From a Roaring Lion to a Meek Lamb
AS TOLD BY ENRIQUE TORRES, JR.
I WAS born in 1941 on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, where the common language is Spanish. My humble parents were Roman Catholic, but neither they nor my sisters and brother (who died when he was a child) nor I was ever given any religious instruction, and we rarely went to church.
The family left Puerto Rico for the United States in 1949. We settled in New York City in East Harlem, known as El Barrio. We remained there until 1953. It was hard for me to adjust to the English language. This barrier gave me feelings of inadequacy.
Then our family moved to the Prospect Heights area of Brooklyn. It was during this period that I was influenced by my peers to become part of a street gang. Later I was named its warlord. After that I became the leader of another gang, which was involved in stealing cars. I also became a runner (a collector of illegal gambling debts) for the neighborhood bookmakers. From that, I moved on to burglaries and was arrested several times before I was 15. By then I had quit school.
When I was 16, the authorities exiled me to Puerto Rico for five years as part of a plea bargain. I was sent to my grandfather and his family. He was a well-known and respected retired police officer. However, one year later my grandfather sent me back to Brooklyn because of my engaging in drunken brawls, associating with undesirable people, and committing burglaries.
Father’s Role in My Life
When I returned to New York City from Puerto Rico, I found that my father had begun studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, my life was headed in the opposite direction. I persisted in leading a godless life and got involved in drug and alcohol abuse. I became a member of a burglary and stickup gang, which led to my arrest in 1960. I was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison.
In 1963, I was released on parole. But soon I was again arrested for burglary, and I served two years in prison on Rikers Island, in New York City. I was released in 1965. Yet, that very year, I was arrested for murder. What a ferocious, lionlike disposition I had developed!
The court sentenced me to 20 years at Dannemora, in upstate New York. There I became involved in the prison subculture.
However, as previously mentioned, my father was studying the Scriptures with Jehovah’s Witnesses. He was later baptized and served as an elder in a congregation in Harlem. He visited me often during my incarceration and would always talk to me about God, His name, and His purpose.
While in prison at Dannemora, though, I became part of a group of loan sharks, who made loans at excessive interest rates. During this time, in 1971, a riot erupted at another prison in New York State, the Attica Correctional Facility. This riot made headlines in many newspapers and received worldwide radio and television coverage. After this riot, to prevent the same thing from happening at Dannemora, the warden felt that he had to select the inmates who might be a bad influence on other prisoners. These he isolated in special housing units.
Out of 2,200 prisoners, about 200 of us were isolated. Further screening resulted in some being selected for severe beatings. In addition, as part of what was labeled “behavior modification treatment,” drugs were introduced into the food.
This was not the first time that I had gone to the isolation unit for unruly behavior. However, this was the first time that I was a victim of such cruelty, and it affected me deeply. I was handcuffed, my legs were shackled, and I was severely beaten at various times by guards. I also had to endure constant racial insults because of my nationality. Because of the humiliation and beatings, I went on a limited hunger strike for the duration of my stay in isolation, which lasted about three months. This resulted in my losing nearly 50 pounds.
Inquiries by my father concerning my deteriorating health were ignored by prison officials. This left me feeling hopeless, and I turned to writing to politicians for assistance regarding the unjust treatment.
My father repeatedly went to newspapers about the beatings, the humiliation, and the introduction of drugs into the food of the inmates in the special housing unit. Only one newspaper, the Amsterdam News, responded with an article about the deplorable conditions. My father also went to the Commissioner of Corrections, in Albany, New York, on various occasions and was always told that I was in a regular housing unit. My report to politicians about prison conditions fell on deaf ears. I became more despondent than ever, as I seemingly had nowhere else to turn for help.
It was then that I remembered some of the things my father had talked to me about. I decided to pray to God for help.
Turning to God
Before praying, I recalled my father’s persistent encouragement for me to pray not to Jesus but to Jesus’ Father, whose name is Jehovah. I prostrated myself on the floor of the cell and expressed deep regret over the life course that I had chosen, which had resulted in my spending over half my life in prison. I earnestly supplicated Jehovah to help me get out of this situation because I now realized that he alone had the power to deliver me out of this predicament.
I do not know how long I prayed, but I reviewed my past and repentantly petitioned Jehovah for forgiveness. I promised that I would try to learn more about him. Not long after, I was released from that dungeonlike solitary confinement into the general prison population. This ended my hunger strike.
In keeping with my promise to learn more about Jehovah, I began to read the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. One of the things that interested me about this translation of the Bible was its green-colored cover. This appealed to me because the prison clothes, cells, walls, and corridors were all gray, a depressing gray. Later, to my amazement, the color of all these things was changed to forest green. This color was adopted by the Department of Corrections after the uprising at the Attica prison.
I also began to read articles in the Watchtower and Awake! magazines, which my father had arranged to have delivered to me. Reading the experiences of so many of Jehovah’s Witnesses who had been in prison for holding fast to their faith and who had gone through more than I had made a deep impression on me. Here were people who had committed no crime but who had suffered unjustly for being faithful to God. I, on the other hand, had suffered what I deserved. Upon reading these experiences, my heart was touched, and I was encouraged to learn more about Jehovah and his people.
Finally, one year later, I went before the parole board. My case was reviewed, including my ordeal at the special housing unit. I was happy to learn that I was to be released on parole in 1972.
Two weeks after my release, I attended the local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, in Spanish Harlem. But I still felt unworthy to be associating with Jehovah’s people. And I still had a lot to learn about Jehovah, his organization, and his people. I also needed time to readjust to society after spending so much time in prison.
Sadly, I was unable to discard my old ways. I turned to drugs, crime, and an ungodly way of life once again. This eventually resulted in my receiving an additional prison sentence of 15 years. Yet, I feel that Jehovah must have seen some good in my heart, as he never gave up on me. I can only say to you that whether you are in prison or not, Jehovah never abandons or gives up on those who are inclined toward learning about him.
Studying the Bible in Jail
This time, back in prison at Dannemora, I took advantage of the availability of a weekly Bible study with a minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Later, I was transferred to Mid-Orange Correctional Facility, a medium security prison in upstate New York. This was a change from the maximum security prison at Dannemora.
After two years at the Mid-Orange Correctional Facility, I began to participate actively in a Bible study that a fellow inmate was having, which was approved by prison authorities. His mother, who was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, had arranged for him to have this study. Finally, by continuing to take in knowledge, I began to apply Bible principles, which eventually led to spiritual progress.
After having been denied parole seven times, I was reluctantly paroled the eighth time. The reason given for my previous parole denials was my “propensity for criminality.” I was released after having served 8 years of the 15-year sentence.
Final Release From Darkness
Upon my release, I was again distracted, and I briefly succumbed to taking drugs. I was also living with a woman in a common-law marriage. This had begun in 1972. However, in 1983, I resumed my study of the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. This time, I began to attend Christian meetings regularly. However, before studying and attending the meetings, I ceased taking drugs and stopped smoking.
Nevertheless, contrary to God’s laws on marriage, I was still living with my common-law wife. This bothered my conscience, so I tried to get her to accept a Bible study and legalize our relationship by getting married. But she said that the Bible was a man’s book designed by men to subjugate women and that marriage was not necessary.
I realized that I could not continue living in an immoral relationship with a woman who did not respect God’s laws on marriage. Thus, I ended our relationship and moved to Brooklyn. I knew that I could not talk to others about God and his purpose if my own affairs were not in harmony with his laws.
Being free from all unscriptural entanglements and having studied the Bible for three years, with a clean conscience I dedicated my life to the doing of God’s will and symbolized it by being baptized at a convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The promise that I had made to get to know the God whose name my father always mentioned is something I have never regretted. And my promise to Jehovah in the dungeons of the prison at Dannemora is one that I will work hard to keep until he brings forth the many blessings he has promised in his Word.
Looking Forward to Paradise
I very much look forward to the time when Jehovah will transform this entire earth into a beautiful paradise. (Psalm 37:11, 29; Luke 23:43) And I also look forward to another promise of God—the resurrection of the dead to an opportunity to live forever on earth. (John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15) What a marvelous time that will be when I can welcome back from the grave my dead loved ones, including my father, my little brother, and others I knew who died prematurely! I often reflect on this hope, and it fills me with joy. Another joy I now have is that my two sisters and some of their children have dedicated their lives to Jehovah and have been baptized.
Now, as I express my faith to others and share my life experience, I cannot help but be gratified to let them know the comforting words of the psalmist, recorded at Psalm 72:12-14: “He will deliver the poor one crying for help, also the afflicted one and whoever has no helper. He will feel sorry for the lowly one and the poor one, and the souls of the poor ones he will save. From oppression and from violence he will redeem their soul, and their blood will be precious in his eyes.”
Jehovah’s patience with me has warmed my heart and has enabled me to learn and practice the traits that he wants his people to have—not ferocious lionlike ones, but the peaceful, kind, and mild-tempered qualities that a lamb has. This is necessary, for as God’s Word states, “to the meek ones he will show favor.”—Proverbs 3:34.
[Blurb on page 12]
“I was again arrested for burglary, and I served two years in prison on Rikers Island, in New York City. I was released in 1965. Yet, that very year, I was arrested for murder. What a ferocious, lionlike disposition I had developed!”
[Picture on page 13]
The day I was baptized