Minutes after Denorver “Dee” Garrett Jr. parked his truck he was approached by a stranger with a question.
The man knew a protest was scheduled that night at the West Chester Clock Tower and he figured Garrett — wearing a Black Lives Matter muscle shirt, Army fatigue pants and boots — was destined for the demonstration. The man had heard about the violence that erupted in Cincinnati after a similar protest was held there in response to the senseless death of an unarmed black man by a Minneapolis police officer.
So the man asked Garrett: “Will this be peaceful?”
“It caught me off guard,” the 28-year-old said of the man’s question. “It hurt.”
Garrett told the man that some of the protesters from Cincinnati were in West Chester for the Tuesday event, and he assured there would be no violence in Butler County. Then he grabbed a large, wooden cross out of his truck bed and slowly walked to the demonstration.
Garrett was one of the vocal leaders at the protest. He spoke with confidence and conviction. The crowd, mostly young, white protesters, intently listened.
Later, Garrett, leaning on his cross as other protesters spoke into a bullhorn, said: “You can feel the peace here. This is what we’re fighting for, why we’re marching.”
Those who knew Garrett 10 years ago probably can’t believe what they’re reading. Soon after he graduated from Lakota East High School in 2010, Garrett and two 18-year-old Cincinnati men were indicted on aggravated robbery charges by a Butler County grand jury stemming from an attack in front of a Fairfield park.
He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years in Lebanon Correctional Institution by Butler Common Pleas Court Judge Keith Spaeth.
While in prison, Garrett said he had a lot of time to contemplate his stormy past and his unknown future. He came from a broken home, lacked a mentor, and violence always seemed to reside around the corner.
“My dreams were already crushed before I was born,” he said. “I went through hell.”
During his late teen years, he “looked for fulfillment in other things.”
Garrett said he hasn’t been arrested since. He attended Cincinnati Christian University and played on the 0-11 football team in 2017 that was coached by former Bengal David Fulcher. When the university closed, he transferred to Kentucky Christian University in Grayson, Ky.
He plans to graduate in May 2021 with degrees in ministry and business. He hopes to enter the prison ministry and open a sober living facility. He wants to provide guidance to other young men. He will speak from experience.
“They have the same struggles as me,” he said. “I know what they’re maybe going through. Hopefully I can lead by example. God has blessed me some much. I learned how to follow God.”
There have been struggles. Of course.
“It was hard for me, man,” he said of his four years in LCI. “I didn’t want to live.”
That person in prison doesn’t seem like the same Denorver “Dee” Garrett Jr. He looks in the mirror and he sees a 5-10, 240-pound grown man. A person who has traded in his inmate number for a brighter future.
“It doesn’t seem real,” he said. “I said, ‘Enough is enough.’ This shows that the past doesn’t determine the future.”
He has been married to Sabrina Garrett for two years.
“Blessed,” he said. “I’m alive.”
Luckily for him, his former self died 10 years ago.