaningless. So my prayer for those who read this is that God will open your mind and your heart to what I am saying.
I have three addictions from which I am recovering with God's help. That is why you should read what I have to say about how I struggled with these addictions and how I am now recovering, having achieved some control. I am telling this to you from prison, where I will be for another seven years, serving time for bank robbery. My addictions led me to rob banks. Then I tried suicide. Now I have found God.
Putting God first in your life is the most important thing you can do, whether you have addictions or not. I did, and it is working for me. You can do it right now.
JE: Please tell us about your early childhood.
DB: I was born in 1955 in St. Louis, Missouri. I lived there and in East St. Louis, Illinois, growing up with just my mother and her two sisters. My father had left my mother before I was born and never came back. He had an alcohol and drug abuse problem, or so I have been told all of my life. As I was growing up my mother worked all of the time. So she left me with her two sisters, who drank and used drugs. I remember when I was 8 years old they would give me beer and have me smoke pot with them, rather than shield me. I would pass out, and then they could go out and party. I also remember they would do sexual things to me. At first I did not understand what was going on. But it did not take long before I understood what they were doing to me. So almost all of my life I grew up abusing drugs, alcohol and sex. I thought they were a normal part of life, but they totally messed up my life.
I didn't ever know my father. That means the most important element in the family for a child's normal development, a father, was missing. Fathers are strong and make for feelings of security. Fathers teach respect and love by example, but I had no such example. Fathers are caring, but mine didn't care enough about me to stick around. Fathers are providers, but mine didn't provide for my mother or for me. Fathers have the responsibility to lead their children spiritually to God's way of life (Ephesians 6:4 Ephesians 6:4And, you fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
American King James Version×), but mine didn't.
JE: How did your life change when you got to your teenage years?
DB: When I was 13 or 14, I started drinking and doing drugs by myself. Then, my cousin and I started using drugs and drinking together. For several years we grew up together, and started to get into trouble with the law. As we got older, the trouble got bigger. Then my cousin moved away. But we would still see each other once a year, and go out and party. The older I got, the more drinking and drug abuse I did. Also, the more trouble I would get into with everyone, including the law. I was in and out of jail all of my teenage years, only to get out and go right back to the same thing that put me there. I, of course, was thinking I did not have a problem—it was everyone else that did.
Becoming an adult
JE: Did your life get any better when you became an adult?
DB: No, I continued down the same path. Then to make my problems even bigger, I married a girl that drank and abused drugs. She already had a child. Along with the two sons that we had together, we have three sons. They all grew up to drink and use drugs. She and I stayed together about 12 years. At the end of that time we both left hating each other, which only made things more wrong for our sons.
JE: How did you deal with your problems after your marriage and family life failed?
DB: After I left her, I started running all over the country. I was trying to run away from my past and my problems. I worked as an electrician. But my situation was the same no matter where I went—the drugs, alcohol and sex. About five years later I met my second wife. She is 10 years younger than I am, and already had two little girls when I met her. She and I had one boy and one girl together. My second wife doesn't use drugs other than alcohol. She drinks like a fish. I was thinking this is going to work this time. But keep in mind—by this time I have a $200-a-day cocaine addiction and a sex addiction that are both out of control. My second wife thought all I did was drink and smoke pot.
My second marriage lasted about 10 years. It ended just like the first marriage.
Then I was off and running away again.
Now I was in Texas with my cousin, who was about ready to lose his wife. My cousin and I started going to strip clubs, drinking and using drugs. One day we came home and his wife had packed up and gone. We started having big cocaine and sex parties at the house. My cousin and I started fighting all the time. The fights were over money, drugs and girls.
One time he kicked me out of his house and told me I could not stay there any more. He took me to a house of a friend of ours. The friend was running a crack house. Then one day my cousin and I got into a really big fight. He beat me up real bad—I was in the hospital for two days. I checked myself out of the hospital with no money and nowhere to go.
Living on the streets and robbing banks
JE: What did you do then?
DB: I was just living on the streets. I was in motels when I had money. None of my friends wanted me around or to have anything to do with me. None of my drug dealers would give me any cocaine. Then one day I was in the motel with a prostitute I know. She told me she saw on the TV news that people are robbing banks with a note. No guns are involved and no one gets hurt. I told her she was crazy. But she kept telling me about how easy it was to rob banks. Well, two days later I'm in a bank, giving the teller a note. It was easy, but very wrong. In about 15 minutes we were back in the motel with $8,000, calling a drug dealer and watching the TV news about the bank robbery. About four days later the money started getting low. So we robbed another bank. This time we got about $13,000. We thought we were living real well. We started having big parties, with more money and drugs than we needed. Whenever we would get low on money, we would just go to a bank with a note.
JE: But you weren't happy, were you? Weren't you overwhelmed with what you had become, and you couldn't change?
DB: I started thinking about my life. I was in the motel room alone one day with everything I needed to have a good time. But I was not having a good time—I was not happy. I was really getting tired of the way I was living. I was feeling trapped, helpless and hopeless. I knew loneliness such as few do. So I mixed up a really big shot of cocaine and gave it to myself. Well, when I got up off the floor, I saw that it did not work, I was still alive. So I tried it again with an even bigger shot, but it still did not work. A few days later we robbed a bank. When we got back to the motel room, I saw there was something in the bag with the money. It was a Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite tracking device. The girl took off running. I stayed in the room as I was tired of running and tired of living. When the police got there I was trying to shoot enough cocaine to kill myself, but again it did not work.
Going to prison
JE: What happened then?
DB: They took me to the county jail where all I remember was I slept for about one week. When I got up I knew I was in big trouble. A lawyer came and told me that the FBI was dropping the case because no one got hurt, and we did not use any guns. The lawyer said that was good because the state would be easier on me. I got arrested on March 17, 2004. On April 28, 2004, my cousin took a big shot of cocaine and killed himself. So now I was in the county jail and everything was going downhill fast. About 10 months later I went to court, and they gave me 10 years in prison for bank robbery.
When I first got to prison, I knew this was going to be a real bad time of my life. If anyone has not been in a place like this, they will never be able to know how really bad it is in here until they hear that door close behind them for a long time. People on the outside of prison will never know the truth of what goes on behind these bars. In the lifestyle I was living, I had been in some real bad places, and around some real bad people, but this prison is really the bottom of life. It's not just the other inmates, but also the people that run the prison from the top to the bottom. They hide from the people on the outside the things that really go on in here and the way we are treated.
JE: How did you react to being in prison?
DB: After I came to prison, I had a lot of free time. So one day when they called that it was time for church, I went. I sat there and listened to the chaplain. Then I went back to my cell and thought about what he had said and the way I had lived my life. After three months of going to church four times a week, and hearing that I was going to die and go to hell if I didn't repent of my sins, I was just about to stop going.
Then I met this inmate named Mitchell Kite. We started talking, and I asked him where he went on Friday nights. He told me to a Bible study and asked if I would like to go with him. At first I said no. Then a couple of weeks later I went. As soon as I sat down, I could feel the presence of God. There were only 15 people. Then the speaker started teaching the lesson. Not one time did he say I was going to die and go to hell. The entire lesson was coming right from the Bible. Every time he said something, he would show us where we could find it in the Bible. It was the United Church of God (UCG) that held that Bible study. I stopped going to all the other church programs I was attending, and I started going to UCG Bible studies on Friday nights.
I really started learning a lot about God and how He wanted me to live my life. But after going for about two months, I was still having these dreams about using drugs and having sex. So I talked to one of the men from UCG. He told me that I had to let go of my past and believe that God will help me through it. My life changed when I repented and asked Jesus Christ to forgive me!
Putting God first is working
JE: Why do you think God has forgiven you and is calling you?
DB: When I repented and asked Jesus to forgive me is also when I cut off contact with all of my old friends. One week later I got on my knees and cried out to God to take the dreams and thoughts of my past away from me. I also asked Him to be the most important thing in my life, and I would put Him first in everything I do. That night I slept like a baby. Not one time since have I had those dreams anymore. I knew then that God was first and most important in my life. Since then, my whole life has been changing. Also I knew that UCG was where I was to be.
Every day I keep getting stronger and growing closer to the Lord Jesus. It is kind of funny to say, but here I am doing 10 years in prison, and I can truthfully say that I'm happier than I have ever been in my whole life. But it is because God is showing me from His Word the way I am to live my life by following His commandments. And also God has put love in my heart and mind. Now I have something to live for and a purpose in life. Life means something at last.
I am telling this to let people know that they do not have to live a life with drugs or alcohol or sex. They do not have to go all the way to the bottom before they ask God to be the Lord of their life. Just look at what I did with my life; I am not proud of it. When I was 8, I did not have a choice. But when I was 13, I did, and I took the wrong one.
JE: "Addiction is a recurring compulsion by an individual to engage in an activity that is difficult to discontinue once the individual has commenced the activity." The term is often reserved for the abuse of substances that directly stimulate the brain, but it has been extended to also apply to obsessive gambling, eating, sex and other activities where the compulsion is psychologically stimulated.
Please tell us more about your addictions.
DB: I could not stop using cocaine or drinking alcohol or having sex until I found God (Luke 10:27 Luke 10:27And he answering said, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.
American King James Version×). Being in prison is not what is keeping me from these; it is my faith in God. Because all of those things are here in prison, if someone wants them. Some of the guards will bring you whatever you want as long as you send them money. And the women guards sell sex. I was put on an antidepressant medication to deal with the withdrawal effects of cocaine, but I have found the strength through God to discontinue the antidepressant medication.
Getting rid of addiction "triggers"
JE: So-called "triggers" are people, places or objects that make an addict's cravings return in force and cause loss of control so that the addiction is resumed, not further discontinued. Have you identified and dealt with some of your triggers?
DB: The friends I had before I went to prison, have this kind of an effect on me, as do some of my family. They just want to do drugs and have sex parties, which I won't do.
I have tried to get them to understand about God and what putting God first in my life has done for me, and could do for them. But they were not interested. I had to cut off communication with them totally—no visits, no letters and no money—no anything. Or they would have me resuming my addictions here in prison.
JE: Do you think that you will be able to stay away from your addictions once you are out of prison?
DB: Yes, because God will still be first in my life, and I will live His way. I want to be baptized. I fervently desire the fellowship of members of the United Church of God so that we can strengthen each other in the faith, because that is one of God's ways. In fact, I want to become a minister to help people with drug and sex addictions.
I have seven children who need me to help them with their lives. I will do what I can with God's help.
I hope no one will consider my story to be in bad taste. My hope is that many would-be addicts or actual addicts, desperately in need, will find and read my story. And by doing so, will be persuaded to seek God and solutions to their problems in His Word before sinking to the bottomless pit of wanting to die.
JE: Danny W. Byassee #1283913 is an inmate in the Ramsey 1 Unit, 1100 FM 655 Rd., Rosharon, TX 77583-7670 and wants readers to have his address so that they can write to him. Both name and inmate number are required on envelopes.