Doug Panno

Found – Real Hope

About this time last year – and the year before – and the year before that – Doug was sleeping under a downtown bridge, using discarded lumber to protect him from the cold wind and rain.

Doug Panno _ "After coming to BBM for just a meal, I wanted what I saw in the changed lives of other men here."
Doug Panno _ “After coming to BBM for just a meal, I wanted what I saw in the changed lives of other men here.”

His life hadn’t always been that way. How did his life reach that point? In 2002, while the consequences of his alcohol issues had already cost Doug so much, as that year began he hoped that he might put all of that in his past. But then after his daughter was killed – as the result of a drunk driver – he began such a downward spiral that he eventually wound up on the streets. Last year when he made it to Brother Bryan Mission, he just wanted a meal. As he sat eating among several men who were participants in BBM’s New Life (NLF) Program, there was a spirit of real hope among them. When he returned after a couple of days and a man he had known on the streets suggested he apply to get in NLF, his fear of another defeat in his life initially led him to not pursue it.

From the Beginning – Doug’s life-experiences ranged from youthful experimenting, to out-of-control drinking, to forgiveness and success, to life altering defeat. Growing up in New England he was introduced to alcohol very early. “I was thirteen when I got drunk at a wedding celebration – and I liked it. By my late teens my drinking was so out of control that I dropped out of school. My dad got me in alcohol counseling, and did so much more, wanting to see me overcome. I cannot say enough for him”.

A Degree of Success – At twenty Doug moved to Alabama to reconnect with his mother. Over the next few years, while still drinking hard, he worked steadily, bought a home, and began his own business. During that time, the young woman that would become his future wife led him to Christ.

Consequences, Tragedy and More Consequences – Over the next few years as some aspects of his life flourished, his DUIs, legal issues,fines and alcohol abuse contributed to the breakup of his marriage. “When my daughter was killed, by a drunk driver, my heart broke and hardened, and my life fell apart. Foolish choices led to jail time”. Losing everything, he lived on a farm in Geneva County. When that no longer worked out, he lived for a while in Marshal County.

The Streets – In 2011 he wound up in Birmingham. With no connections here – drinking and sensing no hope – he lived on the streets. When cold weather and rain kept him from sleeping in the open (often in a cemetery), he slept under bridges or viaducts, using discarded construction material as a barrier against the cold and rain. He sometimes got a meal or sandwich from a church or group serving weekend meals in the parks. He sometimes he got leftovers from restaurants.

Close Calls – During one period, with temperatures in the teens, while sleeping in an abandoned factory he got pneumonia. When he returned there for his belongings, he barely escaped as the roof collapsed around him. And last summer he was stabbed while sleeping in a cemetery.

Real life – It was soon after that when he made his way to BBM for a meal, and here sensed a hope that he hadn’t known in so long a time. The combination of the promise and hope of God he heard in BBM’s Chapel services, and his observations of the men who had been as lost as he was, who were now changing their lives through the Mission’s New Life Program, spoke to his hard heart. “I wanted what they had”. When he applied to get into BBM’s New Life Program, one of the two staff members that interviewed him was a man who two years before had been in the same place Doug was in.

Today, when asked what is different in his life, he said, “Among other things I know to totally surrender my old life, leave it in the past, and follow Christ, who knows the way.” I want the rest of my life to honor the God who reached to me when I was so far down. No matter what I don’t have, He has a plan even for me. I know from my past – and from God’s Word – that in my own strength I only fool myself – but in Christ I can do all things”.