#237 Very Good in God’s Eyes

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I was born in Shreveport Louisiana. My mother was 16 when she gave birth to me. All my family is conservative Baptist, and when my mother became pregnant, there was a stigma. They sent her away for a period until she gave birth to me, and then my grandparents became my primary caretakers. My mother graduated high school, but my grandparents retained control of her. 

Because I was born out of wedlock, I was always treated differently, but I didn’t understand it as a young child. As a way to remove the shame, I was put in church from sunup to sundown, practically seven days a week. From K to 3rdgrade I went to a private Catholic school. My mother eventually married and lived with her husband, but I stayed with my grandparents. The private school closed and I began going to a public school near my mother’s home. My mother would take me to my grandmother’s home as soon as I was out of school, and I would stay there until the next morning when my grandmother took me to my mother’s to catch the bus to school. During this time, I was still in church all the time but it felt foreign to me. I didn’t feel a connection. The teaching at church didn’t line up with my life at home, and that was confusing for me.  

My stepfather took me as his own son and loved me. But my grandparents told my mother that she had to divorce him because he drank. I don’t remember his drinking being a problem in our home. He was good to me and had a good job and provided well for our family. My mother divorced him. He loved my mother and never married again. He began drinking excessively after she divorced him. He drank himself to death, dying of liver cirrhosis at 43 years of age. 

My mother had to move to the ghetto because she didn’t have the income from her husband, and her family didn’t help her financially. That’s when my life started to take off in a negative way. I felt like I had two lives. When I moved to the bad neighborhood, the structure was different. Because I sought to belong, when I attended school, I hung out with the children that were doing everything wrong. By this time, I was 11 or 12. I had been sheltered and now was introduced into this community of kids doing all these things I didn’t know anything about. I was just trying to fit in. Eventually this led to me to participating in gang activity. I never did anything with the gang per se. I never got involved in crime because I was still staying with my grandparents at night. This time in my life was a turning point for me because I began to become emboldened. I developed an attitude. My grandmother told my mother, “Come get him because if you don’t, I’m going to kill him.” Between 6thand 7thgrade, I moved back with my mom. My mother was never home. I had to watch my younger sister. I would pick her up from school and watch her until my mom would come home. My mother wasn’t there to tell me to go to school, so many times I didn’t.

I was baptized at Paradise Baptist Church, my grandparents church, but I began going to Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church down the street from my mom’s house. Every Sunday my mom would say, “Get dressed, get your sister dressed, and go to church.” The pastor, Rev. Hunt, wanted to know where my mother was. He took me home to meet my mother and that began a relationship between us. After school I would go to Rev. Hunt’s office and spend time with him. He became like a model father figure for me. He took me to his home and treated me like his own son. But there was still disconnect between church and my own personal life. I appreciated him and loved him, but I didn’t feel any sense of peace or belonging in church. Little did I know, all the training that I received at Paradise Church and Morning Star Church would come back to help me in a most difficult period in my life when I went to prison. 

By this time, I was about 15 ½ years old and had been kicked out of school for tardiness. I was attending what is now called an alternative school. There was a teacher, Ms. Huntington, who was kind and compassionate, and she exuded love. She always told me, “You are an intelligent young boy.” She always encouraged me. Rev. Hunt and Ms. Huntington became the two people that gave me self-worth and were positive. I didn’t want to fight and be with the guys because I had these two adults in my life encouraging me and believing in me. 

The goal at the alternative school was for the students to spend one semester and then go back to their regular school. We were to sit in a cubicle all day and do our normal school work sent over by our regular school and also do additional work. It took a lot of discipline to sit in that cubicle every day and do that work, but I was determined to get back to my school and worked hard to do everything that I was supposed to do. 

When I went back for my school board hearing to see if I could get back into my regular school, the assistant principal at my old regular high school said I was doing good where I was and I should stay there another semester. That crushed me. I had tried so hard. That day I stopped caring about everybody and everything. But I was still attending church. I can remember sitting in church saying to God, “To hell with it all. I don’t even care.” I didn’t go back to school. My mom found out and was really mad. So I ran away from home. The second night, my mom was out looking for me. When she found me, I could see she was holding my little sister. My stepdad told me to always be there for my little sister and my mom. I went home that night. 

The next night, we were at church. Rev. Hunt told my mother she worried too much and that I was going to turn out all right. He told her that I was going to be a preacher. She said, “What?” I looked up in the sky and there was a full moon. And these words stuck with me the whole 28 1/2 years I spent in prison. I said, “God, if you want me to change, you got to put me in a position to make me change.” I don’t believe that God brings bad things to people. I believe that God laid choices before me. My statement to God essentially was that I’m not changing unless something drastic causes me to change. I was rejecting doing what was right. 

I was supposed to go to school the next day, and I wanted to go to school, but I missed the school bus. I thought I could catch the city bus. I got dressed and walked to catch the city bus. I saw a gang member fixing a car and thought he could take me to school. He asked me to go with him to take two rings to the pawn shop to get money to buy a catalytic converter, and then he would take me. I saw the city bus and something inside of me said, “Get on the bus,” but I didn’t get on the bus. At the pawn shop I saw another city bus. I had a second chance to get on the bus. Again, I didn’t get on the bus. We left the pawn shop. The guy’s younger brother had joined us and this younger brother said he needed to go by his girlfriend’s house, and we began walking that way. The guy I was with at first forgot his receipt at the pawn shop and as he turned around to go back, I saw another city bus. This was my third opportunity to get on the city bus. Something again said, “Get on the bus!” I let the bus pass. We made it to the street where the younger brother said his girlfriend lived. He asked me to go knock on the door and ask for Kelly. I did but no one named Kelly lived there. We all three started to walk back up the street. And then the younger brother knocked on another door and a woman answered. They started arguing. His older brother and I walked off and when we were some distance away, we heard four shots. We walked home and about 15 minutes later, the younger brother caught up and said, “I did something.” I said, “I don’t want to hear about it.”

Later that night he was arrested for stealing a bicycle. He had a check made payable to the woman he shot. He was suspected for murder. He had shot two ladies at point-blank range in the head. One died and one was badly hurt but lived. He was 16 years old at the time. He told the police that two other people were with him and named me and his brother. They questioned his brother first and let him go. The next day they came and got me and they questioned me and I wouldn’t tell them anything. My mom came with Rev. Hunt and he said that he thought I should tell the police what happened, but my mom said no, I couldn’t talk. 

Because I wouldn’t talk, the police said they were going to hold me up to 72 hours in juvenile hall. On the third day, I stood before the judge, and he said there was probable cause to transfer me to an adult facility. But because of my age, they separated me from everybody else. I stayed there for about two to three days before I appeared in court. The court-appointed attorney said, “There is no probable cause to hold this person. You’ve got to let him go.” But then they asked me to stand in a line-up in front of the lady who survived. The police said that she said, “It looks like #3 (which was the one who shot her) but it sounds like #6 (which was me)” and that became probable cause to hold me. The indictment was first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder. 

I was appointed to a different attorney and I still wouldn’t talk. Now they wanted to file the death penalty and I was moved to a high-security isolation cell. The entire cell was painted white and the light remained on 24-7 with a camera pointed directly in the cell and chicken wire over the bars. I was 16 when I went in and they kept me there almost 4 ½ years. They were telling me they were going to kill me. Everything I had learned in Paradise Church and Morning Star Church came back to me in that cell. The only thing I knew was to turn to the Bible. For 4 ½ years, my routine was that I would eat breakfast and then read the Bible from about 7:30-3:30 and then I would pray. Every day I read and prayed and read and prayed. My family slowly drifted away from me. They said I had no business being with those boys and told my mother not to go see me. I was cut off from all communication. There I was—alone, 17 years old, facing death. And I just read my Bible, prayed, and sung old Baptist hymns. 

I ended up changing lawyers because he wanted me to cop out. I got a Christian lawyer and told him everything that happened. He believed me and did everything he could to help. He ended up filing a motion to perpetuate testimony to bring the victim to the trial to testify about me, and when he did that, they took him off my case, but they had to go through with his motion. They brought the lady who survived to the court and she said, “That’s not him. Where did you get him from? I don’t know him.” After her testimony, they amended my indictment from first-degree murder to second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder. The language in the law in the Louisiana Revised Statute 1424 says that all persons concerned in the commission of a felony whether present or absentare principals to the offense. A low-degree principal was engaged in the crime but disengaged. From the time I walked from pawn shop to the first house where I knocked on the door and asked for Kelly, I was engaged. I was a principal in the murder even though I was absent from the scene of the crime and had no intent and no knowledge that he was going to shoot two people. I faced life in prison because I was a principal according to this law. The guy who actually shot the two women and killed one of them got only seven years because they gave him a deal for testifying against me. His brother, the guy I initially asked to take me to school, who was with me when his brother shot the two women, served no time at all.  

So I go to Angola prison to serve a life sentence. The best way to describe how I felt is to imagine yourself in a dark room, as dark as it can be, pitch black and soundproof. And you are thrown in and the door slams behind you and you don’t know where the door is to get out. No one can hear you. How do you get out? That’s how I felt. You are just in this dark place. 

For 4 ½ years I had been praying, thinking that God knew I was innocent and was going to deliver me. Then that all went away. I didn’t want to hear about church. I didn’t care about the Bible. But there was something that kept calling me from inside myself not to lose faith. So one day, I found myself going to the chapel at Angola. Angola is unique. It is an 18,000-acre farm, and under direction of Warden Burl Cain they built chapels in each satellite campus. Inmates are allowed to go to church. The churches are for the most part led by inmates but they also allowed free people to come inside to conduct churches. There was a chapel led by a woman (Cindy) from the outside, an Episcopal deacon. I started going to this chapel and to their Bible studies. Even though I didn’t understand their liturgy, there was a song that they sang in every service that reminded me of my Baptist upbringing. It resonated with me. But eventually I stopped going. At the end of the year the Episcopal church holds a banquet for regular attendees. Even though I had stopped attending, my name was on the call-out list to attend the banquet. But I said I wasn’t going. At 5:30 they opened the doors and this guy said, “Come on and go.” But again I said, “I’m not going.” Finally, it was my third chance (just like with the buses). It was my third chance to say yes to the opportunity God was giving me to help me. This time, unlike with the buses, I finally said yes to the opportunity for God’s help. The guard said, “Last call for call-outs.” I said “Alright. I will go.” 

At the banquet, there was Deacon Cindy. She walked up to me smiling and said, “How have you been doing? We love you and miss you and hope you come back.” I said, “I will come next Saturday.” I was there the next Saturday and have never left the Episcopal church. Deacon Cindy is such a kind and loving person and is a mother to me. She never asked anyone why they were in prison. She never criticized anybody. She never told me what to believe. She let me figure it out. This was foreign to me because I came from a background that was dogmatic. One day she pointed out the Genesis 1:31 passage: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Then she said to me, “You are very good in God’s eyes.” It blew me away and I started looking at Scripture differently. I was never able to be me. I was always trying to fit somebody else’s mold, and when Cindy showed me that, I realized that I am good despite all else and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or says. I am good. Period. It changed my whole perspective and woke up a new person inside of me.

I stopped thinking about my case and getting out. After this, I knew that I would get out. Because of all of the inmates with life sentences in Angola, 85% of the inmates in Angola will die in Angola. But I knew I would get out, and I had a sense of peace about it. I came to the conclusion that if I just do what is right and listen to the voice of God, everything would work out. For 12 years I went to church faithfully and ended up becoming a Eucharistic minister in Episcopal church. The New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary had an extension center at Angola where inmates could attend classes. Through this program, I got an associate’s degree in Christian Ministry and then a bachelor’s degree in Christian Ministry. When you graduate they say you have to get a job. They gave the inmates the authority to be peer ministers and now they send inmates to other prisons to be ministers in other prisons. There was only one job in ministry available when I graduated. It was to deliver death messages (tell inmates when loved ones had died). I also helped inmates who couldn’t read and write to write letters. I sat with inmates when they were sick and dying and did funerals. The prison staff called me when people were suicidal. The process humbled me and I actually began to see God. When I was sitting with people who were dying, I was looking at them but it was like I was seeing through them to God. God was molding me through their suffering. I met inmates at very vulnerable times in their lives, and because of the experiences we shared they protected me. I didn’t have problems in prison that most people have—God kept me from that. I watched people get stabbed and beaten. I didn’t experience any of that. Thank God.

In 2010, the US Supreme Court ruled that it is illegal to give a juvenile a life sentence for non-homicide, and inmates who were in put in prison for life as a juvenile were let out if they didn’t commit a homicide. But because I was considered a principal in a homicide, that ruling didn’t apply to me. Then there was a new case from Arkansas, and the Supreme Court said the ruling about juveniles DID apply in homicide cases. But that still didn’t help me because Louisiana said the ruling wasn’t retroactive. In 2018, the Supreme Court said the ruling was to be retroactively applied. 

So this is when I had the opportunity to go before the parole board. Cindy got so many people from the church to speak on my behalf. The district attorney had written an opposition letter, which he read. He said I was a cold-blooded murder and should never be let out. At that point, my lawyer went point by point through the transcript from my trial to show that everything that the district attorney had said was not true. My lawyer did a phenomenal job. Then the parole board stepped out to take a vote. They stayed out about 20 minutes. The warden looked at me and said, “Man, you have a lot of people standing up for you. I think you got a shot.” I had also gotten a paralegal degree and horticulture degree while I was in prison, and I was enrolled in the master’s degree program at the seminary. I had stayed out of trouble and hadn’t had a write-up in almost 20 years. The parole board came back in with their decision. “So you didn’t kill anybody. You have a lot of support. I better not ever see you in here again.” Three days later on October 5, 2018, I walked out of Angola. 

I have reconnected with my family. I chose to forgive my mom. I told Cindy when I got out that I needed a church home, and she found a church home for me in an Episcopal Church in New Orleans. I have had so much support from my church family. They have helped me every step of the way with reentry. God has blessed me greatly through them. I have started my own landscaping business. I reapplied to finish my master’s of divinity. I am in a training program in the Episcopal church to be able to visit people in hospitals—to be a lay Eucharistic visitor. 

I often go back the Bible stories of Daniel in the lion’s den and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. In both stories, it was all about whether they would choose to serve God or not. The moral of both stories was that serving God has nothing to do what I get out of God. It is about everything that God has done for me, and the essential thing that He has done for me is give me salvation. I am very grateful to be out of prison, but even if I had not gotten out of prison, I had committed myself to serving God while I was there, and that’s why I took the jobs that I did. I still have that approach. Even if God doesn’t grant my desires, I will still serve Him because that is what life is about, and that has brought me so much peace. One of my seminary professors said, “It’s not about you.” But it is all about perspective. Change of perspective. Change of life. 

I would like to thank God for patience. God gave me patience because in those trying moments something inside of me kept me in peace and kept me patient. I never got so discouraged to think about killing myself. I had a peaceful patience that came from God. I kept my eyes fixed on Him and knew everything would work out. 

We often deceive ourselves into thinking that God doesn’t exist and that He doesn’t care about us. Don’t be deceived. He does exist and He does care about us. God is real. Belief in the Bible is based on pure trust. But faith is different than belief. Faith is based upon some tangible experience. Look though the course of your life and identify those moments of doubt, frustration, and insecurity and try to discover how did you feel. You may have felt hopeless but also hopeful. Those moments of hope are the moments you have to hold on to. Your faith can build from that. You don’t have to know the end. You just need to know the present. God will take care of the end. 

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. James 1:12-13

fabianeharper@gmail.com

#236. A New Heart, A New Spirit, A New Life

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

#217. Even The Trials Are Love

Photo courtesy of Kenosha (Wis.) News, photographer Sean Krajacic

My family originates from Alabama. My father’s family had their own land, where they farmed for subsistence and food. As a child, he worked in the cornfields and peanut groves as soon as he was able to walk and talk. He said it would get so hot you could fry an egg on the red clay soil. Growing up in the south in those days was tough for any family, but especially for black people who farmed the land. You had the constant fear of white men taking whatever they wanted from your land. During this time, the religion of choice was the Baptist faith. Most of my family believed in God and prayer. Going to church was the order of the day for most black families. My dad had a strong faith in God and always expressed a need for prayer. My father was 6 foot, 2 inches tall and strong as a bull. He once caught a mule by its hind legs, as he tried to kick him. My mother was beautiful. Her intelligence always impressed me. 

My father is supposed to have fathered 26 children, but this may vary by three children. My dad had eight or nine children before he met my mom, and my mom had two before she met my dad. I was the first of the five children my mother and father had together. I was born in Waukegan, Illinois. My parents had moved there in 1958 to have a better life. I have had the pleasure to live with most of my stepbrothers and stepsisters at one time in my life. We shared the same bed and wore each other’s hand-me-downs. We shared food, like butter sandwiches and paper dog sandwiches (newspaper and a piece of meat), just to survive. My mother taught all of us to love each other in spite of our lack of necessities, which helped us become a tight-knit family. We were also taught the value of prayer and going to church as a family. My father and mother were really focused on the spiritual side and, since I can remember, God was always present in our family. My mother handled the discipline and she did a good job of putting the fear of God in us. She also stressed the value of education to us. In Waukegan, my father worked as a waiter, serving food to truckers. My mother worked cleaning for the well-to-do white folks in the suburbs. They would come home so discouraged every evening. When I was five years old, they decided to move with some of their friends to Kenosha because the jobs were supposed to be better there. 

I found out early that sports were my way to escape not being heard in my family. I excelled at basketball and other sports. When I played, I could escape the world for some time, and life didn’t seem so hard. At this time, I lived for one thing only. I wanted my father to show me that he loved me. My father loved coon hunting. I learned as much as I could about coon dogs, so my father would tell me I was the best young dog man in the racoon business. He didn’t seem to notice me at all though. And I have since found out that it is a condition that most men from the south had, in that men didn’t show love in the fashion that their children wanted. 

Because of wanting attention from the other kids, and to have the things they had, I started shoplifting at a young age. I stole and hid items from my parents. It started with shoplifting and went downhill from there. My earliest recollection of getting caught stealing was nine years old. I made some really bad choices at a young age, which I had to pay a great deal for. I spent a lot of time in jail cells, suffering for the consequences of my foolishness and lack of personal responsibility. I have been through it all, from jail, to prison, to near death. I was enslaved to my own self. I experienced how it felt to lose my soul. In 1995, after 18 years of going in and out of jails, prisons, and treatment facilities, I came to the realization that I was tired of wasting my life. The pain of prison is different only when you realize you are at the end of your rope. Then, and only then, will you fight to change your circumstances. 

At the age of 35, beaten and broken, I was sitting in a prison cell facing more time than I ever faced at in my life – 40 years. While I was waiting on my new criminal charges to be completed, I remembered the things my parents had instilled in me. I remembered the importance of getting an education and getting a job. I remembered to get on my knees and pray to God for help and guidance to deal with my soul. I started praying and asking God for forgiveness. 

One day, my daughter, and my sister came to visit me in the Racine County Correctional Institute. My 12-year-old daughter asked me a profound question, “Daddy how come you cannot take care of me?” I hadn’t seen her in four years. For the life of me, I had no answer to give her. I could only muster up a pitiful answer of “I’m sorry.” When the visit was over, I went back to my jail cell and I prayed to God to give me the answer to the problem that my daughter had just asked me about. God answered my request. 

About three weeks later, I was walking around the prison yard praying to God, “What I am I going to do with this child of mine?” This voice came to me internally and said until I learned to take care of myself, I would never be able to take care of anyone else, especially my child. That prayer made me finally surrender my life and my will to God. I knew if I didn’t change, I was going to spend the rest of my life in jail or die without reaching my full potential as a man. After that, I never used alcohol or committed any crimes. That was my spiritual awakening. At a crossroads of my life, I decided to let God’s will become the driving force behind whatever life I had left. After I had the internal conversation with God in prison, I had people help me that weren’t supposed to help me in prison, such as officers, guards, and church members. 

While I was waiting for the criminal charges and facing 40 years, I started going Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. I started going to church. I was seeking a change. I got brought back in to court and went before the judge. He was familiar with me. By law, I should had gotten all the 40 years because I had been in trouble all my life. He looked at me and said, “I see something different in you.” I said, “I do plead guilty. I know that I have to do some time but I’m done. This will be the last time you see me.” I don’t know why, but he believed me. He always told me every time he saw me thereafter that he saw something different in me. God had opened his eyes to the change in me. He gave me four years and ran it concurrent with what I was doing. I got sent back to the receiving part of the prison because it was a new sentence. They sent me to a camp and I stayed there for a year. I had to do the three years of probation and had no incidents. I was going to church and finding my way spiritually. I came home, got baptized and continued to journey through church and the things I needed to do to find myself. I had been studying the Bible in jail and was familiar with the Word of God. I went to a Pentecostal church where they preach in Jesus’ name. This is where I got married and became a trustee of the church. My pastor mentored me to develop me and help me use my skills to further the kingdom. He has allowed me to teach classes and speak from the pulpit.

When I was in prison, I was assessed by the Department of Corrections’ social workers with all the assessments and evaluation tools that the Wisconsin prison system can use to measure readiness to change and career development of prison offenders. Over time, these tests helped me to see what I was capable of accomplishing. I had taken enough tests to know that I would be a good counselor if I put my mind to the task of changing my life.

When I got out of prison, I worked at a community center. In 2000, I worked at a treatment facility doing counseling. In 2005, I opened my own facility. In 2012–13 I attended college to get my bachelor’s degree. From 2013–15, I attended school to get a master’s degree in management, organization and leadership; then kept going for the next 16 months to get a master’s degree in mental health and counseling. I have opened an agency called Moore and Associates, a private outpatient clinic focused on helping substance-abuse clients from the Department of Corrections. The other organization I have started is a nonprofit agency that is a full-service facility to address the issues that affect the Kenosha community, such as parenting, maleness and manhood, and domestic violence. I also have been blessed to start a professional basketball club where the mission is for players and staff to get a chance, or a second chance, to build or rebuild their opportunities to be a part of a professional basketball organization. My hope is that I will be able to help young men and women stay positive. I have cried many nights because of the pain I have caused and because I influenced young men to believe in things that appeared to be exciting in this life. What these young men were taught by me, and others like me, was pain and a way to self-oppress, such as jails, drugs, women, and being immature. 

I now want to be a voice to motivate and inspire young people to believe in the possibility of hope and to reach for a brighter tomorrow. I want to help them reach their full potential so that they will be able to teach their children a new way of living. I pray the seed of my dreams will help to end the pain of a generation.

I am now married and have two stepchildren whom I raised. My wife has played a major part of my journey. She had been in church all her life. I am thankful for her spiritual mentorship with my daughter. I have a good relationship with my daughter, who has four of her own children now. My going to college, encouraged her to go to college, and she actually challenged me grade-wise. It pushed her to excel. 

I have discovered this about God’s nature: In a word it is LOVE. Even the trials are love because they provide education that helps you to be a greater witness. It is possible to live a life of hope and change if you find the seed of God in yourself and allow it to grow. 


Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither — whatever they do prospers.

Psalms 1:1-3a