When a judge slammed his gavel and took away Danny Brannon's freedom five years ago, the newly convicted robber and longtime addict was frantic. With no access to drugs or alcohol to feed his addictions and no way to scam people out of money, how would he survive jail?
At age 43, he'd been sentenced to five years at the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown. He resigned himself to his fate, but he asked his oldest sister to bring him his bass guitar to help fill empty hours.
That small request set in motion a series of events that inspired Brannon to overhaul his life of crime and substance abuse.
On Monday, Nov. 7, he expects to realize a dream when he opens the doors to the Impact Society, a new music and arts program for teenagers, at Calvary Community Church, on Rumsey Road in Columbia.
"I get really emotional about this," Brannon in a recent interview, tears sliding down his cheeks. "To think that just 10 years ago I was stealing $10 for a hit of crack."
Going to prison in 2006 saved his life, he said, by forcing him to quit drugs cold turkey and reassess his life. He has been clean and sober for five years now, he said, with the help of a 12-step recovery program.
Jail also became the nexus for a string of coincidences and opportunities that seem too incredible to be true — having a musician cellmate who shared his knowledge of music, forming a blues band with men he met in recovery, and joining a church that granted him free use of its auditorium and premium sound and video recording equipment.
"Everywhere I've turned, there's been another opportunity waiting," said Brannon, who works as a court liaison and client advocate for a Baltimore County treatment center, a job offered to him by the center's owner, impressed by Brannon's determination to remake his life. "I think they were always there; I just had to open myself up to them."
Brannon said his concept for a teen program "had been percolating in my mind for two or three years," ever since his passion for playing bass was further ignited by the cellmate who taught him music theory and shaped him into a bona fide musician.
After organizing and performing in benefit concerts at Calvary with his band mates, Brannon revived his idea of starting a safe, after-school program for at-risk teens who would be enticed by the universal appeal of music and the arts.
When Calvary leaders pointed out that the church's 20,000 square feet of classroom space and sophisticated audio-visual equipment were sitting unused six days a week and made them available to him at no cost, things started to quickly coalesce.
He'd begun using drugs and alcohol at age 10, Brannon said, and was already acquainted with the therapeutic value of music and creativity. He figured he could draw on personal experience "to do something to keep people from going down the road I went down."
Grand opening party
The Impact Society will operate weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. — considered the most perilous hours for teens who come home to an empty house, he said — as well as Saturday mornings from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
By compiling information from the websites of the county's public schools, Brannon estimates that 12,000 kids aged 13 to 18 live within six square miles of Calvary Community Church and he hopes to attract 150 members of that target population per day. He is currently choosing a private contractor that will be available to transport students from area schools to the church, though parents will have to make their own arrangements to avoid liability issues.
The community got a taste of what Brannon's staff has to offer at a performance-studded grand opening Oct. 26 that drew about 75 people. Hortense Britt and her son, Randall, an eighth-grader at Mayfield Woods Middle School, in Ellicott City, were enticed to check out the program by a postcard they received in the mail.
"Randall likes behind-the-scenes work, but he also plays clarinet and sings," said the retired nurse. "I want him to get exposure to all of this to see what appeals to him."
Vince Anderson, who publishes a music magazine in Baltimore called "Shockwave," said he came to the event because his staff has been considering starting a similar program in the city.
"I like what this is all about and we're hoping we can open up a relationship with Danny" to discuss the program's structure and monitor its success, he said.
'They trusted in me'