I spent 20 years in a life of crime. Two failed marriages. Near-death experiences, more than I can count — drug overdoses, a shootout with a drug dealer, police chases, a dozen red laser lights pointed at my chest. It didn’t start out that way, though.”
Local author Dar Bryant has been sharing his life story for a few months at Alton’s River of Life Family Church; his circle just became a lot wider with the release of his autobiographical book, “360: A Full Circle.”
Bryant celebrated the book’s release in May with family and friends. Co-written with Annalee Banks, Bryant’s hope is that his words can let others who are struggling know God is always with them.
But in the not-too-distant past, Bryant was on Arizona’s list of the top 10 most wanted.
“I look back on it now and can’t even fathom that I’m still alive,” he said.
Bryant, an East Alton ex-convict, is now center director of the Dream Center at Alton’s River of Life Family Church. He also serves with River of Life’s Prison Ministries, working directly with the Illinois Department of Corrections and veterans service centers to assist “returning citizens,” the term used for those released from prison who are assimilating back into society.
A 1978 graduate of Roxana High, Bryant said he was raised in the church.
“I was raised in a little Pentecostal in Wood River,” he said. “I was taught from a very early age the importance of having Christ in my life — saved at age 9, filled with the Holy Spirit and baptized at 10. I even had aspirations of being a preacher — up until about 14 years old, junior high. Then I started messing around with things I shouldn’t have been messing around with, hanging with people I shouldn’t be hanging with, doing things I shouldn’t be doing.”
“The first time I got high, I was 14,” Bryant confessed as part of his video interview. “From there it was any drug, every drug. Experimenting. I was so full of guilt the first few times, I thought the only thing I could do was get as far away from God as possible. It was easier to deny him.”
“The first time I did speed, I was 15 years old. And I did it for the next 18 years — quit doing all the others. That was my lifeblood,” he said.
Bryant’s late teen and early 20s years were spent as an addict, albeit a functional one. He was a successful entrepreneur in the emerging video age of the ‘80s, and in 1987, he opened The Coliseum nightclub in Benld, Ill. The club drew in national and international acts, along with hundreds of outsiders, every weekend.
“It was successful, but the town wasn’t real happy about it,” Bryant said.
Finally one night, law enforcement carried out an underage alcohol service sting. Edgar Winter was playing, and they shut the club down. “After that, I was dead broke, which was a real problem,” Bryant said. “I had a 300-dollar-a-day drug habit and no way to pay for it.”
So Bryant turned to a career in manufacturing — methamphetamine — and other drugs too. A descent into drug addiction had led to a years-long career as a high-profile drug dealer and trafficker. And after things got too “hot” here, he moved his wife and children to Phoenix.
“That’s when things got really crazy,” Bryant said.
He found himself involved with a group that smuggled illegal immigrants across the border. He was forging fake identities, counterfeiting, “and making and dealing dope again.”
“I was selling guns too,” he said. “At one point, I was selling more guns than drugs. I was living under fake identities, changing my identity and moving nearly every month.”
Finally arrested in Scottsdale, Ariz., it didn’t take long for one of Bryant’s associates to bail him out — with a fake $5,000 bond. Bryant then moved up to northern Arizona and set up operations again.
The 20 felony crimes Arizona charged him with could have easily come with a 25-year minimum sentence time. In the end, Bryant would be sentenced to 21 concurrent years for the crimes he committed, which meant a total of 7 years to be served. With good behavior, Bryant served 3 ½ years before being released on parole.
“For the next 5 years, life was good,” Bryant said.
He was clean and drug-free. Then, one day, an opportunity came in front of him to get high, and he did. Eight months later, he was back in prison.
A few months before he would get out of prison this time, Bryant’s grandmother passed away. She had been his champion, his cheerleader, and his conduit to God throughout his entire life. Losing her while he was still inside hit him hard. With his grandmother’s death, “I felt like it was my fault,” he said.
“360: A Full Circle” can be purchased through the publisher’s website and is also available through Barnes & Noble and Amazon. It is also available at River of Life Family Church.
Bryant will share his story again at the church over Father’s Day weekend. His talk will start at 5 p.m. Saturday, June 17, and he will speak at 9:30 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. Sunday morning, Father’s Day. He will also hold another book signing during that time. Other book launch events are in the works throughout the Alton area, with dates and locations to still be finalized.
What makes Bryant’s story relatable is that it is real, authentic, and boldly told through his book.
“It all started three years ago when Pastor Mark talked me into telling my story for Easter service,” Bryant explained about the first sharing of his story, with the people at River of Life Family Church.
Few at the church knew his story, but instead of the rejection he anticipated, he was met with love and support by the congregation. He had also inspired others there to talk about their life experiences with family, friends and loved ones struggling in a life without God’s word as guidance.
Through his story, and inspired by the stories of others, the Dream Center was born. From there, Bryant was offered his book deal. Film companies are now looking at his story.
“It’s been a very eventful couple of years,” Bryant said.
“Everything this side of the grave is a pure gift,” he said. “And it’s a far cry from a 6 by 9 cell.”
June 10, 2017