He lived with his parents and seven siblings in a one-bedroom apartment until he was nine. Then his family decided to move to Landover, Maryland into a spacious three-bedroom apartment. It seems that life should have only improved for Dean, but at age eleven, he started experimenting with alcohol.
Shooting marbles, playing cowboys and Indians with the neighbors and jumping bushes are Dean Clark’s memories of his childhood in Northeast Washington, DC. “I was curious,” he explained when asked why he started drinking. “I wanted to see what it felt like.”
If I didn’t know Dean, I’d probably be a little intimidated by him. Over six feet five inches tall and plenty strong, he doesn’t look like someone to be messed with. But my interactions with him over the past year have proven him to be a kind and patient man?just the sort you’d want to have protecting you on a dark night. We talked about his story over coffee, and despite the difficult story he has to tell, the joy in his eyes is visible.
By age twelve, Dean was an alcoholic and had started using marijuana. As a basketball player, however, he stayed in school and graduated with several scholarship offers to local colleges. He chose to attend the University of DC, but dropped out in the middle of the first semester. “I just didn’t really like schoolwork, and as a ballplayer I had to keep my grades up and all that stuff,” commented Dean. Although his dream was to work for the State Police, he honored his parents’ wishes – they thought it was too dangerous – and took a job with The Washington Post, working with his dad in the mailroom.
Suddenly, instead of running his life, it seemed like life started running him. Dean managed to stop drinking at the age of 20, but his coworkers at the Post introduced him to every kind of drug under the sun. Dean wasn’t happy. Then, at age 23, he met a young lady. Unlike many of the girls he had dated in high school, this woman didn’t have any children. Dean liked that ? he wanted to start his own family. So, they were married and moved to Northwest Washington to live with her parents.
Both Dean and his wife were using drugs and struggling with faithfulness in their marriage. Eventually, he quit working at the Post and was doing roofing work. They had six children together, five boys and one girl. Sadly, in 1992, Dean’s father hung himself, leaving no note or other explanation for his suicide. This was followed in 1994 by the death of his mother.
Deanna, his only daughter, passed away at the age of seven in 1996 and this was the final straw for his wife who left him in 1997. “I sort of understand why she left. After Deanna died, I wasn’t hardly home anyway, I was on the street, using and selling drugs
Dean was distraught. “When my wife left, things started to go bad. I didn’t care for nobody then. I didn’t know where my wife was, and I didn’t want to be with anyone else. I just wanted to be by myself.”
So he took to the streets. “When people couldn’t pay their drug bills I used to go and straighten them out. I used to shoot people. It’s crazy. When you are on cocaine, you have to have it, you’ll do anything. That’s why I can’t ever go back.”
He tried to overdose, but it didn’t work. “It seems like the Lord wouldn’t let it happen,” Dean observed. “I asked the Lord to help me and eventually, after another heartache with a young lady, I ended up at Central Union Mission.”
Dean arrived at Central Union Mission in August of 2002 with a determination to learn about the Lord. “I figured the only thing I needed was Christ. He wouldn’t hurt me like the ladies did.”
Central Union Mission has been a growing and learning place for Dean. “I learned a lot about Christ, how he cares, how he loves us. I learned how to pray, and how to love others and myself. But the best thing was when they taught me how to read and study the Bible.” When asked about the teachers, Dean commented, ” I can’t find the words ? they are like a gift. I really appreciate the things they do – it’s unbelievable. I ain’t never thought I could be saved.”
In recent months, Dean has been back in contact with his formerly estranged wife, and his sons. He has a job working security at the Washington Plaza Hotel and is working towards reuniting his family.
“Since I completed the program I feel good ? no, great. I walk and talk with Christ. I don’t have to go back to that lifestyle anymore. I just want to live life right. My mother would be proud. She’s the one who prayed for me.”
Because Dean is passionate about giving back, he works as an intern at the Mission, along with his new job. Leaning back in his chair to finish his coffee, he commented, “The program works. I never believed I could make it. It has to be a personal decision, but if you want it, it really works. They give you enough tools.” He paused, and smiled. “I feel good. I know He won’t let me down.”