WORTHINGTON -- Ethan Duffy says he’s a totally different person than he was just five years ago.

To hear him talk about his former life, you already know.

Five years ago, Duffy was in prison. He’d been busted too many times for drug use, and for selling. But finally, after chances given, chances wasted, and more than enough opportunity to contemplate where he was headed, he was able to get his life back on track.

A major incentive was the birth of his only child, a daughter, Emelia Grace, born in January of 2017.

Today Ethan, a 2010 Worthington High School graduate, is a single father with a good job as a supervisor at Monogram Meats. And he plays baseball with the Worthington Cubs.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

The best thing of all is to be with Emelia Grace -- to see her grow, to share hugs and kisses. Even picking her up at daycare is a special treat that reminds Emelia’s 29-year-old father how blessed he is.

“It’s awesome. She runs up to me every time I go to daycare. Because after she was born, that relationship wasn’t there,” Ethan explains. “She was raised entirely by women when I was gone. I’ve accrued a relationship with my daughter which is unique in a way. She’s got that girly-girl side from all the fantastic women in her life who helped raise her, and she’s got a tom-boy side that comes from me. Every day she’s asking about fishing, or if we are going to a ball game.”

Caught in bad choices

After high school graduation, Ethan attended Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington, but he dropped out within two months. In his first year of college, he made questionable friend choices. He began taking and selling marijuana. Realizing that he was putting his future in jeopardy, he stopped the marijuana for a while, but he returned to West and fell back into the same scene.

“Most of my problems were of my own choosing, but I also chose the wrong crowd to hang out with. You fly with the crows, you get shot with the crows,” he said.

He’d begun to sell again, and then he was introduced to methamphetamine. He thought he could make a lot more money a lot faster with meth, so he sold it, and took it, too.

In 2013 he was busted for meth.

“I got a fifth-degree controlled substance charge, which is a felony.”

He went to jail, was released under conditions, and he violated the terms of his conditions. He went to in-patient treatment at Project Turnabout in Granite Falls, but he still wasn’t ready to straighten out his life.

He began to work at a job in Luverne and he went to meetings, he recalls, “thinking it was just all going away.” But he relapsed with methamphetamine a year and a half after treatment and started selling larger amounts. He was arrested again in 2016 and went in and out of jail, still violating the terms of his release.

In 2017 he was told by a judge that prison now was his only option. In April of that year he was incarcerated in St. Cloud, then transferred to Moose Lake, then to Willow River. He heard about a very strict boot camp program, and he was allowed in.

It was very strict, indeed. “I can probably march better than most military,” he says now.

It was a six-month program.

“That’s when I decided this is it for me,” he said. “I knew that I needed to get out and be all that I could be for my daughter. There was no more room for failure.”

Far exceeded expectations

Emelia’s mother, Rose, passed away on Dec. 22, 2020. Rose and Ethan were never married, but Ethan says they enjoyed a strong relationship before Ethan got into trouble. Ethan had already had full custody of his daughter since Emelia was 2 years old.

After only about two weeks of leaving the prison system, Ethan started working for Monogram Meats.

“They took me with open arms,” he said. “They knew everything, and they took me in and supported me. They’re like my family.”

Fortunately for Ethan, he also has lots of other family and friends who support him. He knows they’re always going to be there for him. At the top of the list is his devoted, loving mother (who has hardly missed a baseball game of his since he was 4), and his two brothers. And so many others, all the way down to his teammates on the baseball team.

Today, Ethan not only has his daughter, he has a job of responsibility that he enjoys, and he’s back at college working toward a business management degree in food science. And he has purchased a house in Fulda, too.

He doesn’t need any prodding to say how Emelia makes him happy and proud. He looks forward to coaching her in sports when the time comes. But whatever she wants to do, he’s going to support her in every way.

Even if it’s ballet.

“I’m not going to be dancing in a tu-tu, but I’ll be there clapping for her,” he promises.

Emelia’s dad is in a serious relationship today, and his girlfriend has a wonderful relationship with his daughter.

The baseball is just one more enjoyment in Ethan’s new life. He is a left-fielder, center-fielder and pitcher.

“I love getting out there with the guys. It would be great to have a winning record. I love the lights, the smell of the grass, hearing the fans cheer. And my mom has been at every single game,” he said.

He takes things one day at a time, saying, “I keep my feet on the ground.”

And he wants everyone to know that, whatever the problem, whatever the heartache, there’s no such thing as a lost cause.

“My life right now is so far-fetched from what I saw in 2018 from when I got out of prison,” he said. “They make us fill out these after-care plans for where you see your life after five years, after 10 years. And I’ve far exceeded what I envisioned.”