AKRON, Ohio — Dennis “Denny” Pounds did bad things that cost him four decades of freedom, but it was one good deed as a youth that would give him new hope many years later, and help him with a mission to keep others from making the same mistakes.
Pounds had a history of trouble.
He made many visits to the Summit County juvenile detention home for fights and spent several months in a state juvenile prison for theft.
It was perhaps fate that Pounds wandered into a Barberton neighborhood confrontation between a local bully and a group of young kids.
Pounds stood up for the younger boys and told the bully, “If you hit them, I am going to hit you.”
For the boys, among them Keith Luck, he was a hero, and this was a moment to remember.
But for Pounds, this was but one more confrontation. There would be many more.
It was a Four Seasons album that set off the fight that blew up his life.
The year was 1968, he was 18, a wrestler at Barberton High School, and living in a Barberton apartment.
A man upstairs asked him to turn down the volume. Clifton Hendon, a husband and father of a family in Tennessee, worked at a local truck terminal and stayed in the area.
According to Pounds, he turned the music down. Hendon wasn’t satisfied, however, and came downstairs again, made threats, then delivered a punch.
Enraged, Pounds grabbed a knife and stabbed Hendon several times, killing him. He placed Hendon’s body in a sleeping bag and dumped him in the Tuscarawas River.
He was soon caught and convicted. For the next two years, Pounds was confined to a tiny cell at the Ohio State Penitentiary. He said he washed his clothes in the toilet. He was serving 10 years to life for second-degree murder.
“I thought my life was over,” Pounds said.
He was transferred to the Marion Correctional Institution and was released after 10 years and eight months — but not before developing a drug addiction.
He said he never had a drug problem until prison, but by the time he was released, he not only was using, but he also was in the business of buying and selling.
That made life on the outside difficult. He returned to prison for parole violations.
In 1980, he and his wife, Dixie, had a son, Eric, but a family didn’t change his behavior. Less than two years later, he was in prison again.
He held a pharmacy student hostage, at gunpoint, in a 24-hour standoff with police after an attempted drug store robbery went awry in Marion.
Marion Police Chief Tom Bell remembers the incident.
“I was one of the two officers who had responded to the call, and yes, Dennis Pounds shot at me,” he said. “To be honest, I shot at him, too.
“Luckily, we both missed,” Bell said.
The encounter with the Marion County justice system included an attempted escape from the county jail in which he got his hands on a gun and took a shot at another deputy.
Pounds pleaded guilty to attempted murder and felonious assault and was sentenced to 12 years to life in prison.
Even though his wife would divorce him, she brought their son, Eric, for prison visits.
Pounds’ father, Robert, died in 1987, but his mother, Kathleen, continued to express hope for her son. It was one of her letters in the late 1980s that changed his life.
“When are you going to stop telling me you love me and start showing me?” she asked him.
“That hit home,” Pounds said.
He began to think about his life. More importantly, he began to change.
Pounds realized the two most important people remaining in his world were his mother and his son. He started reading the Bible.
He obtained two associate’s degrees from Shawnee State College and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wilmington College.
On July 7, 1993, Eric’s 13th birthday, Pounds decided to make a commitment to God and family.
Up to that point, he carried a heavy load of guilt. He had hurt a lot of people.
Clifton Hendon’s daughter, Linda Wheat, of Clifton, Tenn., was one of them.
“I didn’t want to know anything about him,” she said in a recent interview. “I couldn’t think about that man. It drove me crazy what he had done. It hurt so bad. I had to block him out of my mind.”
Her mother, Edna Hendon, 86, never remarried. She worked in a factory for many years and now works at a library in Tennessee.
The student who was held hostage at the drug store, now in her 50s, did not wish to discuss it.
Pounds had a good sense of the lingering feelings. So on that day, God’s words — “Come to me and I will forgive you, confess your sins” — offered a moment of healing.
“I need your help, Lord,” was his prayer.
“I said I am not going to take more drugs and I am going to make a pact with God and my mom and my boy, and that’s what I did that day,” Pounds said.
“I quit a lot of things I was doing.”
He wanted to begin serving as an example, even inside a prison cell.
“I didn’t want to do anything to cause her heartache,” he said of wanting to please his mother.
It would all come too late for his mother to see the full realization.
She died six months before his release from Marion Correctional Institution, which came June 5, 2007.
His sister, Gale Pounds Smith, picked him up that day, and he immediately began to reconnect with the outside world _ in a good way. Life came at him fast.
He made a phone call to Eric, who by then was a registered nurse serving as a medic with an Ohio Army National Guard unit in Iraq.
A bit of luck
And Gale had a good friend, Keith Luck, who wanted to return a favor.
Luck had gone on to play football for Barberton and the University of Akron and then started his own business, Barberton Tree Service. He had made a habit of hiring people who had a criminal record to give them a chance.
Luck knew when he heard that Denny Pounds was out of prison that he wanted to take a chance on him as soon as a position became available.
But Pounds wasn’t waiting. He found a job right away at an Akron print shop, began volunteering at Interval Brotherhood Home to work with people who had addictions and soon was hired to work on the night staff.
About six months after his release, his sister introduced him to Lori Ann Earnsberger. They hit it off and eventually would marry.
In the spring of 2008, it got better.
Pounds had developed an art of building items from match sticks, and wanted to show his model of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle to Luck. That meeting was pivotal. They spent a great deal of time sharing their life experiences.
Luck made a huge commitment. He offered Pounds a job and the opportunity to rent a house on company property.
The two hugged.
“You want a place where you can fit in?” Luck asked Pounds. “I have guys you can talk to and counsel and maybe you can catch them before they get to the next level.”
Pounds, now 63 years old, is eternally grateful.
“When you have a record like mine, it’s hard to get people to believe in you,” he said.
Pounds and Lori Ann were married in 2011 and attend Wintergreen Ledges Church of God on Vernon Odom Boulevard in Akron.
Pastor Jim Roma said he is glad Pounds has found a home at his church.
“He has been a blessing to those that know him,” Roma said. “I believe the whole purpose Jesus came was to give us new starts and new beginnings and redemption. I am thankful what God is doing in Denny’s heart and life.”
At a regular 6:45 p.m. Friday meeting at the Front Porch ministry on Grant Street in September, Pounds told his story to about a half-dozen who had been in trouble with the law.
When he turned his life around, now nearly 20 years ago, “I wanted to be quick to listen and slow to talk.”
He goes to recovery meetings, has taken groups to the Marion Correctional Institution to show them prison life and has visited prison on his own to deliver words of encouragement.
J.D. Stewart, 34, a former Barberton Tree employee who says he had drug issues, can testify to Pounds’ good guidance.
“I was pretty messed up,” Stewart said. The men talk a couple of times a week, and meet often.
“He has talked me through times where I was really depressed,” Stewart said. “I was as bad as it can get.”
Pounds finished his five years of supervised parole in June, and his family looks at him with pride.
“He has come a long way,” said his wife, Lori Ann.
“He can really set a good example for those who are willing to listen and hear his story,” said son Eric, 32, living in suburban Columbus.
And Pounds is determined to continue to set an example of what can be.
“I believe God forgave me,” he said. “I truly believe there is a reason for everything. … In the Bible there is no problem, no nothing you can’t find a solution for.”
God, Pounds said, “has touched me and showed me what I need to do. It is my turn to give back and help others.”