Convert hires ex-cons for painting business

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Dave Druitt, a parishioner of Church of the Nativity in Burke, is a storyteller, and one of his yarns to spin is that of his conversion.

"All I could focus on was that I was going to be dead by the end of the year," said Druitt, who was raised Episcopalian.

After graduating from Episcopal High School in Alexandria with honors, he decided to study computer science. Druitt had been in college little more than a semester when he was "yanked out to go to war."

That war was Vietnam.

"I was thrown into a situation where people were definitely trying to kill me," he said. "My friends dropped off one by one."

He underwent training for about a year before he stepped foot in the land formerly known as Indochina. Though Druitt came out alive, he clung to the idea that his time was short. When he returned to the United States, he committed himself to "drinking and trouble." His first wild adventure - one among many, he contends - was running a rough-and-tumble motorcycle club in the Arizona desert.

"I went to the desert because I didn't want anyone to tell me what to do anymore," said Druitt, who admitted that he lived in denial for years. "I was never there. I didn't know anything about it. I was going to be dead by the end of the year."

Druitt suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder, what the Mayo Clinic defines as a "mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event" and what he describes as "the destruction of belief." That included the belief in God.

Instead of turning to God, Druitt turned to alcohol. Despite his alcoholism, he worked for a national security team for 25 years - until he started hallucinating, barricading himself in his basement and setting up booby-traps. His PSTD flared up in a way that pushed him to seek a spiritual solution.

"I was at a stage in my life where I was digging myself out from under that pile," said Druitt.

But, still, he hesitated.

A nearly fatal auto accident in 2001 finalized his decision. After his car was run off the road by an 18-wheeler on his way to visit a colleague in Richmond, Druitt nearly met his fate in the river. His skull and collar bone were fractured; his lungs were punctured; his back broke in three places. And he saw a white light.

"Heaven is real. I've met God, and He's real, too," said Druitt. "If you don't understand that, then that's a conflict in your understanding. God is there whether you believe in Him or not."

All signs pointed to Catholicism. Druitt, who spent part of his childhood in Turkey, Bolivia and Cameroon, said that, "Around the world, you see saint this and saint that. Orphanages, hospitals, whatever - the Catholic Church helps people. The Catholic footprint for good far outweighs (the bad press)."

He knew he wanted to be a part of that good.

Druitt recalled hospital personnel telling him, "You weren't supposed to make it, were you?'"

"But I was going to make it," he said. "I recognized God's invitation to come home."

Soon his life revolved around RCIA, prayer group, prison ministry and Alcoholics Anonymous. Since he could no longer work in an office due to his extreme anxiety and hallucinations, he wandered around his neighborhood and offered painting services.

Little by little, he asked some of the ex-convicts he met to join him. Then, three years ago, he started Dreamcoat, a home improvement company that employs male and female ex-cons. While the contractors come from various faith backgrounds, Druitt encourages them to join him in prayer and worship.

"His way of dealing with (his struggles) is going all out in serving others," said Jim Bayne, a retired deacon and a fellow Nativity parishioner. "(Dreamcoat) is one of the grander things that he's doing, but he does a lot of 'rubber meets the road' things on a day-to-day basis."

Bayne and Druitt bonded through Cursillo, a lay Catholic movement, and Kairos Prison Ministry, a Cursillo-based group. Once a month, the men go to Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn, a small town about an hour south of Charlottesville. The jail houses approximately 1,000 inmates serving single, multiple and life sentences. Bayne said that Druitt listens to the men's experiences, some of which are similar to his own.

"Inmates hear that they have no hope. That there's nothing they can do to get back on track," said Druitt. "As someone who was knocked off track, I know that's not true … Something they say in AA is that if we turn our lives over to God, we have a new employer, with a capital 'e.' That's the truth."

According to Druitt, what Dreamcoat's contractors share is trauma. While the details of their personal traumas may differ, they are all "victims of battle."

Tod Wadford was one such victim. Three years ago, he was a self-proclaimed alcoholic living in a tent in the woods. After shoplifting $800 worth of goods, Wadford, who was raised Baptist, was sentenced to 10 months in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center. He met Druitt at an AA meeting when he got out.

Wadford said, "Once I quit drinking, my life went 180."

Today, Wadford paints, installs cabinets, builds decks and completes other home improvement projects for Dreamcoat clients.

"With Dave, it's not a boss man/worker relationship," said Wadford, who now identifies himself as a non-denominational Christian and joins Druitt at prayer groups. "It's really a friendship. His personality and his willingness to help make him a great guy."

He thanks Druitt's positive influence for helping him root his life in prayer, get an apartment and find a fiancée. Wadford plans to marry this spring.

"These are good people with good skills," said Druitt. "Nine out of 10 (ex-cons) made a mistake and learn from it but maybe can't work a 9-to-5 job. They're people who are broken. That's what makes Dreamcoat a reclamation company."

Dreamcoat has allowed Druitt to reclaim his own life.

"I'm not living my life anymore. (This life) is something God put me into."

Stoddard can be reached at cstoddard@catholicherald.com.

Find out more

For more information about Dreamcoat, call 703/626-6516. To learn more about Arlington Cursillo, go to arlingtoncursillo. To learn more about Kairos Prison Ministry at Buckingham, go to kairos-bkcc.org. To learn more about diocesan prison ministry, contact Bill Hall at 703/841-3832 and whall@ccda.net.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015