From Down on His Luck to goodwill

Dennis Ritchie ’94 knows first-hand the importance of second chances. Hitting rock-bottom gave him the insights he employs today to help others succeed.

By Emily Potts

Life sometimes has a way of going sideways. Dennis Ritchie was a successful attorney in western Kentucky. Married to another attorney, with four children in the early 2000s, life was good—for a while—until it wasn’t.

A series of unfortunate events led to a downward spiral that took years to recover from. It started with several injuries in the early 2000s, and a subsequent car wreck, leading to Ritchie being prescribed powerful painkillers—opiates—and becoming dependent on them.

He developed a serious habit and continued taking the opiates long after he recovered from his injuries, functioning at a high capacity, until bit by bit, his addiction revealed itself. His marriage began to crumble, and his work started to suffer. Eventually, he was charged with a felony relating to a client’s bond and subsequently admitted himself to inpatient rehab where he stayed for 110 days.

“While I was there, I could not appear in court with clients that had commissioned me, so I was charged with multiple counts of theft by deception,” Ritchie said, adding he eventually reimbursed those clients and all charges were dismissed or diverted.

Paying for Past Mistakes

But this was just the beginning of his troubles, when finding work became a challenge. “I did all kinds of stuff because I was in survival mode. I delivered food, I cleaned baseball stadiums and I worked at a rubber factory until finally I was introduced to another attorney who had previously been in recovery, and he gave me a job.”

While working in that law office he filed for bankruptcy and voluntarily surrendered his bar license—all collateral consequences from his addiction. Also during this time, he welcomed another daughter, Anna, and from the age of two was raising her as a single father. 

“Some cynical people around me would view Anna as another mistake in my life when she was first born. If she was, then she was the greatest mistake ever. Had it not been for Anna, and not repeating mistakes I made with my other kids—trying to win back their respect—I don’t know if I would have made it through everything. I will always feel like Anna was sent to me for a reason.”

Eventually, Ritchie landed in LaGrange, Ky., for a new job at an insurance company. Unfortunately, they discovered his past troubles through a Google search and rescinded the offer at the last minute.

It may ultimately have been the best thing to happen to him. Ritchie found a part-time job at Goodwill for $8.25 an hour as a material handler, taking donations out of the backs of donors’ vehicles.

From there, just doing the right thing, day after day, the pendulum started to swing in his favor. Within 18 months, he worked his way to store manager before an opportunity arose to manage LifeLaunch, a re-entry grant program for adults with a history of criminal misconduct. Who better than a former attorney, with loads of criminal defense experience and his own life experience, to help them get a step up?

Paying it Forward

Currently, Ritchie serves as the senior director of re-entry and oversees a new policy and strategy division for Goodwill. This division guides efforts to help get Kentuckians out of poverty.

“Goodwill is one of the largest second-chance employers in the state of Kentucky. I was able to help develop supportive services and barrier reduction models for people down on their luck because I lived it. It gave me a chance to help people experiencing hardships due to their past mistakes.”

One of the services Goodwill provides is expungement assistance for underserved individuals with criminal backgrounds. In partnership with various legal aid groups and the Department of Corrections, Goodwill was able to expunge more than 4,000 records in 2023 in the state of Kentucky.

“That’s a big deal because not only does it make you eligible for better employment, but there are a lot of collateral consequences people don’t even think about,” he said.

He noted when someone is released from jail, a condition of probation and parole is to have a job and a place to stay. If you have a record, finding a decent paying job is nearly impossible, and many property management companies will deny you. In addition, most people with a criminal record can’t vote or get a driver’s license, which is yet another barrier to finding and maintaining a job.

According to Prison Policy Initiative (, “The unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people is nearly five times higher than the unemployment rate for the general United States population, and substantially higher than even the worst years of the Great Depression.”

The consequences are devastating, contributing to housing insecurity which reduces access to health care services and educational programs. It’s a slippery slope that many aren’t able to recover from without assistance.

“It makes sense for Goodwill to be involved in expungements and erasing those records because our mission is to try to get people out of poverty. What better way to do that than to put them on a career path where they can support themselves and their family,” Ritchie explained.

Poverty and homelessness are two of the biggest predictors for recidivism, so helping people overcome these obstacles is his mission. It’s not only good for them, but also great for the community. Empathy is Ritchie’s greatest superpower.

“A lot of people who want to work are ‘justice-involved’ people. There’s a lot of research out there that says if you give justice-involved people a chance, they’re going to be some of your most loyal and dependable workers—and I stand by that. However, to get them there, they have to be treated a little bit differently.”

Although his own journey has been peppered with potholes— self-made, he’d admit—Ritchie is grateful for what he has and where he’s landed. He credits Bradley with teaching him how to be a critical thinker, a problem solver, and most importantly to be resolute.

“Bradley gave me great resolve to continue going forward to overcome obstacles, something that has served me well in the past decade. I’m happier now and more fulfilled than I ever was as an attorney. I love what I do, and I love giving back.”

Second chances can be the sweetest success of all.

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