Testimony of the Month
My name is Daniel Swiney. In May of 2013, I spent three days riding my bike back and forth in front of the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake. I was homeless, addicted to marijuana and was tired of dealing drugs to make money. Still, something was holding me back from walking into the one place that I knew could help me.
I grew up with my grandmother in St. Petersburg, Florida. My mother was a marijuana addict and had given me to my father’s mom when I was two. My father is a career criminal and has been locked up for most of my life. I have only seen him a handful of times.
My grandmother was part of a religion called Armstrongism, which is otherwise known as the Worldwide Church of God. While the church includes some Christian teachings, I also learned many misconceptions about who God is and what He is like. In school, people made fun of me because I was part of a “weird” religion.
Beginning a Life of Crime
Since I didn’t have many friends, I started connecting with kids who smoked cigarettes and skipped school in junior high. Soon I was cutting class regularly and began breaking into homes with my friends to steal loose change or cash. We really didn’t need the money; we just did it for sport. We became a band of juvenile delinquents.
Eventually, I was arrested and sent to a juvenile correctional program. When I got out, my friends were in their late teens or early 20s and we set up a burglary ring. There were about ten guys who would go around and break into people’s homes or small businesses and take cash, guns, jewelry or other small, sellable items.
My part was to sell the stuff they stole. I was good at finding buyers and our little crime ring was making $3,000 to $5,000 a day. I bought a full set of gold teeth inlays over my four top teeth and my six bottom teeth. I fancied myself to be a real gangster.
Of course, it was only a matter of time before we got caught. When we were finally busted, I was charged with 109 felonies, burglary, accessory before the fact, dealing in stolen property – the list went on and on. Apparently, the police had known about our burglary ring for four months prior to the arrests and had been gathering evidence against us the whole time.
The initial offer the prosecutors gave me was 40 years in prison. That meant I wouldn’t get out until I was 60. My lawyer worked out a deal, and I was eventually sentenced to four years in prison.
A 20-year-old, white, skinny, wannabe gangster was not a good look for the Florida prison system. There were real gangsters in there and people who wanted to hurt others just for the fun of it. I was constantly watching my back and lived in fear. I tried to keep my head down and my mouth shut the entire time.
Never Going Back
When I got out, I was 24 and I vowed I would never, ever go back to prison. The first thing I did was go to the orthodontist and have the gold plates removed from my teeth. My mother had remarried and she and my step-dad lived in Rock Springs, Wyoming. I reached out to her, and my mother said I could come live with them. She said there was a lot of work on the oil fields and a young, hard-working man could make good money. I went out to Wyoming and got a job as a roustabout on one of the largest land oil rigs in the U.S. I made good money, but there wasn’t much to do in Rock Springs, so I ended up going to the bar most nights. I would drink and smoke pot with friends from town. It seemed like that’s what everyone did – work hard all day and then party hard all night.
But, eventually, the marijuana and drinking drove the will to work right out of me. Instead, I just wanted to get high. I quit my job and lived in my parents’ basement with no real direction. I would work on and off, but I knew something was missing in my life. I just couldn’t figure out what it was. I felt like a washed-up former criminal that wasn’t really good for anything.
In 2009, my parents had finally had enough of my on and off again work routine, my constant mooching and my near-constant lying. They kicked me out for good. I tried a treatment program for a while, but eventually abandoned that as well. I had nothing left in Wyoming. There wasn’t a bridge that I hadn’t burned. So I headed to the nearest big city, which happened to be Salt Lake, and when I arrived, it was the first time that I was truly a homeless person. I stayed in the public housing shelter for a few days and tried to figure out what to do.
I decided that the best thing would be to start selling drugs. I had never really been into “hardcore” drugs. My thing had always been marijuana, so I felt I could make some good money selling crack, meth or heroin without the risk of getting addicted myself. I made about $200 a day selling drugs and used the money to pay for hotel rooms each night, for food and my daily supply of marijuana, cigarettes and booze. It sounds funny, but I was barely making ends meet.
In the back of my mind, I always thought it would be fun to be a drug dealer. There was the excitement of the deal, the risk of getting caught and the big money. But when I actually became a drug dealer, it was just a daily grind, like any other dead-end job. I spent 10 hours a day riding my bike around town to make different deals. Then I was always trying to find new customers and worrying about the cops busting me. There was nothing glamourous about it; it was just hard work. By the end of each day, I was exhausted and I eventually realized that selling drugs was more hassle than there was ever profit in it.
By the summer of 2013, I was done. I knew I needed to change and I knew about the Rescue Mission’s New Life Program. The only thing holding me back was my marijuana addiction. I had smoked marijuana most of my life and I really didn’t know if I could stop. When I finally decided to get off my bike and join the program on June 1, 2013, I smoked my last bit of marijuana and then walked into the Mission.
Getting On Board with God
It took about two months before I was completely on board. I had always believed in God, but I had never had a relationship with Him before. I had always thought I wasn’t worth God’s time, that God only wanted “good” people and I was the complete opposite. But at the Rescue Mission, I learned more about who God really is and how even someone like me could have a relationship with Him.
Understanding that God loved me and would be willing to forgive me changed my entire outlook. I realized what I had been missing all those years. I had been searching for something to fill a void in my heart that only God could fill. When I received God’s forgiveness, it freed me up to forgive others. For the first time, I was able to quash the resentment I felt toward my mom for giving me up when I was two.
I realized that my addiction boiled down to this: I used drugs, partied and stole all because I simply didn’t like the way I felt, and those things were all a way to distract myself from how I was feeling or to cover up the pain.
Now, in experiencing a daily relationship with God, I enjoy the way I feel. I have good friends at my home church, K2 The Church, including my community mentor, John Welch. John has taught me so much about reaching out to people. As a new believer, I often have the desire to share the message of Jesus with other people. John has shown me that sharing faith is not about getting someone to say the Sinner’s Prayer and then walking away. If it were, it would be easy. Instead, sharing faith is about having a relationship with a person and being involved in their life for the long haul.
Today, I have been sober for 14 months and feel that I am on solid footing. I have moved into the Rescue Mission’s transitional housing unit, the Terri Timmerman Freedom House, and am enjoying some expanded freedoms and responsibilities. I am overseeing a small landscaping business this summer and even get a company vehicle to drive.
As a single man with no kids, I feel like I have a lot to offer in service to God, not to earn His favor, but out of love for what He has done for me. I would like your prayers that God would lead me in knowing how I can best serve Him moving forward. I thank the Rescue Mission for all it has done for me and I thank all of you, the Mission’s supporters, for helping to create a place where lost people like me can find hope and a new life.
To learn more about what is happening at the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake in August, check out our monthly newsletter, The Rescuer: