After Years of Trouble with the Law, Man Achieves Sobriety, Lands Job
Darnell Whitworth had faced Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Steve R. Dozier half a dozen times over the years, but never like this. He was nervous, fidgeting with his uniform as he stood looking at the judge.
“We wanted to come up and congratulate you,” Dozier said as Whitworth’s face lit up. “You’re doing a good job.”
The two men shook hands as they stood in the center aisle of the Goodwill store on Nashville Pike in Gallatin Friday, and Dozier gave Whitworth a gift card for groceries. The judge said it was the first time in his 17 years on the bench he had ever gone outside the courtroom to honor a probationer for good progress.
“We probably, as a court, don’t take enough time to recognize the good in people,” he said. “That’s why we came out here.”
For at least two decades, Whitworth struggled with alcohol addiction, having been in and out of court and jail for a variety of usually minor offenses. Things got worse seven years ago after his daughter, whom he calls “my princess,” was born with Down’s Syndrome.
“I started drinking to hide all the pain and emotions I was going through,” he recalls.
He had trouble finding places to live. He missed meetings with his probation officer. He was running out of chances, and people who cared about him feared he might end up in prison.
But that didn’t happen. Instead, on Friday, Whitworth was the man of the hour.
Besides the judge, his case officer with Davidson County Community Corrections, his case manager and site manager with Buffalo Valley Inc. addiction treatment center, his Goodwill Career Solutions counselor and his Goodwill store supervisors were on hand to praise him.
“I’m actually living a good life now, and I appreciate you all for everything, especially the big guy over here,” Whitworth said, referring to the judge. “At first, I thought he was short because he was sitting behind the bench. I never stood this close to him.”
Whitworth wore the blue Goodwill smock he dons to sweep and clean the Gallatin store. It was the 40-year-old’s last day as a paid trainee in a custodial position with Goodwill Career Solutions. Having enthusiastically completed his training and passed his drug test and other hurdles, his supervisors welcomed him as a permanent employee.
“You look terrible in orange, you know that?” the judge asked Whitworth, referring to the standard orange inmate attire at the Davidson County Jail. “You look better in blue.”
Whitworth also wore a coin on a chain around his neck, a token he received in December after completing a 60-day alcohol treatment program at Buffalo Valley Inc. in Castilian Springs. The Nashville native now lives in Buffalo Valley’s transitional housing in Gallatin and attends four Alcoholics Anonymous meetings per week. He will remain there through September.
“Every day I get up and thank God for giving me a chance to get up clean and sober, and then I thank God for all the people who had a hand in it,” Whitworth said.
There was even more to celebrate. Not long after Whitworth entered the alcohol treatment program, he visited the Zion Upper Room Apostolic Faith Church in Gallatin with Buffalo Valley Site Manager Douglas Fuqua, who who attends church there. Whitworth recognized the pastor and suddenly realized he was standing in the church where he’d been baptized 15 years earlier.
Whitworth, who has extensive knowledge of the Bible, now attends services regularly and hopes to receive his minister’s license to preach at the church soon.
Dozier said he appreciates organizations that are willing to hire people with a criminal record.
“It’s a risk that Goodwill takes, but it’s something they need to be proud of as well, helping not only Darnell but helping the community keep him out of trouble,” he said.
Many of those present for the judge’s visit to Goodwill, including Whitworth, shed tears as he talked about his road to recovery, his rediscovery of his faith and how his mother and his four children can now be proud of him.
“Yes, I did something — I accomplished something,” he said. “I get to just live a life, a chance I didn’t get to do when I was drinking and not caring.”
When the judge admonished him to keep working and stay on the right path,
Whitworth responded, “I’ve worked too hard to go back.”
About Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee, Inc.
For more than 55 years Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee has provided job training and job placement free of charge to people with disabilities or other barriers to employment through the sale of donated items. In 2014, Goodwill served 28,159 people in Middle and West Tennessee and placed 9.558 people in jobs. More information about Goodwill’s Career Solutions, retail stores and donation centers can be obtained online at www.giveit2goodwill.org or by calling 1-800-545-9231.