After Half a Lifetime Behind Bars, Joseph Chooses God
Joseph grew up in a broken family in San Bernardino. “I didn’t have a father around. My mother was there, but not really there. We didn’t have any money. I started running the streets when I was 8 years old. I learned what to do to survive.”
Joseph remembers the first time he did drugs. He was 8, and thought he was smoking marijuana, but it was actually PCP. He was a drug addict by the time he was 9. “There were pounds of meth going through my house. I took some of it and started selling it and doing it.”
Joseph was jumped into his neighborhood gang and had his first stint at juvenile hall at 11. He was in and out until he was 18 and then started going to jail for drug and violence charges. “I didn’t think I’d live to see 18. I had an uncle who died—it was gang violence. He was stabbed to death when he was 18. It was stuck in my head. I lived my life like I didn’t really care. I just thought, ‘I don’t have a future; I don’t have anything to live for.’”
In his early 20s, Joseph attempted suicide. “I just couldn’t believe this was all life had to offer,” he said. “When I pulled the trigger, it didn’t go off. My girlfriend came by and I was crying. I walked out to her car and my gun fell out of my coat. It went off. I decided then that I was going to try this God thing.”
Joseph and his girlfriend went to a Harvest Crusade. “I wanted to hear about this Jesus who loves me and died for me. I wanted to be introduced. I fell in love with God. For years I had a great relationship with him.”
When his marriage ended and he moved out of state, drinking and drugs snuck back into Joseph’s life. He met another woman and had two kids, but was often getting in trouble with the law. He has spent 15 of his last 18 years in prison. Before he came to the mission, Joseph spent a month living in a tent. He got a job at a recycling center and got a gym membership so he could shower, and continued to use drugs.
“I’m just done now,” he said. “I’ve spent more than half my life in prison already. My sons are 18 and 19 now, and I’m going to miss out on their lives if I don’t get my act together. I’m going to lose them forever. I love my children. I want to be there for them, let them know they can rely on me now. It’s going to take a lot of work, but I’m willing to put that in.”
Joseph has been at the mission now for more than six months. “God brought me to a point in my life where I looked at it and said, ‘Man, what are you doing to yourself? All you’re doing is dragging yourself down deeper and deeper.’ It’s not about what I want. What does God want for my life? I’m growing every day.
“I believe now that my life is valuable. I can’t do anything for anyone now until I change my own life. Hopefully by me giving my life to God, I’ll be able to share the love of God with my sons and my family, and everyone coming through (the mission’s) doors.”