Rosary, mother’s advice helped survive ‘hell on earth’

Published 8:10 am Thursday, February 25, 2016

By Damon West

I am so grateful to have been included in The Living Rosary this past Saturday at Mardi Gras. When my fellow ACTS brother, Benny Tran, called to invite me, it immediately brought so many pleasant memories to mind from a time when I was in a terrible place. I was first introduced to The Living Rosary while in prison, at the Stiles Unit. I was paroled this past November. Obviously, Ash Wednesday and the Easter season take on a significant importance for my family and me this year.

In 2004, while working as a stock broker in Dallas, I was introduced to meth and was instantly addicted. I lost my job, my home, my mind and my tethering to God. I began committing property crimes to support my addiction, eventually escalating to home burglaries. I made victims out of so many innocent people. Burglaries not only deprive people of their property, they also deprive them of their senses of security.

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Related: “West shares story to keep others out of prison”

In 2008, I was arrested in Dallas and was subsequently sentenced to 65 years in prison. My family now became the biggest victims; because they love me unconditionally, they were incarcerated with me. Those are just a few of the selfish costs that my drug addiction and criminal activities extracted from society.

My parents, Bob and Genie West, never gave up on me. While in prison, they and other family and friends visited me almost every weekend. From the very beginning my mother told me, “You are in a terrible place, but you are now a captive audience to God. Get closer to Him!” Truer words have never been spoken because prison is not only a terrible place; it is a never ending nightmare. Prison is definitely effective at its intended purpose: punishment.

My goal became more than survival. I was determined to one day walk out of that hell on earth with my dignity intact and my soul in God’s hands, not letting that dark, evil place change me from the man I once was and the man I have potential to be.

Having been raised Catholic, at St. Catherine’s in Port Arthur, I already had the foundation to rebuild and repent. I took my mother’s advice and got as close to God as possible. I discovered the same thing the man from the story of “Footprints In The Sand” discovered: there was only one set of footprints through the most difficult times of life because God carried me. While He carried me, I carried a rosary around with me everywhere I went, saying it many times each day.

I got involved in the Catholic community in prison. Eventually, I made my first Kolby retreat, where I was introduced to The Living Rosary. ACTS has been such a blessing in my life, not only in prison but out here as well. In January, I was able to attend my first ACTS retreat outside of prison and, in June, I will be on my first team with The St. Elizabeth’s ACTS retreat.

The blessings don’t stop there. Upon my release, I was hired by the Provost Umphrey Law Firm as a legal assistant to Christopher Kirchmer. And, this spring, I begin going into schools, talking to kids about the dangers of drugs and consequences of crime, with Judge Brad Burnett and Detective Marcello Molfino of the District Attorney’s office. Hopefully, my life can serve as a warning to others, because if all this could happen to me, with the endless opportunities, love and support I have had in life, then it can happen to anyone’s child.

It all comes back to the Rosary.

When I was released in November, the ACTS brothers I met in prison had a special mass and Rosary dedicated to my family at St. Henry’s in Bridge City. It was one of the most emotional and beautiful celebrations I have ever been a part of. This past Saturday, at The Living Rosary we shared at Mardi Gras, I saw so many people from St. Henry’s who were there to welcome me when I got out of prison. I look forward to this Easter season with my family and my ACTS family.

Thank you for all of your prayers for my family and me.

Damon West is a resident of Port Arthur.