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Freed from his past

March 1, 2010
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Michael daluzThe brawl that landed Michael Daluz behind bars was not the Connecticut man's first brush with trouble, but it would end up affecting him in ways that the self-described street kid never could have envisioned at the time. The resulting assault conviction would keep his dreams out of reach long after his time behind bars ended. However, during his relatively short incarceration, he experienced what he calls a spiritual awakening that would move him away from a life of crack cocaine use and drug dealing and open a different path.

Today, the 44-year-old Daluz has a director's title with the services agency New Connections, Inc. in New Haven, running a children's program that he says combines mentoring with therapeutic intervention. Working with the city youth of today fits him perfectly.

“The street is the same as it was years ago,” Daluz says. “It's all about failure, and the notion that you can never make it.”

That seemed to be what played out on a December night in 1987, when the then-Connecticut College student who had served a stint in the Army was attacked by a group of young people as he and two classmates walked back toward campus from a club. During the melee that ensued, Daluz pulled a gun and shot one of the young men. He would be convicted of first-degree assault and would serve 18 months behind bars.

The crime would make headlines in Connecticut two decades later because of controversy over the procedures leading to Daluz's being considered for a pardon, essentially an affirmation that a perpetrator of a crime has reformed. Although the state's failure to notify Daluz's victim of a potential pardon led to calls for reviewing the state's system for granting pardons, Daluz's pardon did become official last summer, after months of waiting. He calls the turn of events a blessing.

“The system held this against me for a long time,” Daluz says. “Now doors have opened for me, and I can take care of my daughter better.”

He adds that the pardon helped confirm after all these years that others also bore some responsibility for what happened that fateful night. “For years they never acknowledged that I was beaten,” he says. “I'm not saying I was right for what I did. I was wrong. I had no business carrying a gun.”

Will to succeed

While Daluz says he did attend 12-Step meetings at various times, including while living in a halfway house post-release, his recovery more closely fits that of an individual who succeeds without formal treatment participation.

“I did go to meetings to educate myself about the disease,” he says. He considers his recovery a combination of willpower and the grace of a Higher Power.

Friends persuaded Daluz to put his story to words, which resulted in publication of the book You Gotta Dance (Universe Publishing Co.; He calls the book less of a story about his life (he admits that reliving some events for the project was difficult) and more an inspirational reminder to others.

“I want people to know that anybody can do this,” Daluz says, referring to transforming a broken life.

A book reviewer wrote last September for the African Americans on the Move Book Club, “The pain Michael felt when he couldn't see his daughter and when he was disowned by his parents was riveting. Undoubtedly, this is a story of disappointment that is all too common for minority males. The author is commended for presenting a male perspective that is so often overlooked and disregarded.”

Life's bounty

Daluz says life's “at its best” for him right now, with doors seemingly opening everywhere. He worked as a clinician at the Community Renewal Team in Hartford prior to his current job. The agency where he presently works recently entered the nonprofit world and is seeking ongoing Department of Children and Families funding support.

Daluz, who has a daughter in college and one in high school, is spending a great deal of quality time with his seven-year-old daughter these days. He also is on track to receive a PhD in counseling studies from Capella University this fall. His dissertation focuses on the impact of afterschool programs for African-American children in single-parent households.

“At one time, I never believed that I could succeed at anything but hustling,” Daluz says.

He adds that the praise he now receives for his clinical work humbles him, and he tries to remind others of the enviable place counselors find themselves in as they help to transform lives. To those who sometimes fret about the counselor's overall working conditions, he says, “We're going to get paid on the back end, so give it your all.”

Addiction Professional 2010 March-April;8(2):48