Five years after entering the mission, Raymond is a community leader
Raymond was born in Los Banos, and grew up in the projects with his mom and three sisters. “We were poor,” he said. “The neighborhood I grew up in was pretty much gang-infested. My mom was an alcoholic at the time. … We used to steal food stamps from the neighbors’ mail.”
Raymond was also subjected to bullying because he is half-Mexican, half-Native American. “My Mexican friends made me feel like an outsider because of my Native side,” Raymond said. “I didn’t even like smoking weed, but I did it to fit in. At 12, I started drinking. At 15, I started getting into crystal meth.
“Around junior high, all my friends, they chose a different side,” he added, referring to local gangs. “All my childhood friends became my enemies. It started with fist fights, and then it turned into knife fights, and in later years, shootings.”
Raymond started spending time in prison, using drugs intravenously and committing more violent crimes. “The more violent I got, the more the prison gang would accept me. I was just doing it for the acceptance.”
But Raymond started tiring of life. “I could feel God calling me,” he said. “I was in prison, and I went to my cell and started reading the bible. I could feel a change. A choice was put in front of me—if I didn’t change, I was going to die.”
Raymond left the prison gang, and when he got out, he started working and going to church, and even struck up a relationship with a high school girlfriend. “We went 15-20 years without talking. Now she’s my wife,” Raymond said. “She was willing to walk with me in my journey to find Christ. People would go with me to church, say they’d support me, but still drink. No one was taking me by the hand and walking with me through it—she was willing.”
But then tragedy struck. Raymond’s little sister, who had successfully quit meth, graduated top of her class in college, and got married, returned for a visit. “She hung out with her old crowd—that’s all it took. She got hooked again.”
Five years ago, Raymond’s sister was brutally murdered. Her body was found in a canal, stabbed 17 times, and wrapped in plastic. “My first instinct was to grab a gun and kill someone,” he said. “I’ll always remember my mom screaming when we saw her body.”
Raymond put up posters, got on the news, and let people know that there were brutal murderers there on the reservation in which they lived. He organized a community march, and got the local tribes to triple the reward to $15,000. In the midst of this, parole requirements left Raymond with a decision to make. “I wasn’t going to run from parole,” he said. “I didn’t want to live the way I did before. I called the rescue mission, and even though my family needed me … I needed to do the right thing.”
When Raymond arrived at the mission, he committed to trusting God. “I put everything I thought I knew on a shelf and just listened. I was there 15 months. I couldn’t get enough of it. I heard God’s voice in the last place I expected. Everything God promised was real. It was part of his plan to send me to the mission.”
Now, Raymond and his wife organize community marches every year, partnering with the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women movement to raise awareness. He’s been a youth leader and a guest speaker, and holds classes and sits on panels to address the issue and plan for the future. “I’m an ex-convict and an ex-gang banger, and I’m guilty of every crime I march against,” he said. “Words cannot describe the journey the rescue mission took me on. It’s spiritual, mental, emotional. I’m applying it to every aspect of my life. My world has changed. My life has changed.
“It’s hard not to get choked up when I think about what everyone at the mission has done for me. The only way I can repay is it to get out there and tell people there