Former inmate now helps through Living Waters
By John Bassetti
To some degree, South High graduate Steve Davis is thankful that he didn’t play pro football.
“To be honest, I’m glad I didn’t make it because you’ve got to be crazy to be a wide receiver,” Davis said.
Considering his athletic background, Davis’ opinion is credible, but he should rethink the dangers he faced during a 25-year span of his life that included prison time.
Although The Rev. Tyrone A. Claybrook will be the guest speaker for the Ebony Lifeline All-Sports Banquet at Mount Carmel Social Hall on Oct. 18, Davis’ story would be icing on the cake after any dinner.
“My story is one of God using my life and suffering to glorify him,” said Davis, now a resident of Columbus. He will be one of 13 inductees during Ebony Lifeline’s 17th annual affair.
“I was in prison seven times for one felony conviction because I kept going back on violations,” Davis said.
Not to use adversity as an excuse for his actions, the soon-to-be 54-year-old Davis recalled his tribulations.
“I lost everything I loved, so it was a lot of pain and suffering,” he said of the passing of his mother and half-brother within a month when was 18. His dad, Pete, died when he was 8.
“I went from being a teen-ager to manhood, involuntarily,” Davis said of his transition after the devastating series of events, starting with his mother’s death four days before Christmas.
“At my mother’s funeral, I remember holding my little sister’s hand at the casket and I promised my mom that I’d always be there for my little sister and family,” Davis said.
But the path he took wasn’t in his best interest.
“I went to the streets, selling drugs to provide for my son and family,” Davis said. “I was hanging out with gangs — a choice that I made that came back to haunt me because I went to prison for the first time at age 33.
“It was my first trouble of any kind. That was just God punching the clock on me. He got tired of me not walking in the gift I had to glorify him and he put a halt to it.”
In a strange way, prison was his salvation.
“It probably saved my life because I started using drugs and doing everything possible to die,” Davis said. “I could have easily been killed. My body shut down from drug usage and I put myself at risk in places I’d probably never walk through right now. Bringing drugs from LA and delivering them wherever they were going, I was playing high-risk with my life and freedom.”
Ironically, the experience has been Davis’ lifeline through his work with Life of Living Waters Sports Ministries.
“The pain, drug usage and gang stuff made me into who I am today,” Davis said. “That’s why I can relate to gang-bangers today. I think the biggest thing [mistake] was that I didn’t go to college, I went to the streets.”
Davis said he had pro football and pro basketball tryouts.
“Without playing college football and basketball, I got a tryout with the Atlanta Hawks and, when the USFL came to life, I had a tryout with the Pittsburgh Maulers, which was owned by Ed DeBartolo.”
Davis’ half-brother was Vince Suber, a former Struthers High standout athlete who was a member of Ohio State’s 1968 Rose Bowl championship team.
Suber also is being inducted into the Ebony Hall of Fame.
“My father and Vince were my inspiration,” Davis said. “They didn’t smoke, drink or cuss but they were always around people that the community looked down on: alcoholics, bums, guys who slept and ate in the streets.
“I saw this coming up and that’s why I work with homeless people and guys coming out of prison.”
Davis works closely with Larry Dannals, a former North High and Youngstown State football player who is with the Franklin County juvenile courts.
“He is respected among his peers,” Davis said. “With Larry’s help, I see kids through the court system.”