My Struggle to Leave a Violent Life
FOR eight years I was a member of a well-known motorcycle club. Most of these groups do not get along well with other motorcycle clubs, and there is constant rivalry. One night a large number of us were in the center of New Orleans looking for a rival club from out of town. We were anxious to “bang a few heads” to straighten out some differences we had.
The other group was nowhere to be found, so we split up and went our separate ways. However, some stayed at a bar, where a fistfight broke out with two plainclothes policemen. The officers started shooting and wounded one of my friends. I was sitting in a quiet old neighborhood bar when I heard what had happened. I didn’t know whether my friend was alive or dead, so I went to the hospital to find out. As soon as I arrived, a man pointed at me, shouting, “He was one of them! Grab him!” Although I had not been involved in the fight, I guess that with long hair and beards, we all looked the same to them. Anyway, they grabbed me, and I ended up in prison for several weeks. But how did I ever get started in this violent life-style? Let me backtrack to my childhood.
Love at First Sight
Most parents would be disappointed if their children became involved in this type of life, and this was certainly true of my mom and dad. They were kind but firm with me and believed in discipline.
My problem started in the last year of high school when I started to rebel against my parents’ authority and also began to drink heavily. One day, while standing on the front steps of our high school, I saw something that was to leave a deep impression on me for years to come. Chrome plated, brightly painted, a “Harley Chopper” motorcycle passed, seeming to glide by in front of me. The rider looked as if he didn’t have a care in the world. I fell in love with motorcycles then and there!
Later that year after I graduated from school, I used my hard-earned funds from my younger years and bought a big 750 cc English motorcycle. That summer I traveled through the Midwestern states, ending up in Iowa, where I attended college.
The Motorcycle “Family”
The Vietnam War was on, and for many of us young people, it was a difficult time in our lives. The thought of going to war and killing was repulsive to me. Yet, if I didn’t stay in college, that is where I would be—by force. I decided to speak up in protest, along with many other disillusioned youths. I joined an antiwar group, but their meetings were very disorganized. After a short time, I realized that this group could not change the system and bring about better conditions. I then considered joining another group but discovered that they were involved in other acts of violence. This did not seem right to me—using violence to protest violence.
During my time in college, I also became aware of religious hypocrisy. As a Catholic, I had been taught that those who did bad things would suffer forever in hellfire when they died. To me it seemed that few people could be so holy in their lives that they would end up going to heaven. It didn’t make sense to me when I learned that the church as a whole approved of going to war to fight and kill people. Disillusioned, I stopped attending church services and considered myself no longer part of the Catholic Church. In search for more understanding, I took a course in the philosophy of religion. My instructor turned out to be an atheist and taught us that just as there is no Santa Claus, so there is no God!
The only things that remained constant during this time were my heavy drinking and my motorcycle riding. Discouraged with college and with life in general, I moved to New Orleans, in the deep South. Here I met a group of others who were pursuing the same things that I was. Many of them were also disgusted with society. They taught me the many things involved in building a motorcycle; they found me work and looked after me when I was sick. It was this concern that attracted me to them as a group.
Our “family” grew to include groups from cities throughout the United States. Summertime found us riding our motorcycles throughout the Midwest, as far north as Minnesota and Wyoming, as far west as California, and even into Mexico. We visited many state parks and enjoyed the beauty and peacefulness of the countryside.
Our way of life included spending a lot of time drinking in barrooms. Some of the fellows enjoyed a good fight, but I didn’t. I became good at spotting situations leading to fights and gracefully tried to avoid them. At other times, though, people would do things that I couldn’t handle, and I’d jump in to teach them a lesson. One time I was standing outside a barroom when a motorcycle passed. I was looking to see who it was, when the passenger pointed a gun at me and fired! How he failed to hit me, I don’t know.
The Effects of a Homicide
I began to realize that there was no real happiness in this pleasure-seeking way of life. In time I married, but the marriage didn’t work out; it lasted only three months. Later, my motorcycle was stolen. Then one night, after drinking very heavily, I had a bad argument with my best friend. This left me very depressed. Trying to end it all, I swallowed a handful of pills. Then I lay down to die on the levee of the Mississippi River. However, I woke up in the hospital. On two other occasions, I also ended up in the hospital because of my drinking problem.
Then came a morning I will never forget. At five o’clock I received a phone call telling me that one of my best friends had been shot and killed. He had gone out drinking with two other club members, and they tried to stop a man from beating a woman. It turned out that she was his wife. He shot and killed my friend. All of us were in a state of shock, and I spent the entire next day with his brother, making funeral arrangements.
While alone at night in the funeral home, I touched my friend’s face. He was cold, stiff, and lifeless. Where had he gone? Was that it—the end of everything? Surely there must be more than this—life just for a few years, then death ending it all. I realized that I did not understand life at all, and from then on I would try to find out. I began to dabble in spiritism, and several times it seemed that we could contact my friend. But it was all rather vague and still did not answer my questions.
What Is Life’s Purpose?
One night I had too much to drink and passed out while riding my motorcycle. In the accident that followed, I seriously hurt my ankle. I couldn’t walk and had to stay at home for two weeks. During this time, a man and his young son knocked on my door. They wanted to talk about the Bible. I invited them in. They told me they were Jehovah’s Witnesses. As I had never heard that name before, I asked them if they were a new religious group. The man kindly showed me from the Bible that God’s name is Jehovah and that they were speaking to people about him. That was new to me. God had a name, Jehovah. My religious training as a youth had not taught me that. I wondered what else I had not been taught.
Next I was shown that the Bible speaks of the end of the world, or system of things, that we live in. The “end of the world”! Why wasn’t I told of this before? This paved the way for several further discussions during which I had many questions. They left me the book Is This Life All There Is? I couldn’t read it fast enough, for I was finally finding out what life was all about.
I learned that it is not God’s purpose that we live for such a short period of time and then die. I learned of a coming end to death and the prospect of everlasting life on a paradise earth. As for my dear friend, I learned that he was not conscious or suffering anywhere; rather, he was in a deep sleep, awaiting a resurrection from the dead. What a grand hope that was! Maybe I would see him again!—Revelation 21:4, 5; Ecclesiastes 9:5; John 5:28, 29.
A Difficult Decision
Our Bible discussions were interrupted when I left on the biggest motorcycle club trip planned for that summer. I told my Witness friend, Daniel, that I would call him when I returned. He gave me the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. During the next four weeks of traveling, each time we stopped to rest I read a portion of the book. When I got back, I called Daniel. We made arrangements to study the Bible together, and after the first study, he invited me to attend a meeting at the Kingdom Hall the following Sunday afternoon.
Now, we had a club ride planned that Sunday, and I was expected to be there to take the lead. Sunday morning came and off we went. We stopped at a bar, and everyone started drinking. About one o’clock I casually walked out, started my bike, and returned to the city. At 3:00 p.m., I was at the Kingdom Hall, with T-shirt, blue jeans, boots, beard, and my hair in a pony tail. The Witnesses received me warmly, not mentioning anything about my appearance. They encouraged me to come back. I did, and I have been attending meetings ever since.
The first month was difficult, though, because I was still attending weekly motorcycle club meetings. I soon came to see that if I continued with the club, I would have difficulty applying and living by Bible principles. So I made my decision to quit the club. It was hard to leave those fellows. Over the years, we had experienced many things together, and this had united us closely. On the other hand, it was a relief to leave that violent world behind and to enter Jehovah’s peaceful worldwide organization. I even sold the rifle that was always by my bedside.
Don’t Stick Your Finger in the Fire
Six months after I began my study, I was baptized. In this short period, with Jehovah’s help, I had been able to conquer my drinking habit, and my conduct in general had improved. I now enjoy visiting people at their homes just as Daniel visited me at the beginning. From the Bible, I try to show my neighbors that Jehovah God has a government that outlaws violence, that rules with justice, and that will provide all the righteous things that human governments cannot provide, and that soon there will be no violent people left in the earth. This especially appeals to me because of my past experiences with violence, so I stress it all I can.—Revelation 11:18.
Jehovah God has blessed me with a devoted Christian wife and two beautiful children. The four of us are able to work together from door to door and attend Christian meetings and conventions. I have the privilege to serve as a ministerial servant in the Christian congregation. Indeed, I have left violence and have found real peace. What a contrast! After returning to New Orleans, I learned of the deaths of two of my former friends. Since I have been here in Louisiana, three more have been shot and killed. If it wasn’t for Jehovah, where would I be?
To the young ones, I wish to say that although the world seems glamorous and exciting, don’t stick your finger in the fire. I was in the world and tasted it all. You are not missing anything. And for those of you who are seeking to gain a relationship with Jehovah but don’t think that you can make the necessary changes, please note Jesus’ encouraging words: “With God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)—As told by David L. Wirges.
[Picture on page 20]
In my more violent biking days