As Douglas Darby stands on the stage of the crowded auditorium at Appleton West High School he feels like he’s in heaven while speaking of the time he spent in hell.
He talks about his teenage years in which regular marijuana use led to OxyContin abuse and, later, heroin addiction; the father who, after 10 years of sobriety, died with a needle in his arm; and the drug store robberies for which Darby went to prison.
“There’s a very selfish reason why I’m here on this stage,” Darby says during his presentation, which combines elements of a tent revival and others of a Hip Hop show. “It helps keep me alive.” (Watch Video Here)
Almost 18 months after he walked out of state prison, and sober almost four years, Darby has come full circle. He again lives in Suamico, the Brown County village where he was raised by his mother as his father struggled with a drug addiction that would eventually end his life. Once a popular student at Bay Port High School — in part because of the substances he provided to some schoolmates — he again holds court with groups of teenagers.
But now, his messages are captivating, uplifting and inspirational. He talks about awareness of the pressures facing teens. Prevention of drug use. Recovery for those dealing with addiction.
He spends almost every free moment working with “Rise Together,” the nonprofit he founded in 2013 with Oshkosh native Anthony Alvarado, also a recovering addict.
Darby says the pair have made more than 60 presentations since they founded the group. They’ve reached an estimated 10,000 students at schools across Wisconsin and upper Michigan. For years, Darby avoided authority, but now he shares the stage with police and prosecutors. He promotes a holistic approach to battling heroin in their communities.