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Despite stumbles, an addict keeps a valued friend

In 2004, Judge Spencer Letts gave Michael Banyard a new chance at life — and became his mentor. With Letts' help, Banyard has found an unexpected source of strength.

June 03, 2012|By Kurt Streeter, Los Angeles Times

When I visited Michael at the Dream Center recently, I was stunned. He beamed with a confidence I'd never seen. His skin glowed, he'd cut off his dreadlocks and, instead of walking with sloped shoulders, his back was straight.

Noting his focus, the center's leadership put Michael in a supervisory role helping to manage work crews. He hopes to stay another year at the center, which operates off donations and doesn't charge its troubled residents a dime. If they'd let him, he just might stay for good.

"I feel alive for the first time in life," he told me, tears in his eyes. "And honestly, if not for the judge I wouldn't be here.... I might be dead.... I don't want to let him down because I care about him so much. He's the father I never had."

Through all of this, the judge could have given up, washed his hands of this addicted ex-con. And Michael could have angrily refused to accept help. But their friendship is a testament to the power of care and forgiveness.

Sitting in his mahogany-lined chambers last week, the judge couldn't stop talking about how thankful he is for this bond.

"Michael has been one of the biggest influences in my life," Letts said. "He was the one who showed me that my gut feeling was right, that people are basically the same, with the same basic goodness if you just give them the chance.... Of course if he stumbles again, I will be there again."

kurt.streeter@latimes.com

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