Merced man is giving back after years of drugs, crime

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comDecember 24, 2012 

CW - Rescue Mission Christmas Feed

CHRISTOPHER WINTERFELDT/cwinterfeldt@mercedsunstar.com Long-time volunteer and street minister Dano Fearnside, 47 of Merced, chats with Michael Autrand, 65 of Merced, who Dano ministers to, at the American Legion Hall on Main Street in downtown Merced for the annual Merced Rescue Mission Christmas Feed on Monday (12-24-12).

CHRISTOPHER WINTERFELDT

— They call him "Dano" -- short for Daniel. But when combined with Fearnside (his last name), his friends refer to him as, "Dan-no-fear-n-side."

Case in point, on any given day, you might find Dano preaching the "no fear" message to a group of men, many of them lost inside a deadly lifestyle of drugs and crime.

It's a nickname Daniel Fearnside, 47, earned after many years of inspiring others to live a better life. But Fearnside wasn't always so fortunate himself. From age 12 until 42, he lived a fast life of crime and drugs, going in and out of prison nine times.

But in five years, he transformed his life, going from a hardened criminal to a poet, ordained minister and one of the Merced County Rescue Mission's most loyal volunteers.

Fearnside said the spirit of God was inside him all those years, but he lost his path when he was just 11 years old. Growing up in Fresno, he remembers talking to his cousin about God. "Do you believe in Jesus?" he innocently asked his cousin.

Two weeks after that conversation, his cousin got hit by a diesel truck while delivering the newspaper on his bicycle. He died instantly. Fearnside lost his faith and began using drugs at age 12, befriending a neighbor who was a drug dealer.

But as he stared at many cold prison walls, Fearnside still felt hope -- he had a calling.

"I've always had the calling of God," Fearnside said. "No matter how far I ran, no matter how many drugs I did, I couldn't run away from it."

The welder of 20 years said he'd tell his mother everything was okay, but could see the sadness and despair in her eyes. Then in February 2008, Fearnside fell to his knees and prayed for his addiction to be healed.

Then things began to change, he said.

For the first time, Fearnside began to volunteer to help others. He spent the last four years volunteering at the mission, in addition to leading a faith-based recovery program and a ministry at Yosemite Church.

He earned his high school diploma and became an ordained minister in 2010.

"To be able to give back -- that's what it's all about," Fearnside said. "I took for so many years and the blessing is to give back. If Jesus can save me, he can save anyone."

Now he tells his inspirational story to help others find their way to a life of recovery.

Johnny Haynes met Fearnside while they both were using drugs, and said he's proud to see the changes in Fearnside.

"He's the most stand-up guy I know," Haynes said. "It was like a snowball -- we see the same guys in recovery now."

Pastor Prapai Wanlarbkam of the Merced County Rescue Mission has been working with Fearnside for the last four years.

"He's one of those volunteers that will do anything you ask him to do," Wanlarbkam said. "There's no job too small or too big for him to do."

Wanlarbkam said he's proud of the changes Fearnside has made in his life.

"Dano's life has changed because he's made wise choices and is building healthier relationships," Wanlarbkam said. "I think it's testimony of what God can do in a person's life that's willing to change."

The father of four married the woman who stood by his side for the last 18 years.

Now he's enrolled in school to earn his credential toward becoming a full-time minister.

Fearnside's ultimate goal is to be a clergy member helping those in the prison system.

"I want everyone to understand, we don't have to live the way we live -- in our addictions and criminal behavior." he said.

Fearnside is planning to publish a book with his 20-plus poems.

Fearnside said he sees the pride in his mother's eyes -- for the first time.

The path to recovery and giving back isn't always easy, but Fearnside isn't giving up.

"I still struggle, but the change in myself is confirmation of how far I've come," Fearnside said. "I regret what I did and who I was, but I don't regret the man I am today because of it."

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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