by A.J. Rasmussen
To the people who think change isn't possible, let me share a testimony with you . . .
Towards the first part of 2017, I saw this young punk kid, pants sagged, ratty greased back hair, foul-mouthed, surrounded with well known, for lack of a better adjective, losers. He was on a path which once released, would bring him right back to prison. He was on a path to nowhere, just like the people who he was surrounding himself with. I once heard that "You become who you surround yourself with, you are your friends."
This "Kid", Brandon, left the institution and went to another. The reason? Because he was living like an out of control child. Rather than feel compassion, I sadly judged him and even pointed him out to someone, "look at that idiot, he's in a gang member dropout yard, and thinks he's still a gangster."
Since . . . I make an attempt to see past the surface, to the heart. Rather than judge, I try to get to know the person. There is almost always more to the story than what we see with our eyes. I strive to see with my heart, but admittingly still fall far short at times.
In October 2017, Brandon returned to the prison that I am housed in, and for whatever reason, he was drawn to me without knowing anything about me. He began to talk to me, sharing a bit of his story with me, and I quickly discovered I had misjudged the person, only noticing the negative external aspects. In reality, he was a broken individual who had been through hell and back. He never had a chance to succeed. He had never really experienced love. Before he was born, his dad was already in prison on a 75-year sentence, and his mom had dumped him off for his grandma to take care of while she continued her drug use and prostitution, likely to support her drug addiction.
By the age of 12, Brandon had already been introduced to drugs, and nothing good came after that. His record is lengthy and loaded with violence and drug-related crimes. By his late teens, he was already back in prison for his second time, with two strikes. In our state, you only get three before spending life in prison. If he didn't change, he'd end up in prison for life, like me. That is something I wish on no one.
Prior to Christmas (2017), his son's older brother came to visit Brandon with the boy's mother. This boy, only seven years old, sat on Brandon's lap and told him he wanted to die because he felt nobody loved him. When Brandon shared this story with me, my heart was broken, how could a seven-year-old want to die? So, I spoke with the people who operate the nonprofit which I started (go2cm.org). I contacted them and asked that they get this boy, and Brandon's biological son, Christmas gifts. This gesture was the turning point for Brandon. It was shortly after this where he got clean from drugs and began making drastic changes. And so began a two-year transfusion, replacing the old with the new.
*Obtained his GED
*Took and graduated from Partners in Parenting
*Began to attend church regularly
*Got involved in Transition Release Planning class
*Began meeting weekly, one-on-one, with a pastor
*Participated in, and graduated from New Freedom, a course for ex-gang members
*Completed an additional correspondence course on parenting
*Enrolled in and graduated from a Chemical Dependency program
*Participated in Bible study regularly
*Obtained his first job, and excelled at his duties
*Participated in a mentorship program
This is what it takes to succeed, showing how bad you want to change by the things you do while still in prison, preparing for your new future. It took him two hard-working years to complete all of this, but today it is paying off.
It was far from easy for him, there were times he wanted to throw in the towel, times where temptation tried to overtake him, times when outside influence tried to take the lead, times where he felt unworthy, unloved, and full of anxiety.
But . . . he fought through it, he sought out help, he built a new family which was Cornerstone Ministry, and through it all he began to restore connections to his biological family. who have in turn embraced him, the person they always knew he could be, yet hadn't been.
As a father himself, he found a reason to strive for a better life for not only himself, but also his son, so his son wouldn't have to grow up as he did, surrounded by gangs, drugs, abandonment, and violence.
Today Brandon is free and is working to build a solid foundation on which he can raise his now three-year-old son. Just past the one month mark of his release, he is living happily and free from all vices in a Christian transition home, he is actively participating in recovery programs, attending church and Bible studies, spending time with his son when able, reigniting relationships with family who he'd once burnt bridges with, taking care of all other required responsibilities, and working a job with opportunities for advancement.
Although he hasn't been out long, he's doing well. We know he will face difficult times, as do we all, but the changes are nothing short of miraculous. Please pray with us as we hold Brandon in prayer. We pray he remains strong, and that he would follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. None of us can travel this road alone, sometimes we come to twists and turns in the road, I pray that he would be led on the right path, that he be surrounded by good people, and that in his turning of corners, he chooses the right way, the Godly way.