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Darren's Journey: From Prison and Addiction to a Beacon of Hope

Darren Walters

Darren's Journey: From Prison and Addiction to a Beacon of Hope

Part One of Two

By Jim Sliney Jr

Darren Walters has experienced a lot during his lifetime. Overcoming institutionalization, prison, lifetime parole, and addiction, he turned his life around with the help of his team at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York. Through the Beacon of Hope Program, he was placed in an apartment and in treatment support. Life was getting better and Darren found a job he liked. Then a trip to the emergency room at the height New York’s COVID-19 pandemic resulted in emergency hip surgery. After surgery he was transferred to a nursing home rehabilitation facility. The news about nursing homes at that time was grim. Fearing for his life, he discharged himself and went home. That’s when he learned he contracted COVID-19 and his life took a turn.

WE ARE ALL GOD’S CHILDREN - WHO IS DARREN WALTERS?

When Darren Walters was 8-years-old (1970), he displayed severe hyperactivity in school – a condition we now know as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He lived with 5 brothers, and a single mom. She simply didn’t know what to do with the hard to control child who needed so much of her attention, so she did what she thought was best. She had him institutionalized at a psychiatric hospital in New York City. He remained there until he was a teenager.

Like many children of the 70’s in Darren’s position, he missed out on a formal education. He was barely able to read and write, and lacked normal socialization. In his teens, rather than going home he was transferred to a group home. Directionless, he ended up on the streets and in trouble. He was arrested for attempted robbery in 1981.

Darren spent the better part of the next 25 years in and out of prison and struggled with addiction. But in 2005, a 43-year-old Darren, a transformed man, was finally released from prison.

Darren had become a cook while in prison; he even ran an entire kitchen. Upon release, he moved back home with his mother, with whom he had maintained a relationship. Darren was in addiction recovery, he had skills and experience, and he had support from his family. He was assigned lifelong supervised-parole, but for him, this was his new beginning -- a second chance.

In 2010, Darren decided it was time to make it on his own. Though ready, he had the courage to ask for help. That was when Darren’s story intersected with Catholic Charities’ Beacon of Hope.

WHAT IS BEACON OF HOPE?

Beacon of Hope, a division of Catholic Charities Community Services, provides supportive housing to people struggling with mental illness and/or substance abuse. They support the reentry of their residents into the community by providing supervised group-living homes and apartments. The housing is “supportive,” which is to say, case managers connect residents with services they need to thrive and pursue independence, like: finding a job, returning to school, or teaching basic life skills like cooking or money management. Case managers help residents through psychiatric challenges, navigating medical crises, and assistance with addiction recovery.

With help from Beacon of Hope, Darren’s life was turning around. He was assigned a caseworker, Denise, who remains his case worker to this day, over ten years later. “I’ve got my case worker’s phone number,” Darren said, “and she always picks up, even if I call on a Sunday.” Darren and Beacon of Hope have great communication and he feels, maybe for the first time in his life, like a valued part of a community.

Rather than making up for his missed education, which would take a lot time, Darren put his focus on working and earning a living instead. Meanwhile, Beacon of Hope provided support for Darren’s substance abuse recovery, beating his addiction with access to mental health professionals.

When Darren’s cousin opened a restaurant, it was an ideal opportunity and he was ready for it. Darren applied his culinary trade as the chef at his cousin’s restaurant for 3 years. He also worked at Beacon of Hope’s “Clubhouse” – a communal project where meals and services were provided to residents by a combination of staff and “members” like Darren. For the first time, he was living a somewhat normal life. But a short time later, his health began to fail.


Darren’s story is a great example of how Catholic Charities of New York steps into lives and creates hope and opportunity. But his story is also about just how powerful tenacity and a will to improve can be. To find out what becomes of Darren, please come back for part two of his story: “Covid-19, Emergency Surgery and the Healing Bed."