Episode 07: Turning a Life Experience of Prison, Drugs, & Gangs into Helping People Find Success & Recovery with D.J Cruse

Peter “Chappy” Meyerhoff sits down with DJ Cruse, who works for the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry as a Program Project Specialist II.

Since he was a boy, DJ had an unquenchable fascination with the military and envisioned a career for himself in the Armed Forces, where he would become a Green Beret and, once he had accomplished all he could with the Army, join the police force and lead SWAT in a major city.

When he was a kid, DJ’s love for adventure first led him to join the Boy Scouts. To anyone from the outside looking in, the young DJ seemed to be on a bright and promising path. And he was—until his insatiable curiosity and openness to new experiences nudged him down a dark detour towards the dangerous world of drugs, alcohol, and gangs. He was only 12 years old when that downward spiral began.

DJ landed in prison for the first time as a ninth grader, where he spent the next six months getting into fights with his fellow inmates and essentially doing everything that didn’t involve learning from his mistakes. He picked up right where he left off once he was out, and would later find himself behind bars once again. That next sentence would last 170 months, or just over 14 years.

It was on December 14, 2017 when DJ regained his freedom. He was still a lost, scared, and unstable mess of a man, but he was determined to make a change. Sometime following his release, he was invited by a friend to a local church where he was quite literally floored by the presence of God. He also underwent rehab, which finally allowed him to come to terms with who he had become over the past three decades, and from there he would chart a new course.

Today, DJ’s life is defined by giving back, 24/7. Not only does he now work for the Department of Corrections, but he has also partnered with the ministry IdentiFreed, whose purpose is to “spread the gospel to the church, recovery, homeless and incarcerated community and to the nations on a global scale.”

Topics Discussed:

  • [02:03] DJ’s story
  • [06:18] Getting introduced to drugs in the sixth grade and his first time in prison
  • [13:25] DJ’s odd jobs following his release from prison
  • [17:51] DJ’s transformation
  • [22:25] What DJ does for a living today
  • [27:35] A life of giving back, 24/7
  • [36:46] How Chappy and DJ’s stories have impacted their community
  • [43:26] DJ’s parting message to moms and dads who need a piece of hope

Connect with DJ Cruse:

Connect with Peter Meyerhoff:

Key Quotes:

  • [My transformation] was nothing short of a miracle and I give it all up to God. I say Jesus knocked me out and woke me up. ~DJ
  • If you go to the Department of Corrections in any state, you have basically faced the worst thing that America has to throw at you. We were ostracized and kicked out of the community—for good reason—and bagged and tagged and cuffed and stuffed, and sent out to live in cages like some dogs. ~DJ
  • Connection is the opposite of addiction. Belonging to something greater than ourselves helps fill that empty space. ~DJ
  • I truly feel that God is hedging protection around us true freedom fighters. ~DJ
  • There is no greater feeling than knowing that we can use our shitty-ass stories to help another person out, because it gives people hope. ~Chappy