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MORE THAN A DECADE AFTER GRADUATION, JOSEPH STILL CELEBRATING ‘NEW LIFE’
Joseph grew up in Victorville in a turbulent and violent household. “It was the 60s,” he said. “Child abuse was not heard of. It wasn’t recognized. Neighbors, schools, principals, they didn’t care.
“From kindergarten on up, I’d come in with black eyes, fat lips, bruises, and they turned their backs on me. When I was crying and asking for help at that little age, they wouldn’t help me. So I grew up hating authority figures.”
Joseph’s abuser, his own father, died when Joseph was 12. “I hated him with a passion. I hated him so much, this evil, tortuous, violent man, that I kept him alive in my heart. I hated everything. I was angry and violent and mad. My life was a wreck. I was in and out of jail and then graduated to the prison system, on up to the psych ward at the state hospital.”
Despite his father’s death, the abuse took a toll on Joseph’s mental health long after he was gone. “When he died, the physical part faded way, but the mental part—what he said while he was beating me—stuck. He would say I was no good, a waste of time, not his child. In my 20s, like anyone, I went through up and downs, but those words would come into my head and it would be worse.
“I’d go to the park and pay two or three people to beat me bloody. In my mind, that was me telling my dad I could hate myself more than he could. I lost friends and family because of it. They thought I was psycho. It was really just a red flag of me needing help.”
Joseph had been in and out of jail mostly for stealing. But after a major shooting incident, in which Joseph was in a home, shooting outside with the police surrounding the neighborhood, he ended up serving 10 years. When he was released, he came to the Mission.
Joseph entered the program more than a decade ago. He had trouble adapting, and doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that he didn’t have the easiest time. “I had been in jail for so long,” he said. “I had that prison mentality that I couldn’t get rid of. I was always getting into trouble in the house, but (they) didn’t give up on me.
“You can’t beat obedience into a human being. How did I turn into a Jesus-loving Christian? God loved me into obedience. A loving relationship takes time to build. I feel free. All that pressure, it’s gone. All that weight on my shoulders has been taken off. I have a new life now. You can’t hold on to your evil past—it will make you live back there. It won’t let you take steps forward.”
John Schmidt, who runs the Life Recovery Program at the Mission, had a major impact on Joseph’s life. “You know what Pastor John told me once? He said, ‘You know why you go to prison all the time? Why you drink all the time? Because you want to.’ He was right.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but I was being given a choice—life or death— and I was choosing death. I don’t blame the government, schools—anyone but myself. I can’t step forward in life without accepting the responsibilities and consequences of my mistakes. I haven’t been in the program for 10 years, and I’m still growing. Jesus is fully in charge of my life.”
Joseph worked in landscaping after he graduated, but has now been a truck driver for four years. “I love this job. Joseph graduated from the Mission’s program in 2010. I’m driving state to state on a truck, not the gray goose,” said Joseph, using the slang term for the prison bus that transports prisoners. “And you know when I’m traveling I’m sharing the word. It’s awesome. I drive 11 hours a day, six days a week. Jesus is my driver—I’m the co-driver.”
Joseph said he is understanding now that he went through some of the tribulations he did so that he could help others. “I learned by going through heartache and pain,” he said. “I couldn’t help if I had never been there before. God allowed me to be there so when other people are going through it, I can comfort them.
“It’s like in Genesis 12: ‘I will bless you, and you will be a blessing to others.’ I’m blessed to be a blessing to others. I have blessings to share. It’s like water— if it doesn’t flow, it gets dirty, stagnant. I need to share my blessings and keep them flowing.”