Article in the Kingston Daily Freeman

Imagine this headline in a secular paper in New York: Tillson author parents with help from God. Well it's true! Read it on-line and support these kinds of articles with a comment.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

From Gang Leader to God Seeker Part 2

Read part 1 in the earlier post. Here's the last part of the story:

Thirty days before my parole was up, I started dealing drugs again. I felt conflicted. I didn’t want to get caught dealing and be sent away for life, but I needed the money. I knew I had to stop, but I didn’t know how. My motives were all wrong.

I remember the day before Thanksgiving; I asked my wife to drop me off while I went to the store down the road. But I wasn’t going to the store, I was going to make a drug deal. I met the guy a few blocks away and made the transaction. As I was walking back I noticed this white guy step into the street. He looked suspicious as he turned towards me and then asked me what I was doing. As it turned out he was from the prosecutor’s office. It had been a set-up and he found the drugs on me.

I was put in an unmarked car with tinted windows, and we drove down the road past where my wife was waiting for me outside the car. My heart sank. I’ll never forget the fearful look on her face. I was being taken to prison again, and she wouldn’t know until she was told by someone else. I remember feeling devastated at the thought of what this would do to my family.

Back in jail, I got the drugs out of my system and got clean. Then one day I distinctly heard God tell me, “If you leave here and do the same thing, you will die.” I was a little taken aback by how clear this message came across, but I told the Lord, “If you get me though this, I’ll serve you whole heartedly.” From that day on, I submitted to God. I experienced a radical change in my life.

 I started praying and reading the Bible every night in my dorm. At this point in time I was living with seventy other guys who respected and feared me as a leader of a powerful gang. But then God did something radically different as these men realized the change in my life. I began helping any new guys who entered the facility. I gave them food, tried to get them well, and offered reassurance. I kept order in the dorm.

Other gang members wanted to know why I took these actions. I told them about God. They asked questions, lots of questions. I began leading them in Bible studies. At first for just a few guys, then more came to join. They witnessed the love of God in me. That’s when I started becoming the man God wanted me to be. Not long after, God started moving on my behalf. I was facing a possible fifteen-year term, but then the courts dropped the distribution charge and changed it to possession instead. I was going to be released soon!

I called my former boss and he wanted me back on the job as soon as I was free, but my pastor stopped by and talked to me about a drug rehab called Transformation Life Center. She asked me how I’d feel about going there, and I said I’d agree to go if it’s what God wants for me. She gave me the number of the intake counselor, but I never made the call. I didn’t want to go through the trouble of paying for a calling card, so I disregarded the idea. Something strange followed.

 Thereafter, each week the police would come down to bring me to the warden, but I had never submitted a request. I thought they were setting me up, so I made the decision not to go. After the third week of this they told me I didn’t have a choice; I had to go because someone was trying to contact me, so I went. (This is highly unusual, as they don’t often allow prisoners this privilege.) Anyway, they persuaded me to call TLC, and I spoke with the intake counselor.

He told me I needed some information and explained the program cost. I told him I didn’t have any money, and I didn’t have all the information he needed, but he persisted and asked if he could interview me over the phone. I said yes.

A week later I was scheduled to be released. It all happened so fast. Within an hour I saw the judge, and I was sentenced to three years probation. Then the papers were signed, and I was released. I was shocked, as this was usually an all day process. I didn’t understand what was happening.

As the gate lifted up for my release, I stepped out and my pastor pulled up. She told me someone from TLC was here and would accept me, RIGHT NOW. I thought about the promise I made to God and said, “I’ll do it.” I went straight there, and I’ve been there for almost a year. God has blessed me so much for coming here and staying.

It’s amazing what God has done in the past year. He’s restored me to my wife and family. She works in the ministry at Walter Hoving Home, and we do partner ministry together. Now that I’m in the Resident Assistant Program, I can visit her most weekends. Although both my sons are still in gangs, God has mended our relationship. My youngest was the most bitter towards me because I was in jail his entire life. He has started coming to church and is learning about God. He’s open to the Word of God.

God has opened doors for me both in New York and New Jersey. After I graduated first phase, I was offered a scholarship to Somerset College for Christian counseling. I’ve also been offered a home for my family and the chance to be part of a ministry. I was about to take advantage of one of these opportunities, but God told me to be still. So I listened and went into the second phase, one of leadership.

Here at TLC I work with a lot of guys who have just come in. I understand the drug dealer mentality, the streetwise mentality, so I just give them a big hug and take them under my wing. They need a lot of love and time to sort things out. I try to show them the love of God and lead by example. I think the guys look up to me and respect me because they know what I came from, and they realize how God has changed me.

In two weeks I will graduate from the Resident Assistant phase. I’m waiting to hear what God has planned for me to do. I know people’s lives have been changed by my testimony, and I’m tempted to return to my hometown, but God has been preparing me here.  It was hard when I graduated from the first phase to say no to the offers, but I know I need to wait on God. In the past I was prideful. I need to let God work humility in my life. He has shown me it’s not about me; it’s all about Him. He needs to keep me in my place. If I take a position before God wants me to, pride might seep in. I am aware that if that happens, I’d be done-in. So I’m careful to listen and obey. I want to do things God’s way, not mine.

This is a total reversal from how I lived my life for over thirty years. I understand that’s what transformation is all about. It’s the power of God to change lives—from gang leader to God seeker.

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