It’s a simple enough scene: two friends in a coffee shop, catching up and sharing stories. But for Tyler Auck and Bismarck Police Chief Dan Donlin, the truth isn’t nearly that simple.
“People see me today and a lot of times, the first thing they say is, ‘I can’t believe you’re not dead or in prison,'” Auck says.
The two men first crossed paths in the early 1990s, when Donlin was a young cop, and Auck was a troublemaking kid.
“I was known as a fighter,” Auck says. “I was fighting people, and people wanted to fight me.”
“There are certain names that just stick with you,” explains Chief Donlin. “That name, Tyler Auck, was one that was familiar.”
There’s a reason for that: between the ages of 10 and 31, Tyler Auck was arrested by Bismarck police ten times, and suspected in twice as many cases.
It was a downward spiral that took the young man from petty crime to crippling addiction. “I would wake up in the morning and I’d be shaking,” Auck recalls. “It’s because I needed alcohol. I needed drugs.”
But even as Officer Donlin saw Auck move in and out of handcuffs, he says he was careful to avoid condemnation. “Being a drug user and a drug addict and a drug dealer, yeah, he was making some very poor choices. Usually there’s a lot of hurt behind that happening.”
That was certainly the case for Tyler Auck. “I was looking at death,” he says. “I was sticking a gun in my mouth every day. I couldn’t function with the drugs, and I couldn’t function without them.”
But Auck beat the odds. He checked himself into an addiction treatment center — and he’s been sober since 2011.
Still — why is he here now, drinking coffee with the Chief of Police? It started with a chance encounter in the fall of 2015. They were both speaking at a public event.
Auck recalls the moment: “I stuck out my hand and he… he hugged me. The first thing he said to me was how proud he was of me.”
Donlin and Auck got to talking — exchanged cell phone numbers — and an unlikely friendship sprouted from the seeds of compassion.
“Had I verbalized derogatory things about him, we wouldn’t have the relationship we have now,” Donlin says. “We couldn’t.”
The two men now share their story with others — the story of a cop and a former criminal: evidence that addiction can be conquered.
“There’s a way out. But we have to accept the hands that are there reaching out,” Auck says.
“This is what it’s about. It doesn’t get any better than this,” Donlin says.
In December, Auck received a bachelor degree in addiction studies.
He’s now a certified addiction counselor, helping people beat back addiction, just like he did in 2011.
Tyler Auck and Dan Donlin are two people you should know.