Second chance granted: With freedom comes 'great sense of responsibility'

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Darryl Woods spent his younger years wrapped up in the drug life, landing the 18-year-old father of two in prison for life and with a "broken, broken heart," he said. 

Woods ran the streets as a rebellious young man in search of a purpose. But he recently told The Detroit News the melee over a drug transaction that resulted in the Jan. 25, 1990, killing that put him away was something he didn't anticipate. 

Darryl Woods speaks about the Chance for Life, a program that offers support for ex-offenders, as he tells his own life story.

 "I went to prison with a broken, broken heart knowing that I had disappointed the community and that I was connected to something that caused the death of someone," Woods told The News. "That was a terrible situation. I didn't know someone was going to be killed that day."

Prosecutors, however, contend Woods was a "principal player" in the robbery that led to the death of Anthony Capers. 

Woods' conviction was overturned seven years after the killing when a witness recanted testimony. But the state appeals court later reversed the dismissal, a decision ultimately upheld by higher courts.

►Read our entire special report: Second chance granted

In an Aug. 23, 2018, letter of opposition to his release, Wayne County prosecutors noted Woods had no prior criminal record and a positive adjustment in prison. But prosecutors questioned "his ability to control his impulsive behavior."

Woods professed his innocence for years before finally admitting to wrongdoing, prosecutors said. He's "unprepared for a successful transition," and "the community will be at risk," they wrote.

Darryl Woods

But Woods said he's turned his life around. The eighth-grade dropout got a GED after entering prison and turned to his faith, leading programs to transform youth and parolees. He also served as a past NAACP Prison Branch President for the Ryan Correctional Facility in Detroit. 

Woods, now 47, left prison Feb. 12 after nearly three decades behind bars. He was granted commutation last winter by then-Gov. Rick Snyder. 

Since then, he's been welcomed by the community and visiting with some relatives and meeting another: his grandson, who turned 4 in March.

"I had a life sentence, and by the stroke of a pen and the grace of God, I was given an opportunity to walk out of prison doors," he said. "It came with a great sense of responsibility."

In May, Woods sat alongside some of the region's top leaders at the NAACP's 64th Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner where he was the recipient of the 2019 Great Expectations award.

He said he's been sharing his story with students at schools. For one engagement, he was sought out by the prosecutor's office to speak with youth, he said.

"Although the prosecutor's office did oppose the commutation ... I didn't take it personally," he said. 

Woods, in his bid for freedom, had multiple letters of support from judges and prominent religious leaders, including Hartford Memorial Baptist Church Pastor Charles C. Adams and Bishop Charles H. Ellis III of Greater Grace Temple, where Woods and his relatives have been longtime members. 

“I am certain that Darryl truly regrets the errors of his ways that led him down a destructive path that has caused him, his family and others unimaginable grief,” Ellis wrote in a December 2017 letter to Snyder. 

Woods said his transformation has benefited his children. He aided his son in securing scholarships for Michigan State University and his daughter is in the nursing field.

His parole is an honor, he said, that he doesn't take lightly. 

"I want to thank Gov. Snyder for having the courage to do what he did," he said. "We want to let him know we won't let him down."