Former Addict Goes From Homelessness To Magna Cum Laude

By McCarton Ackerman 04/15/14

Daney Hill lived under a highway overpass struggling with substance abuse, but she picked up the pieces and earned high honors in college with a degree in business.

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After her drug addiction left her homeless and contemplating suicide, Daney Hill is now telling her story of getting clean and graduating magna cum laude from college.

The Southern California native explained to NPR that her broken home life led to drug use as a teenager and quickly escalated to crack, hallucinogens, and huffing household products, among other substances. She became pregnant and had a daughter at age 17, but the child went to live with her father when she was three years old.

“My judgment began to deteriorate. I found myself in places I didn't want to be and doing things I didn't want to do,” said Hill. “I would get in cars with strangers and drive to another state just on the promise of getting high. It is only by the grace of God that I think I was able to survive.”

Hill’s addiction left her homeless for years and living with others in a riverbed under a freeway overpass. She sold drugs to cover the cost of her addiction and was even reduced to fighting a rat for remnants of a corn dog she picked up from the trash. After begging to die on her 34th birthday, she was arrested the next day by police and felt it was the sign to change her life.

“I had already had many run-ins with the law and for a moment, I weighed whether I could outrun the police this time. But my body was just too tired. I knew I was again going to prison,” she said. “But strangely, this didn’t bother me. I felt a great weight lifted off my shoulders. Somehow deep in my heart, I knew I was ready to never live this way again."

Hill was eventually paroled into a residential treatment center and went back to school while in treatment at the age of 35. She graduated from college two years later before transferring to a university, where she graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. She now works with women who serve their prison sentences in residential treatment facilities along with their children.

“I went after my recovery like I did my drugs and found I was able to accomplish anything I wanted. My path to recovery led me to a job where my experience could help others, and that is why I feel my life hasn't been wasted,” said Hill. “I hope I can continue counseling those who share my story. I hope I can continue to build my fragile relationship with my daughter. And sometimes, I just hope.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.