Broken to belonging: Venice man transforms with help from Season of Sharing

Categories: Stories of Impact, COMMUNITY CARE: Placemaking: Housing, Transportation & Economic Support, COMMUNITY CARE: Preventing Homelessness, Season of Sharing, Community Care,

The night his life would start to change, Daniel Vowell was drunk and high.

And his father, like many times before, was in his face, telling him to stop his ways, turn his life around.

To Daniel, by then in his early 30s, the words were another sermon The disappointment he saw in his father’s eyes mirrored the contempt he held for himself.

No matter how many times he’d tried, Daniel always wound up back here, at this spot – high or drunk, his life out of control.

As his father grabbed to stop him, Daniel lunged for the cab of his dad’s truck, jumped behind the wheel, gunned the engine, and tore off down the street.

Filling the void

As a child, Daniel loved adventure and the outdoors. Growing up in North Port, he was often outside playing on his skateboard. He relished trips to visit family in Michigan or Pennsylvania – where he would hunt with his dad.

After his parents divorced when he was a toddler, Daniel was raised by his father and had little contact with his mother.

With his father working long hours in construction, Daniel spent a lot of time alone. As a teenager, he gravitated to an older skateboarding crowd, where he felt like he belonged.

Soon he was getting high with them on opioid pills, something that filled the void he felt inside.

Between jobs his father – often exhausted, his hands and face stained with drywall and paint – would try to set him straight.

But Daniel blew him off, lining his arms with tattoos and dropping out of high school.

“If I’d listened to him, I wouldn’t have gone down this path,” Daniel would later recall.

Into his 20s, sometimes working with his father, Daniel got his GED between stints in jail.

At one point, trying to pull his life together, he attended rehab in Orlando.

Joining a 12-step program, he figured out how to go through the motions, not committing to or really working the steps. If he could just hold down employment, he figured, everything else would fall into place.

'Everything crumbled'

Once out of rehab, with a good job making pizzas, he briefly stayed clean and supported himself. And then his old friends came around.

Daniel returned to drugs, lost his job, and was evicted from his apartment.

“Everything crumbled,” he recalled.

With each failure and set-back, he glimpsed the disdain and disappointment in his family’s eyes – his father’s most of all.

“Always inside I felt bad in my heart, that I was letting them down. It got to me,” he said.

He admired his father’s hard work, his consistency. But he wasn’t ready to change.

“I didn’t realize how much was necessary to make that move,” he said.

For the next several years, the cycle would repeat: trouble, followed by progress, a few months clean and a good job. Then relapse – each one worse than before.

Until the night he took his father’s truck.

Help started to stick

With a prior record, Daniel served more than three years in prison after that night and the incident with his dad.

Behind bars he seemed to spiral, mired in negativity with other inmates, by now more tattoos on his face.

He would later see the time as an important step on the way to rock bottom.

When he got out of prison, about a year ago, he was back in Venice, with only his three-wheel bike.

Filled with anger, resentment and pain, he was too embarrassed to bother his family for help.

But he knew he needed it. He found Harvest House in Sarasota. And at last, help started to stick.

“This time, I actually was listening to what they said and put action behind it,” Daniel recalled.

With help from Season of Sharing for move-in expenses, Daniel settled into one of Harvest House's residential programs.

He threw himself into the 12-step program, now practicing the steps, devoted to spiritual growth.

He nurtured a discipline and consistency that he’d always admired in his dad – waking just before 4 a.m. to read, meditate and exercise at Harvest’s outdoor gym.

It wasn’t just about holding down a job, he realized – though he did that, too, in construction. It was about doing the internal work.

Slowly, the negativity and pain was washing clean from his heart, replaced, he said, “with Godly principles and love.”

The staff at Harvest House was instrumental with support, surrounding him with positive role models and planting “good seeds in my head,” he said.

“I can overcome so much more than I thought I could,” he told himself, diving into books and educational videos on psychology and the power of the mind.

He started the painful process of getting the tattoos removed from his face.

The love he felt blooming for himself and others slowly magnified in his life – and his family sensed the difference, spending time with him again.

Daniel forgave and reconnected with his mother, talking with her twice a day.

“Whatever happened, I want her to feel love from her son – everyone deserves that,” he said.

And importantly, he made amends with his father, in words and deeds. Now when he looks at his father, he sees pride, instead of disappointment, in his eyes.

“He treats me like a responsible grown man,” Daniel said. “We’ve developed the best relationship I’ve ever had with him in my life.”

Daniel's transformation was a team effort, said Erin Minor, CEO of Harvest House.

"When individuals fight through multiple barriers to start a new life, Season of Sharing funding can relieve one of the biggest challenges, move-in funds for stable housing," Minor said. "We are proud of the work that can be accomplished when we all play our part."

Daniel hopes one day to work in counseling, to motivate others through fitness – both physical and spiritual.

“I was broken and damaged. I understand anyone can do it if I can do it,” he said.



See this story, as it originally appeared in Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Jan. 15, 2023, here.

Photo by Saundra Amrhein, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.