Dorsey Howard Jr. works up to three jobs weekly, cooking, cleaning and building maintenance.
Howard, 51, an intermittent street-drug dealer between the ages of 10 and 40, considers himself fortunate.
“I don’t have to look over my shoulder anymore,” said Howard, who moved into a house in Golden Valley with his wife two years ago. “I’m blessed. God helped me. It took years. And I had to work hard.
“I realize talents now that I didn’t know I had. I can cook and fix things. I garden. Flowers and vegetables. I make furniture. I built a privacy fence. I help my neighbors.”
Howard also is proof that street-tough, sometimes-violent criminals can also transform into solid citizens, community volunteers, stellar employees and taxpayers. In his case, that required a decision. In 2008, when he finished his third and final stint in a Minnesota prison — around the time when his grandchild was born — he determined he was done with drugs and jail.
Last year, he regaled an audience with his story at the annual fundraising breakfast for Aeon, the nonprofit housing developer-manager that rented him a studio apartment in 2008. At the time he was a recent parolee from prison struggling with couchsurfing, despair about joblessness “and almost ready to go back to the street and drugs.”
Two years earlier, following a fight with prison guards, Howard started praying, reading, reflecting. He completed treatment for alcohol and drug addiction.
After his release and rejections by other landlords suspicious of his background, Howard believes his faith and commitment to going straight prompted Aeon CEO Alan Arthur to take a chance on him.
“If Aeon hadn’t given me that apartment, I’d be dead on the streets or back in prison, this time doing 25 years to life,” Howard said recently. “I needed a chance. My life has boomed since .”
Howard and Arthur have taped a sometimes-tearful “Story Corps” audio conversation together that is archived in the Library of Congress.
Howard was born in Chicago. He remembers living in a house and doing well in school as a young boy. However, his father was a drinker who beat his mother, causing her to leave.
The family lost the house. Howard and other siblings moved in with their mother in a gang-infested public-housing project. By age 10 or 11, Howard was working in the drug trade.
He moved to the Twin Cities in 1988, following an older brother and his desire to flee. But Howard’s drug use and selling continued on and off. Howard had periods of working day labor, or in housekeeping or washing dishes. But the better pay in drugs and his own addiction often prevailed.
Howard’s third and final state-jail term ended in 2008.
The Aeon studio apartment at 14th Street and Portland Avenue, followed by a one-bedroom place, proved a huge break. Howard spent a decade in Aeon rent-subsidized housing as he worked two or three low-wage jobs, before moving into the Golden Valley house with his wife.
Today, Howard walks three blocks to his primary job in the restaurant at Brookview Golf Course. He prepares food, works banquets and sometimes maintenance jobs. He makes $16 an hour at Brookview, and $18.50 an hour cooking weekends at an American Legion post. He also works some nights cleaning and maintaining a small commercial building.
“I’m blessed,” Howard said. “This is the best I’ve ever had it. I love saving money through automatic deposit. And we have a garden and a hot tub in our backyard.”
“Dorsey is the most helpful person there is,” said Kim Straw, Brookview’s restaurant and cooking manager. “You can rely on him. He helps us cook, helps with the dishwashers. He’s a huge part of our catering events, from cooking to serving.
“Dorsey is always in a great mood. And he’s supportive of others. At catering events, I know he will always be right where we need him all the time. One time, the server who was supposed to be on the floor left the floor. Dorsey happened to be out front. He grabbed a couple menus, got the folks greeted and seated. That was not part of his job. But he’s so good and friendly. He jumped in and took care of the customers.”
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.