I wasn’t raised in a fancy neighborhood. I grew up in the projects. The people in my neighborhood were drug dealers, gang bangers, and hustlers. Hanging around them, I adopted many of their habits and as a result, I got into A LOT of trouble.

I caught my first criminal offense when I was only nine years old. Being arrested at such a young age, you would think I learned a valuable lesson; unfortunately for me, at that time, I thought that getting arrested was a badge of honor. I am ashamed to say that it took me some time to learn that lesson. To date, I’ve been arrested over twelve times, facing over ten different charges from drug trafficking, gang activity, committing acts of violence, and possession of weapons. When I was sixteen, I was expelled from high school. At first, I viewed expulsion as another stripe to add to my jacket, but as time passed, I realized that having these badges weren’t as glorious as I thought they were. Being out of school, I was left with more time to run the streets, and I was becoming more and more delinquent. I had no job, no transportation, no education, and no meaningful future in sight. I couldn’t even find a job in a fast food restaurant. I was lost, and I had nothing which often led to robbing, stealing, drug dealing, and hustling. Inside I felt powerless to change my future. I became hopeless and angry and aimless and empty. I tried to fill the voids with alcohol, drugs, and sex, but I still felt empty.

I reached my lowest point between 2007 and 2008 when my dad lost his fight with cancer and my best friend was murdered. I had already lost my brother and sister earlier in life, and I didn’t cope well with these. I became tired of the life I was living. The only thing I could expect traveling down this road was more fighting, more hustling, more drugs, more shootings, and more dodging bullets. This road would only lead to failure, imprisonment, or death; but I had too much dignity to die at another man’s hand, or to let some judge who knows nothing about my life, put me away in some cage for life. If I was going to die, and I knew I would, given recent happenings, it would be at my own time and by my own hand. I attempted to take my own life.

I failed.

You know, “thug life” is not an easy lifestyle to lead. It’s not even fun. I had glorified it so much in my younger years, I thought it was I wanted–I thought it was my destiny; but when it showed its ugly face to me, I knew it would kill me if I didn’t get out.

Looking back, I really don’t know how I made it. It is only by the grace and mercy of God that I am alive today. My grandmother is very committed to her faith. She told me that not a night goes by that they don’t mention me to God. I know that her prayers have kept me this far, and for them–for God hearing them, I am eternally grateful.

I have a very different lifestyle today. I had an epiphany when three of my friends were locked up for robbing a store and murdering the clerk. The day before, I had just bought a gun and made up my mind to rob a store. But my mother found the gun and went ballistic and made me give the gun back. I thought to myself, “that could have been me.” I made up my mind at that moment that I had to get out of my neighborhood.

I was back in high school and I committed to finishing it. One month after I graduated, I enrolled in the United States Army. In the army, I became a true Christian. I had been going to church for much of my life, but I was a hypocrite. I didn’t let the Word of God transform my thoughts or influence my behavior. But one day, I met a pastor who invited me to his church. When I went the next Sunday, I felt something I never experienced before–the power of God. I watched my whole life flash before my eyes. I saw my mother struggling, and what I was willing to do to make sure she had what she needed. I saw myself destroying myself and my own people. I saw my best friend who was murdered and my father and brother and sister who had died. I knew at that moment I had a choice to make. Would I continue live for the streets, or would I commit to living for the Lord? That day, I made a decision to give it all up. I gave up drinking, drugs, fornication, and gang banging. I started to crave something different- something higher, and my life hasn’t been the same since.

I have a new job as a mentor in my neighborhood denouncing gangs and violence to those that glorify that lifestyle like I did once did back in the day. I’m still in church every Sunday, becoming closer and closer to God, as He redeems me of my past sins. I’m happy with the way my life has turned out, the way God has blessed me, and happy that my today is better than my past.

I tell my story because I want people to know that the Christian lifestyle helped me deviate from a lifestyle of gang banging. Having hit the bottom, I was willing to try anything. I’m glad I tried Jesus.

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