Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography
I was born and raised in Waukegan, Illinois, near Chicago. My mom divorced my father and became involved in another relationship with the father of my younger siblings. My stepfather was a very violent man. He drank a lot and there was a lot drug use. My mom didn’t drink or do drugs. She suffered a lot of physical, mental, and financial abuse from him. He abused me as well. I didn’t look at education as important and I didn’t think I was as smart as the other kids. I was disruptive and disrespectful. I was taught not to trust people and that hindered me from letting anyone get to know the real me. I was afraid that if I told what was going on at home that social services would come in and take us away from my mother. Between eight and nine years old, I experimented with marijuana for the first time. I had watched my stepfather use it over and over, and curiosity got the best of me. I didn’t know that going down that path was going to create a whole different chapter in my life. In my community there was gang activity and a lot of crime. A lot of the kids I hung with were drug dealers and users. I became criminal-minded at a very early age. I was trying to survive by doing whatever it took to get money and food.
My grandmother was a positive person who spoke hope into my life. She was the backbone of my family. She took us to church periodically. My grandmother was someone I loved very deeply. She had a good home where I got a chance to see healthy relationships. I had other people in my life who were positive influences. I made a friend named Louie at around second or third grade. His life was much more normal than mine. He witnessed what my stepfather would do to me and tried to protect me. He taught me to play baseball and I taught him how to steal.
A woman named Holly, who was a mentor, picked up a group of us a couple times a week. She took us to a church and we would play basketball, study Bible scriptures, and eat food. She said the school gave her my information because they were concerned about me. She gained my trust so fast. Looking back now, I know she was God-sent. Eventually she took us to her home, where we would cook meals and talk about God and pray. When she came and got us, there were no more worries in my life. But when she dropped us off, we were back to darkness. One night she cooked a special dinner and told us she was getting married and moving away. That was one of the worst days of my childhood. I was about 14 at the time. When she moved, my life became much darker.
In high school I decided I wanted to join the military, so I enrolled in the ROTC program. For the first time in my life I was able to be a part of something positive other than a sports team. Unfortunately, that was short-lived because while at school one day my grandmother called and requested that I come home immediately. When I got home there was a moving truck sitting in our front yard. My stepfather was gone doing an odd job and my grandmother said, “Get your things. We are moving you out.” We went to a shelter and then moved to the state of Wisconsin, which was not too far from Illinois. The school that I attended did not have the ROTC program, so I got involved in criminal activity even more (drugs, gangs). My drug addiction was getting significantly worse. By the time I was 17, I had dropped out of high school. On my 18th birthday I became a teenage father to a daughter. A year later my son was born. Two years later, the mother of my children and I broke up, but she was pregnant with our third child. At the time I didn’t have a job, I was doing drugs, I was a full-fledged gang member, in and out of jail, creating an unsafe environment for my family. I didn’t know anything about being a parent. I had forgotten about God and I wasn’t attending church regularly like I used to. The only time I called on God was when I was drunk and high and wanted to sober up, or when I was about to get caught by law enforcement for doing something wrong. But I always remembered what my grandmother and my mentor, Holly, had taught me . . . pray and God would answer my prayers. I knew scriptures from the Bible and I knew who God was, but I thought God didn’t hear me because I was a criminal, a drug dealer, a deadbeat father, etc. I thought God only listened to people who were perfect. I didn’t think I was good enough for God to do something in my life.
In 1994, there was a sweep of my neighborhood, arresting people for dealing drugs and gang activity. Law enforcement were looking for me as well. So, I went on the run, but eventually I was arrested and charged. I had three counts of delivery of crack cocaine on three different occasions. The charges carried a maximum sentence of 36 years. When I went to jail, I felt so alone but still remembered what my grandmother and Holly had taught me about prayer. I believe God had been trying to get my attention because I had been running from a relationship with Him for so many years. After the court negotiations, two charges were dropped, which exposed me to one charge and a possible 10 years. Of that the judge sentenced me to four years in the state prison. I got classified for a medium minimum, which made it possible for me to go to boot camp. This program showed me so many things that I didn’t know about myself. It was ugly and I believe God set that up for me to take a look at myself. I ended up doing about 13–14 months total. When I got out, I got a job and started spending time with my kids. I was clean and sober. But my mistake was to go back and visit the old crowd. I started using and selling again, and I ended up going back to prison for two and half years for violation of parole. I wasn’t really locked in with God’s plan yet. I didn’t see it. I was going through the motions being in prison, so I wasn’t focused on change. I walked out of prison for the second time. The day I got out was the same day I relapsed. What a nightmare. I had a $300 or $400 drug habit a day. The drugs had such a stronghold on me. I couldn’t escape the urges until I fed it. It was much worse than before.
By that time my children had moved to Missouri with their mother. I ended up going back to prison, this time for three years. I was mad and blaming others for my situation and not taking a deep look at myself until December 31, 1999. While sitting in prison I was scared because they said the world was going to end. So, I started taking a much deeper look at who I really was as a person, deadbeat dad, convict, drug addict, gang member, drug dealer, etc. I thought, “Wow, this is how I am going to die, a nobody. I have not accomplished anything but a life of crime.” That is when I decided it was time to reevaluate my life (again). People around me were dying from drug overdoses, getting life prison sentences, yet God still allowed me to live through it all.
I got on my knees and prayed to God wholeheartedly, “I don’t know if You hear me, but I am ready to be a new person. I just want You to take charge. I keep messing everything up. My way isn’t the way. I just need Your help.” I was ready to surrender. I knew I wasn’t ready to face the outside world when I got out of prison. God gave me the idea to develop a program called Operation Make A Change (OMAC) while I was in prison. This program helped me get ready for my release from prison. God gave me a vision that someday I would use OMAC to help many other people. I walked out of prison almost 18 years ago. I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t know what or how. I just knew my mind was made up and I wanted to do better. Instead of running from people who wanted to help me, I sat down, listened and learned. I started picking up different ways and habits. I was terrified of change because I didn’t know what to expect. I had made so many mistakes and didn’t know if I could really change. I had asked God to forgive me but many people didn’t forgive me. I had to realize it’s not about people. It’s about what God wants me to do. I surrounded myself with ministers, law enforcement officers, educators, and community activists, and I started to become like them.
After being out of prison for about three years not knowing where my life was headed, a miracle happened. I was on my way back to prison because I was about $40,000 in arrears in child support. I had $30 to put toward the child support. They laughed at me in court. I realized I had nothing and couldn’t take care of my responsibilities. I was embarrassed. Just as they were about to put the cuffs on me, the judge said, “Wait a minute. Sit down. I don’t know why I’m doing this.” She gave me 30 days to get a job and start making payments. I had been praying before I met with the judge, asking God to be my lawyer, to help me. I had only 30 days and I knew how to get the money from drugs, but I also knew that came with another challenge. If I got caught, I would go back to prison, and if I start using, I would probably die. I got a call from some people I knew from a church in Racine, Wisconsin. They told me they had been praying for me. They got me a job interview at a school. I was saying to myself these people have to have the wrong person (I’m a convicted felon). I was sitting across from a woman at the interview, and I was just about to tell her I had been to prison. She said, “We know who you used to be. But my question is: What are you going to do if we give you a chance?” They hired me as a lunch monitor and to take the kids out to recess. Within two months, I became the gym teacher of the school. Every kid knew my name and I knew every kid’s name in that school. I was actually making a name for myself in a positive way.
I started playing semi-pro football for the Racine Raiders. I became a personal trainer and got involved with the YMCA Young Leaders Academy. I became a case manager for Safe Haven and Safe Passage runaway shelter. For years I was building up my integrity and credibility. But I still felt like I had a dark cloud over me in Wisconsin, so I moved to Kentucky in 2010. In the beginning, I wasn’t able to find a job working with kids, so I got a job at a gas station. After six months, a police officer walked into the gas station. I said, “Sir, I am looking to work with young people.” I told him my story and he wrote everything down. He said he would get back with me in a week. I didn’t believe him because I was used to being let down. But he actually called me. He asked me to come to a meeting at the police department. I thought they were trying to set me up or I had an old warrant. But I went and he introduced me to a retired police captain who was working with the county attorney as a gang specialist. He said, “I’m getting ready to retire, but I believe I’m not supposed to retire because of you.” It was like God was joining us together at the hip. You have an ex-con, ex-gang member joining with a 40-year veteran of the police force. The captain took me under his wing for a long time. I still worked at the gas station all night; then went to work with the captain as a volunteer during the day. He treated me like a son. He introduced me to his boss, the county attorney, and tried to convince him to hire me but he said no. I didn’t get mad or discouraged. I just kept doing what I was doing, going with the police captain into schools, doing outreach work to prevent violence.
In 2014, I won a Golden Apple award and the county attorney showed up. We met in his office again but he still wasn’t convinced about hiring me. The captain said he would put his name and career on the line for me because he believed in me. We had prayed a lot together and were spiritually connected. He wholeheartedly wanted to help me with no strings attached. The county attorney told the police captain that he was responsible for me and gave me 99 hours of work per month. God kept His promise to make me new if I would just trust in Him. Months later the county attorney hired me full-time and gave me an office with benefits. That was the first time in my life I had ever had benefits. They were the first ones to adopt the OMAC program I had developed in prison. The purpose of the program is to invest in the lives of troubled youth to promote change. OMAC is implemented in the county jail and the public schools and more. A few months later, a part-time position opened up as a substance abuse violence intervention specialist, and the captain encouraged me to apply. I doubted myself and the captain told me to have faith. God had taken me so far. How could I not apply? There were people with high credentials applying for this position as well. But God says He will put the last first, and I got the job. Four years ago, I got a call from the chief of the police department. He said they had someone retiring in the community service part of the police department and they would like me to fill that position. I hesitated because, where I come from, the police have a stigma attached. I said, “If I take the job the kids won’t trust me anymore.” But if I didn’t take the job, I felt I would be going against God. I decided to take the job and of course I did get push back but it didn’t matter. I just wanted to carry out the mission and the vision that God has given me.
My faith in God is very powerful. I am an example of what God can do. There is no way I should even be telling this story right now. I should either be dead or locked up for the rest of my life. There had to be a Higher Power to get me out of my situation. My platform to help kids has just gotten bigger. God placed all these things around me for a reason. I used to think I was supposed to die violently in the street, now I just want to live and be a light for others, to witness to others. God motivates me every day to want to keep going. OMAC went from a small piece of paper in a prison cell to helping so many people stay away from crime, drugs, and gangs. This is God’s program not mine.
God is real. God loves us and doesn’t want to hurt us. God has ways of getting our attention. I believe the times I spent in prison, drug houses and gang activity — all of that allowed me to have firsthand experience so that now I can minister to other people about it. If you are going through life and trying to do it on your own, give God a try. What do you have to lose? I knew there were things that were better than what I was doing but I didn’t want to learn. You have to open up your mind and heart. God can help you with that. God will elevate whatever you are doing if you stay obedient. God protected me and covered me. He gave me the vision and He has opened every door along the way to make that vision come to life, even more than I ever imagined. I have learned that God can take pain and turn it into something good. I have learned to never give up, to never doubt that God is good — amazingly good.
No weapon formed against me shall prosper. (based on the scripture from Isaiah 54:17)
A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.