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Mario Turns Away From Life Of Violence And Drugs, Embraces God

Dec 31, 2018

As a child in Orange County, Mario grew up wanting for nothing. “We were always spoiled as kids,” he said. “But when we got to junior high school-age, I remember asking for more stuff, and then my dad and my uncle started handing out drugs for us to sell. They told us it was time to make some money.”

Mario’s family was involved in drugs, and before he was even a teenager, Mario was expected to start pitching in. “I started selling at school, and then I started using it,” he said. “I always got good grades, and I was in the Boy Scouts before getting kicked out for having drugs on me. I started using more and more and more.”

In eighth grade, Mario was on the streets. “I was out running around the neighborhood with a gang,” he said. “I stopped using, but the gang violence really stepped up. I got more angry.”

Mario spent time in juvenile hall and was released when he turned 18. He met a girl, who was a Christian, and straightened up a bit. But after having a son at 19, and going back to work selling drugs for his family, Mario started using again. The couple had two more boys before an FBI and DEA raid resulted in a 15-year prison sentence for Mario. He served 11 years.

Mario spent the last few years of his sentence in fire camp. He was released into a special fire program, met a girl, and they had two daughters together. He eventually got off parole and probation, and worked for Cal Fire for almost five years before getting injured. “I burned my legs in a fire,” Mario said. “I took pills (for the pain), and that led to heroin again. … My girl split on me. She saw the pattern.”

Two years ago, Mario’s mom was diagnosed with cancer and he came to Victorville to spend time with her. He met his girlfriend, a teacher who was unaware of his past. “She doesn’t know anything about this life,” Mario said. “I was using, but I was hiding it from her. I moved in with her, and I fell in love with her, and I didn’t want to keep anything from her. I told her and she said I needed to get help.”

Mario had tried programs before, but he was unsuccessful. “I was always trying to sneak a phone in, get drugs in—I’d get kicked out or just leave,” he said. When Mario didn’t get into a program, his girlfriend kicked him out. “I was on the streets for two weeks,” he said. “I don’t know how people do it. I couldn’t live like that. … I was doing bad out there. I picked up a gun again. It was just a matter of time…”

When Mario got to the mission, something clicked. “I honestly got here, and not once did I think about cheating, leaving, or anything. This program was different. Here I just sat and listened. The Holy Spirit carried me, opened my ears, and guided me. I just gave it all to God. Listening to the pastor talk, accepting Jesus—it just changed me.”

Mario said he saw compassion he wasn’t used to. “Pastor Jon, Bill, Jeremy—it’s the love that they show. The love and the community and the way they reach out to everyone out there. I don’t call this a program. This is home. We are all brothers here. We are a family.”

At 40, Mario’s relationships with his six kids, ages 4 to 21, are growing and thriving. “Everything is going good,” he said. “My relationship is being restored. My family, my brothers are listening to me about God. It gets overwhelming when I talk about how this place has changed my life around. I’m not wanting to do the things I used to do. That life is not calling me like it used to. Everything is in God’s hands now.”

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