By NORA THOMPSON
When he was 18 years old, Danny Howe was facing 68 years in prison.
Today he is a free man, who has his rights restored, is married with two children and is an outspoken member of the community who advocates for people that are in his former situation.
“I had a poor childhood and whatnot, getting in trouble,” Howe says. “By age 9, I had a criminal record for possession of drugs and arson, and I kept going from there. By age 15, I had aggravated assault charges, more drug charges and at 18 was when I was looking at 68 years in prison. It was a road rage incident gone bad.”
Howe ended up serving four years instead of the whole 68.
“While I was incarcerated, I got my GED and started taking any college courses that I could. I got out in 2006.”
He took masonry classes while in prison and ended up working at a cabinet shop. Upon his release, he started taking Pima classes in building and construction and technology.
“I took courses for blueprint, hand tool, power tool, basically anything in the construction field, all this after I got out to continue furthering myself,” Howe says.
But by 2010, he was back behind bars for gun and drug charges.
In 2013, after being released again, he got a job as a recovery support specialist. Which is someone who helps others through substance-abuse recovery. Howe then became a case manager.
He manages patients’ care, rehabilitation and made sure that the patient’s needs were met. From there, he became a behavioral health technician, working alongside doctors and nurses to treat people with substance abuse issues. Howe also runs a halfway house for those recently coming out of incarceration.
Now he works for the county.
“Going from the county time to the county dime,” he said laughing.
How got people who are incarcerated and pushed them to get certified in construction through the program, getting them their certificates and then getting them jobs upon release.
Pima currently runs a couple of degrees and classes inside the state prison. Advanced program manager Tony Offret, who is in charge of the postsecondary education for the prison, explains it as:
“We teach vocational classes at the state prison that includes HVAC, heating ventilation and air conditioning construction technology automotive tech and advanced electrical,” he said. “These courses are designed to mirror those offered at the Downtown Campus.”
The courses offered are self-paced and allow the inmates to earn certificates. Ultimately, the goal is for them to find employment. The program, of course, isn’t without flaws there is very little technology allowed in the prison, and students will have no access to computers. There are also lockdown and other unpreventable and unforeseen circumstances that can prevent the students from attending classes.
Offret and Howe are trying to create programs in the prisons that allow inmates to come out with basic OSHA, or Occupational Safety and Health Administration certificates.
“They’re willing to hire people at $12-$15 an hour just for a warm body. They just can’t get people to show up.” Howe says.
Offret and Howe are also board members of Second Chance Coalition. Second Chance is a group made up of members of the community to raise awareness that formerly incarcerated people often need help to avoid going back to prison. Karen Caldwell is the self-described Co-chair of Second Chance coalition, as there aren’t exactly set roles.
“Our focus is on educating the community about the challenges people are facing when they come out of prison,” she says. “Basically increasing community awareness about re-entry with an emphasis on employment.”
Second Chance was started by Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and ex-judge Charles Pyle. Originally, it was a community forum. Now it’s branched out and hosts a job fair, resume-building interview workshops and volunteer opportunities.
“Danny is amazing. He’s on our committee he’s been on there from almost the beginning. He’s very inspiring; he’s very open about sharing his story,” Caldwell says “Because so much of the work we do with second chance is employment related – we have several job developers and employment specialists on our committee. He really plays an active role in doing employer outreach, recruiting employers for the job fair in addition to all the work he’s already doing.”
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is self-respect. If you don’t respect yourself, what does anything else matter?” Howe says. “I’m the one who put myself through all that drama. And I’m the one that pulled myself out of it.”
Howe is set to graduate sometime in the near future. He is currently majoring in social work and has about five classes left.