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After years of homelessness, David Minter says a ray of hope offered him by the staff at Missoula's Union Gospel Mission helped him break the hopelessness and depression that haunted him. "The last four or five months have been the best ever in my life," he said recently over a cup of coffee at the mission.

The path toward hope was thousands of miles long in the tale David Minter tells.

He said it wound through a prison, homelessness and mental illness. It led him from Florida to Georgia, Kentucky, Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Utah, mainly on foot and on buses. Finally, it took him to the Missoula Public Library, where a phone call to 549-HOPE landed him at the Gospel Mission, then to a home and a job.

Today, Minter talks about a future he never dared imagine, in a place he first started dreaming about when he was in solitary confinement in a Georgia prison, locked up after assaulting a police officer in a Xanax-fueled stupor.

“I broke my wrist. I did 10 years for one punch,” recalls Minter, seated in a folding chair at the Union Gospel Ministry, caressing the back of his right hand that still holds the pins from his assault. At the time, he was working for a commercial air conditioning company. His mom had recently died, which hit him hard. He realized his father had been having an affair when he married four months after her death.

“He and I never had a relationship. It was really tough growing up with dad. When mom died, he softened up and I tried to have a relationship with him,” Minter says softly. “I had lifelong stress with my parents, and when mom died that upset me completely.''

The Missoulian verified Minter's prison stint and his mental illness diagnoses but could not confirm other details of his life before he reached Missoula.

In prison, he said he acted out to be put in “high max” after being raped. He figured it was safer.

“Plus, I was just gone. My mind had really left me,” Minter said, adding that he was helped by taking anti-psychotic and anti-depression medications. He started reading the Bible while he paced in his cell. Five and a half steps. Turn. Five and a half steps. Turn. “I was put in a pen like an animal.”

One day, when the library cart was making its monthly round, Minter saw a book about wolves in Montana, and had an epiphany, made even more pointed when he said he closed his eyes, pointed to a map and hit Eureka.

“I kept the book.”

But like Minter’s life, he said his path wasn’t straightforward. A year out of jail and off parole, he took a bus to Chattanooga, then started walking until he got to Salt Lake City.

“I took the back roads,” Minter said. “I would take rides every now and then if I could ride in the back of a pickup. It was safer; I could be gone in a minute.”

Minter printed out maps at public libraries, as he tried to walk away from his resentment and his rage at the mental health and prison systems. In February 2013, he took a bus from Salt Lake City to Kalispell, where he knew a man and worked on his house in Bigfork. The man’s wife “kind of drove me crazy trying to be my mom,” so Minter started walking to the West Coast.

He said he found home in a cave, which eventually led to a 71-day stay in a behavioral health hospital.

“I tried to convince them I wasn’t crazy, that I was trying to live in peace and wanted to walk, be in nature, because nature never hurt me like people have,” Minter said.

When he got out, he walked back to Montana, and ended up staying at the Poverello Center, waiting to get into a group home. He got in trouble for not registering as a violent offender, and said being at the Pov was like being in prison to him. So he took a bus back to Salt Lake City, and walked to Arizona, then to Colorado Springs. Camping at a nature preserve once again led to a stint in a mental health center, then a bus and a walk took him to Florida, where he traipsed up and down the coast helping people clean up after Hurricane Irma. But he said he kept dreaming of the mountains of Montana, and eventually returned to Missoula, camping in the woods.

June’s storms broke Minter, who said he walked around crying one night, praying for help. In the morning, he called 549-HOPE, which is the Union Gospel Mission’s hotline, from the library.

“I told her I didn’t want to die anymore,” Minter said.

A woman from the mission walked over to Minter and hugged him, something that hadn’t happened in years. They got him back on his medications, and into a program that helps people with mental illnesses find homes. Don Evans, the executive director of the mission, realized Minter had a talent for “fixing things” and hooked him up with Jason Sims, the mission’s operations manager.

Since then, Minter has become a handy man at the mission, and on Aug. 1 he found a place to live.

“Since then I got all kinds of work,” Minter says with a smile. “A month ago I got a van. The family through UGM has been incredible. The last four or five months have been the best ever of my life.”

Evans, who is sitting across the table from Minter, chokes up as he hears those words. He understands how difficult it can be for a convicted felon to find both work and a home.

“The main thing is believing in people. It’s doing away with labels. This is David. He’s a friend and a good person,” Evans said. “He just needed to have his hope restored.

“This isn’t about us. It’s about all the people that helped because of that phone call.”

Minter finds it fun to be around people now, and said his traveling days are over.

“A lot of people call me Forrest Gump,” he said, referring to the movie character who walks coast to coast. “I’m done now, and I’m going to go home. That’s what I feel like now.

“I may have been born in Florida, but Montana is my home.”

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