Overcoming a Life of Violence
MY FRIEND and I ran as fast as we could, and when we reached the river near my hometown, we dove into it. As we surfaced, we began swimming furiously toward the opposite shore.
Was this some type of boyhood play? Not at all! It was more a matter of life and death. When I looked behind, I saw police with their weapons aimed at us. I dove underwater to escape the bullets and continued swimming to the opposite shore. Even underwater, I could hear the gunfire.
Once we reached the opposite shore, we had made good our escape from jail, where we had been locked up for burglary and car theft.
This was one of many times I had been wanted or actually pursued by the police for some criminal action. Although I was only 17 years old at the time, I had already built up a long arrest record with the authorities. Eventually, my friend and I were caught, and once again I was sentenced to a prison term, this time for a period of two and a half years.
Even in prison I showed a violent disposition. Because of fighting with other inmates so often, I was given a white uniform. This made other troublemakers and me stand out for special attention by the guards.
More Violent After Release
I was released from prison, but I hadn’t changed for the better. In fact, I was more violent than ever. I quickly established myself as a ruler of various streets. Anyone who would challenge me quickly found a willing combatant.
Once a group of young men irritated me. I attacked them, hurting several before police stopped the brawl, even though my right hand had been broken in a fight the week before.
Another time two friends and I challenged a group of men from a neighboring town. Their leader stepped out to meet me with an iron bar. I disarmed him, but he slipped out of my grasp and ran. The only way to get him to keep on fighting was to give him back his iron bar, which I did. He returned, and I disarmed him again, this time making sure that he didn’t get away until I had given him a beating.
One night, just to have “fun,” I stood on a street corner in Harlem, New York City, and challenged anyone to fight. Various ones took me up on the offer, and the battles were numerous. As a result, my reputation as a dangerous, violent person grew. In these various battles, I was hit with bottles, tire tools, and clubs and set upon with knives and other weapons. But all of this did nothing to turn me from my violent ways.
I soon discovered that there was much money to be made in the drug trade. Being a drug user, I was familiar with the drug society. Before long I had people selling drugs for me, making me even more violent.
Once we raided another drug dealer, hoping to steal his drugs. Armed with a pistol and a knife, we broke into his home and held three men and a woman hostage while we ransacked the house, looking for drugs.
Another time a friend and I, armed with shotguns and wearing ski masks, decided to rob a rich man so we could get money for drugs. We staked out his home, but he never appeared, so we left. Without a doubt, had he shown up, we would have carried out our intentions.
Thus, at just 20 years of age, I found myself deeply involved in violence, drugs, and serious crime. My future, at best, would be one of life in prison—and I was very unhappy.
I often wondered who should decide what is right and what is wrong. I concluded that it was whoever had the greater power in society. I also reasoned that since humans were deciding right and wrong, and I had absolutely no respect for any human authority, I had as much right as anyone to decide such a question for myself. But I was soon to find a far better answer.
A Far Better Way
My sister, who had married one of my friends I had been in prison with, had consented to a study of the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. She shared the things she was learning from the Bible with everyone in our family—except me. My family would tell me to avoid my sister. Why? They said that it was because all she talked about was that “crazy religion.”
I was curious. What could she possibly say to upset people so much? I wanted to know, but my sister did not speak to me about it. Why not? She thought that I was too bad ever to listen to anything about the Bible.
But one evening I invited myself over to her home for dinner. I was sitting there eating with my sister and her husband, and I said: “Tell me about this new religion.” They did—for six hours! It made so much sense to me that I returned the very next evening to hear more.
After this second visit, I was convinced that I had found something to live for, a real purpose in life. Immediately, I began attending meetings at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses and also speaking to my friends about what I was learning.
My life-style remained unchanged for a while. But I continued studying and learning about what Jehovah God expected, and I made sure that I didn’t miss meetings at the Kingdom Hall, where the Bible was discussed. In this way I got the spiritual strength to change my life, one thing at a time.
First, I quit selling drugs. This angered some of those I had previously associated with, but I still had my violent reputation, which kept me out of harm’s way. Next, I quit using hard drugs and also gave up my immoral life-style. The last thing I brought under control was my tobacco habit. In eight months I had progressed to the point of being qualified for baptism, and I was baptized in 1970.
At last I had come to the full realization of the answer to my question about who is to decide what is right and what is wrong. The answer is: Jehovah, our Life-Giver, has that right, and he also has the right to expect his creatures to live accordingly.
I have often thought how the illustration at Isaiah 65:25 applied to me in a figurative way. That prophecy talks about the time to come when the lion’s violent disposition would be changed to a peaceful one to the point that he would eat straw like the bull. I felt that in a similar way, I had changed from being a very violent person to one having a peaceful disposition and a peaceful outlook on life.
Still, I had a bad reputation to live down. As an example, I regularly called on people from door to door to discuss the Bible with them. At one door, the young man who answered recognized me and became terrified, thinking I was there to do him harm. I quickly explained my message of peace from the Bible, leaving him dumbfounded but very relieved.
Not long after my baptism, I married one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Sad to say, in 1974 my wife decided that she no longer wanted to do God’s will. She gave me an ultimatum: give up my way of worship or she would leave me, taking our two small children. That was the most difficult time of my life. But I could not abandon my worship of God, and I continued to do his will.
A New Way of Life
Yet, Jehovah rewarded me for continuing to be faithful to him. In 1977, I met a wonderful Witness, and we got married. She had a five-year-old son. Soon my wife and I entered the full-time ministry, devoting ourselves to teaching others about God and his purposes. When our son grew up, he entered the full-time ministry also. He now assists with various duties in the local congregation.
My wife and I have since had the privilege of traveling to many parts of the world, doing volunteer construction work. This involves helping to build new branch facilities in various countries to support the worldwide educational work of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
When we are home, we stay busy locally, helping others to learn about the Bible and in helping build new Kingdom Halls. I also serve on a Regional Building Committee in the southern part of the United States. And my former jail mate—my sister’s husband—and I serve as elders in the same congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I am grateful to Jehovah for helping me to take control of my life and for giving it an entirely new direction. As I allow him to show me what is right and what is wrong, my life just gets better and better.—Contributed.