By Jennifer Von Ohlen
DASSEL, MN Pastor Dave Willis of Augusta, GA once tweeted, “Your mistakes don’t define your character. It’s what you do after you have made the mistake that makes all the difference.”
Six-year Dassel firefighter Matthew Doughty is a living testament to Willis’ words, having grown up as a foster child, becoming a convicted felon, and rising up to become a family man of faith.
From what he can remember, Doughty’s story began at the age of 5, after his mother abused and burned him with fire as a form of discipline. As a result of the incident, Doughty was sent to live with his father and went through a series of “court stuff” for a couple years.
During that time, Doughty’s mother had two more children and “abandoned” Doughty with his father.
“She rarely visited me, and when she did, I was treated badly,” remembered Doughty.
By the age 14, Doughty said the “feelings and the bitterness and the [hatred] in the family caught up with [him].”
Fueled by this new emotional drive, Doughty ran away from home and began “running the streets,” hanging out with the “wrong people,” and using drugs and alcohol to cover the pain. He ended up in juvenile placement facilities and foster care homes, and eventually made his way into jail and prison.
“I made a lot of bad decisions. I made a lot of bad choices, and [there’s] nobody to blame but myself,” he stated. “And now-a-days, I can look back on that and I have a lot of lessons that I can learn from such a crappy childhood.”
While Doughty made a series of choices throughout his rebellious years, there was one regretful decision he made that ended up being his wake-up call: not attending his grandmother’s funeral.
“My grandma Pat was my mom,” said Doughty, explaining that she was the person who helped raise him while his father worked two jobs.
When she passed away, Doughty attended her wake, but ended up having some “issues” with other family members. Because of this, Doughty chose to disregard Pat’s handwritten wishes that he be her right pallbearer, and decided to skip the funeral all together.
“[Pat had] cared for me, brought me to sporting events, helped me with money, helped me with summer stuff (to keep me busy), took me to my friends’ houses just an inspirational lady. Very faith driven,” Doughty said. “[She] spent hours and hours of her free time with me, cancelled time with her friends to care for me, and her last days, I was too busy worrying about me to give her the respect she deserved, and I’ll carry that with me all the days of my life.”
It was at that moment, in realizing what he had done, Doughty knew something needed to change.
Setting out on the road to recovery, Doughty said he was a little apprehensive as he had difficulty finding a decent job, a good place to live, and establishing credit. On top of that, several of Doughty’s friends were in a “darker” place than he was, making it tempting to fall back into their lifestyle.
“I slowly walked out of this over 10 years,” said Doughty, “by seeing therapists and counselors, being diagnosed with PTSD, and starting to get a grasp on who I am as a person. Finding my way in life who I am and who I want to be and letting my past go and realizing it’s not all about me, what happened, as much as it is about how can I take this bad and turn it into something good.”
Using the bad for good
Rather than keeping his past to himself, Doughty chooses to use his story to benefit others, whether they have gone through something similar or are simply being made aware.
Through “Doughty’s Inspirational Training, Inc.,” Doughty trains employees, teachers, county workers, and the public in adult and infant CPR and first-aid techniques; sharing his story with foster youth and parents, fire departments, and first responders; and also talking about the effects of PTSD.
Doughty also speaks to prisoners preparing to reenter society about jobs, housing, and the other opportunities they’ll have. He also aims to inspire at-risk youth to “move past their shortcomings in life” and become great, productive young people.
“I want to help broken souls, as I come from a lot of broken,” Doughty commented. “I want to be an example.”
To provide further outreach, Doughty has recorded his story in a book, “A Revelation,” which is scheduled to be published online and in print in November. He is currently raising funds for a documentary series, as well. The plan is to feature five hour-length episodes online with a different guest speaking for each show. Issues pertaining to first responders, people of faith, and those involved with foster care are some of the topics to be highlighted.
“My goal is to help as many people as I can,” stated Doughty.
To watch a trailer for the documentary and follow its progress, visit Doughty’s Facebook page “FosteredbyFaith.” For more information on scheduling a motivational presentation by him, call (651) 207-3945 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I know my story has a lot of twists and turns,” said Doughty, “and it may not be unique, but the unique part about it is that I overcame it.”