Moving Forward: The Salvation Army Helps Frederick Davis Leave the Past Behind

By: Danni R. Eickenhorst, Content Specialist, Midland Division 

At first blush, Frederick Davis does not seem like a man once dodging bullets and strung out on crack, but on a sunny May afternoon, Fred recounts his past in the East St. Louis Salvation Army Corps chapel with candor, including two prison stints and many failed attempts at rehabilitation.

Davis stands near the van he drives for the East St. Louis Corps.

The former football star attended East St. LouisSenior High School and was recruited to play for the Universityof Wisconsin at Whitewater. He played two years in Wisconsin, when he was transferred to Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Upon arriving in Carbondale, Davis began to party as most college students do.  His addictions began with alcohol, and in time extended into narcotics.

As Davis’ substance abuse began to affect his life, he found himself on academic probation and eventually back in Wisconsin. By the late 1980’s, Davis dropped out of college and started working at a local rental center. In 1989, Davis was charged with possession of narcotics and sentenced to probation and treatment. The next 6 years of his life would be a series of rehab attempts, relapses and job losses.

In 1995, Davis recalls that he was deep in his addiction when he found himself convicted of aggravated robbery and robbery, a crime that came with a hefty 7 year sentence. Davis served 3 ½ years and was released on good behavior. He was rehired at a former employer and worked toward a new start, with the help of a 12-step addiction program. In time, without a support system, however, Davis relapsed once again.

In 2003, Davis was given what he is determined will be his final conviction. He was convicted of residential burglary and robbery and sentenced to 14 years in prison. The conviction and sentencing was a pivotal moment in Davis’s life. As he recalls the pivotal moment in the dimly lit chapel, a visible spark lights up his face.

“Along the way, I made some bad choices,” recalls Davis, “but today I don’t make bad choices, because being in the right state of mind allows me to make good decisions.”

The weight of the substantial conviction was the catalyst Davis needed to make real and lasting change. Instead of attending yet another 90 or 180 day rehab program, Davis chose to stay in treatment for the length of the 6 ½ years he served. At Southwestern Illinois Correction Center, Davis entered a state-run program designed to train and license inmates as technicians in the substance abuse field.

While in prison, Davis suffered devastating losses, including the deaths of two of his brothers, one from a drug overdose. While in prison, his mother fell ill with cancer and worried she wouldn’t see him paroled.

Davis was released from prison in April of 2009, and was able to spend a full 11 months with his mother prior to her passing. “I’m angry with the disease of addiction that it cost me so much time with my mother, but I’m thankful for the time I got to spend with her,” said Davis.

When he was released, one of his first stops was at the East St. Louis Salvation Army Corps. The corps was able to assist Fred in finding assistance, resources, clothing and food. When Fred was able to get on his feet, he decided to volunteer for the corps in an effort to give back.

“When I was born, I didn’t come out saying, ‘I want to be an addict,’ and I have created a lot of problems for a lot of people in this life. I want to do something to give back.”

The Corps was so impressed with Davis’s performance as a volunteer that they offered him a part time position when it became available.

“The Salvation Army opened the door and gave me an opportunity when no one else would and I truly appreciate it,” says Davis, adding that daily work in an environment that so strongly supports his sobriety has helped him to stay clean. Davis has been sober for more than 8 years.

Fred admits that sobriety is a struggle saying, “The disease of addiction is powerful, baffling and cunning,” but credits his involvement with Narcotics Anonymous and The Salvation Army with giving him the skills and support to remain sober in the face of devastating losses.

Fred holds an Associates degree in liberal arts, and is in the process of enrolling in a 4 year program through Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville in Psychology, and dreams of becoming a social worker, helping addicts attain sobriety.

Davis says that next step in his path is to serve an internship in order to complete his substance abuse counselor certificate, but that he is having difficulty finding a program that will accept him with a felony conviction. Still, Davis exudes an air of unassuming hopefulness.

“I’m not going backwards. I’m going forwards,” and despite the setback, Davis simply says, “I ask God and I am just being patient and humble, and hope that He opens the doors for me. I know if I could, you know, do good and be positive and productive, then I know that I could help somebody else to get there.”

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