Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography
I grew up in Southern California. My mom and dad were Los Angeles police officers. My father never knew his biological father. His mom and dad got married after he got her pregnant and right after he was born, his dad left. My dad’s goal was to be the father to me he never had. And we had a very good relationship. But what he missed in being a good father was being a good husband to my mom. They divorced when I was about 7 years old. But even still he was very committed to me and very available to me. But then he died of a massive coronary when I was 14 years old. At the time, I would have told you it didn’t affect me, but it did. I no longer had the respect and fear of my father that would have kept me in line, and my mother had a hard time containing me. I gravitated to kids that did drugs, and it was like a rabbit hole. I was the first kid to get a tattoo, I was smoking at 15, and I was always getting in fights. That’s who I thought I was—this bad guy. I dropped out of high school. At about 20 years old, I was working in construction. It was the mid-1980s, and I was partying hard and had a serious cocaine habit. My only purpose in working was to get drug money.
During that time, I had a girlfriend who got pregnant. That had happened many times before with me and girls, and there was the mindset with the people I was hanging around with that if you got pregnant you just got an abortion. I remember it was such an annoying inconvenience to take this girl to this place and she would be all emotional. We didn’t think of it as killing babies—just as eliminating a problem. One girl I got pregnant said she didn’t believe in abortion, and she wasn’t going to have one. I was surprised by that and really impressed by it. So, she had my daughter. We were both 21 and my cocaine habit was really taking root. Not long after that, my son was born. We were together 12 years—on welfare and food stamps. I was a terrible father and mate. I loved my kids and wanted to be there for them, but I had a burning desire to feed my addiction. I tried some 12-step programs but just didn’t have the strength to do it.
I got involved in crystal meth. It would keep you high for much longer and keep you awake for hours at a time. To me, it was much more economical. I was staying up all night and partying and then I’d go to work the next day. I was so twisted in my thinking that I didn’t think it affected me. About this time, I got into trouble and went to the county jail, and the mother of my children took our four children. She moved in with her mother and got a restraining order against me. She moved a couple of counties away which made it inconvenient for me to see the children. She did what was best for her and the kids. At some point, I gave up. “I’m a terrible person, a terrible father,” and I surrendered that they were better off without me. That gave me new freedom and I didn’t have to worry about it. This was in the late 90s and I was in San Bernardino, California, which at one time had been a very nice place, but at this time there was a lot of homelessness and drug problems. I navigated that very comfortably. I had no problem living off the grid. I didn’t have a driver’s license for about 10 years. I just drove other people’s cars and stole cars.
I met this girl who had family that lived in Texas and we did drugs together. She wanted me to get her and her son to Texas. She told me, “You have such great potential. If you could just get away from these drugs, you could really make something of yourself. I have some family in Texas, and if you could take me there, they could help you find a job.” I said, “I don’t have a way to get us there, but it sounds good.” The next day I got a day labor job and the guy filled up the tank of his truck and gave me the keys with about a $1,000 worth of tools in the trunk to take to the job. We pawned the tools and headed to Texas. I remember thinking sarcastically, “The Lord must want me to go to Texas.” We ended up in Palestine, Texas, and I got a construction job. I got off the meth and it was the most normal life I had lived.
Then one day, a guy who had been driving a tractor near where we were working, walked across our worksite and I just knew that this guy knew where to get crystal meth. It wasn’t a logical decision to talk to him. I was just drawn to him. Sure enough, he had crystal meth and we start doing it together. I asked him where I could get it and found out he was making it. I started being his helper and learned how to cook crystal meth. It occurred to me that I had a way to make more money than I knew what to do with and all the drugs I could ever want. So, I broke away from him and started making meth and selling it to the people of the town. I watched a community of simple country folks get addicted to crystal meth and watched them lose jobs and their relationships break up—and I was at the ground level of that. I was making so much money, but I was so spun out. I was cooking meth in the woods of East Texas, and when I wasn’t cooking I was rounding up ingredients. I’ll never forget realizing that I had everything I ever wanted, yet I had never been more miserable. I hadn’t seen my kids for five years. I had failed and there was no undoing that. I had failed at ever being a good father. I had failed at ever being a good son. I had failed at being a good husband. I had friends but not really. They were friendly to me but they hated me because they had to pay me to get drugs. It just started wearing me down. One night I was out in the woods at one of my cook spots. One of the guys helping me had stolen all my chemicals. I was furious and tried to reach him on a prepaid cell phone, and the battery was dying. I went into a rage. In the midst of that rage I thought, “God, if you are real, you did not create me to do this.” I was challenging God to take my mess and fix it. And then it was as if the veil was torn and I could see all the failure around me. It was an ugly place to be. I could see who I really was at that point. Before that, I had no real vision of myself and my reality. I cried out to the Lord, “Take me out of this. I can’t stop.”
God answered my prayer. An interesting thing happened not long after that. In February 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia was supposed to travel from Dallas to Florida, and the shuttle’s path was right over Palestine, Texas. But it blew up. The debris field went all the way to our town in Palestine, Texas. I remember the day it happened. It was February 1st and I had been up cooking meth to get ready for welfare check day, and I was at a farmhouse. I heard an explosion then went outside and there was something different in the air. The birds were making different sounds. I turned on the radio and heard that the space shuttle had exploded and parts were spread all over our small town. They sent federal agents to comb through the woods with a fine-tooth comb to find shuttle pieces. They were uncovering meth cook spots all over the place. I couldn’t cook meth in the woods for months. Then the county police department launched a Drug Task Force. Everyone was telling on everyone else. Everyone I knew was getting busted. The little drug culture in our community was coming to an end.
The day I got busted, I was hiding under a pile of dirty laundry in a house. I was trying to make myself smaller but it wasn’t working. I could hear the cops in the house looking for me. I heard them call for a canine unit and knew that wasn’t good. The head of the Drug Task Force found me. He said, “Today your picture comes off of my wall. You have been on my hit list for months.”
I was charged with transport of illegal chemicals with intent to make crystal meth. The judge told me that I was a cancer to his community and cancer has to be cut out. He gave me the full 10 years. I knew that this was the Lord responding to me to get me out.
When I was in prison, I went to a Bible study. There were pages torn out of the Bibles to wrap cigarettes in to sneak them in. I said, “Do you guys have any more Bibles because my Bible doesn’t even start until Leviticus.” There was a local church member coming into the jail to minister to us. He took out all the place markers in his own personal Bible and gave it to me. It was marked up with all of the notes he had written in it over the years, but he still gave it to me. I still have his Bible.
I was reading the Bible but not living it out. I remember these guys in the church area singing in a loud voice, “This is the day that the Lord hath made.” I sat up from my bed annoyed and thought, “This is the day that the Lord has made? Are you kidding? You are in prison.” That was my introduction to the concept that you could be free in prison. Those men were free in prison. I learned more about freedom in prison when a man conducting a Christian class for us said he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but he would keep volunteering his time to teach our class. He said, “Your attitude can change the outcome of your life. You can look at being in prison as a terrible thing that happened to you and be mad at the world, or you can look at this as an opportunity to grow and get healthy. You can learn your Bible and get an education. This could be the best thing that ever happens to you.” Because he had Alzheimer’s, the next week he repeated the same things. And the next week he repeated the same things. I am the kind of person who needs redundancy to make it stick. Could it have been the Lord’s divine wisdom to put a guy as my teacher who repeats himself?
I got to see an example of this when I was moved to a new work squad where they took us to a farm to work. I was complaining and had a poor attitude. This guy I was working with said, “This is the best job.” I looked at him like he had two heads. I said, “How?” He said, “We are outside of the gates of the prison, out in mother nature, telling jokes with the guys, and we get to go back and get a shower and have the rest of the day off.” After this my attitude changed and it made a big difference.
Several ministers came to the prison and preached to us. All these things were solidifying that this was God’s response to deliver me from the life I was in. One of the ministers asked me what my parole plan was, and I told them I had a plan to go back and live in Palestine where I had sold drugs. They said the only people I knew there were the police and drug dealers and suggested that I go to a mission in Houston instead. I had enough wisdom to take their advice.
After I got out of prison, while I was at the mission, I started attending classes at The WorkFaith Connection and then got a job there. In my job, I had the opportunity to pour into other people and help them turn their lives around. Being in that environment helped me to continue to grow and learn and deepen my relationship with God.
But still I struggled with thinking about my past. I kept thinking, “I’ll never be able to fix what I did to my mom or what I did to my children and the mother of my children.” Before I went to prison, I didn’t have a strategy to do bad things. I was just being who the enemy wanted me to be. This led me to do things I really regretted. I remember one time my mom asked if some of my friends knew where to get pep pills and I gave her pills with crystal meth. While she was spun out on crystal meth, I stole her debit card and emptied out her bank accounts. She lost the house she lived in and went through a series of financial hardships because of what I did.
I was planning on being single for the rest of my life. I had been working at WorkFaith Connection for seven years when I met a volunteer. I knew by the end of our first conversation that I wanted to marry her. We were both running steadfastly toward the Lord alongside each other. We had these common goals. I thought she was way too beautiful and way too young for me. The more I got to know her, the more I realized how important sexual purity was to her. We got engaged and spent two years of relationship in sexual purity. We got married and a couple of years into marriage we had a son who is now a little over a year old, and we are expecting our second child. I get to be completely present in my son’s life, and I get to be a father to my teenage stepdaughter, the father she prayed for for years.
I have gone back to California to visit my grown children many times since I have gotten out of prison. I also visited my mother who was living in an assisted living facility on a police officer’s pension. She was really deteriorating, and my wife said, “We need to find a place for her to live in Texas.” My mom agreed and she moved here in 2016 about 10 minutes from where I live. She is in an assisted living community that is so much less money, that she has all this money now she never had before. I go see her every week and meet with her doctor. This is where I really see that the Lord is restoring what the locusts have eaten. My mom said to me recently, “You’re such a good son. You’re such a good father and such a good husband.” Those were the things that I thought I could never be.
I now work for a big commercial construction company. I love my job. We bought a house and I have a nice truck. The Lord provides for us. I didn’t finish high school. I got my GED in prison. I started off making $11.50 per hour and this year I made almost $90,000. God provides for me more than I could ask for—materially, spiritually, and with my relationships. I get to be so much more than I dreamed I could ever be. I can’t do what I am doing without the Lord’s strength. The Lord’s strength in you helps you turn away from temptation. When you ask God to show up, He shows up. Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will take away your heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh and put a new spirit in your body.” This makes sense to me because now I don’t long for the things I longed for before. The Lord gave me a heart transplant and a new spirit.
When I was doing drugs, I had holes and infection all over my arms. I had to use my hands and feet and even my neck to inject drugs. I wore long sleeves shirts and Band-Aids on my hands. Some days I felt so poked full of holes. One day I was listening to a Christian song, “Rain Down” by Roger Cullins, and it just hit me. I had been like a baby lamb stuck in a thorny brier, all poked full of holes, and the Lord gently pulled me out with His Shepherd’s hook. He lifted me out of the pit and gave me a new heart, a new spirit, a new life.
There is a mindset that if I do this, this, and this, THEN the Lord will work in my life—compared to knowing He is ALREADY at work. When you start to understand grace and mercy and that He doesn’t love me because I got sober, He loved me the whole time—it is an incredible new way to look at God. I finally realized that I never had to earn His grace and mercy; it was there for the taking. I might have been breaking His heart, but He loved me the whole time.
For if a man belongs to Christ, he is a new person. The old life is gone. New life has begun.
2 Corinthians 5:17