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Facing Prison, Man Gets Second Chance

“I remember literally, every day after school, when I would walk up to the door and turn the doorknob, I would literally sigh every day before. I would open and just, okay. What am I going to walk into?”

Things were much different now for Damien.  His family had lived well in Miami – a lifestyle paid for by his mom’s job with the mafia. But when she started feeling pressure by police, they fled to a poor neighborhood in Georgia when Damien was 7.  

“I didn’t see my dad around unless he was at home beating us. I want to talk to mom. No, but she’s there drunk. She’s there popping Percocets and pain pills. She’d say I hate you, I wish I never had you. I should’ve just shoved you back up inside me when you came out. You should’ve died.”

With his sense of worth diminishing, Damien started getting into fights – taking his anger out on others. “I felt kind of like I was imposing my will on them. It’s like now they feel pain. I’m not nothing, you know, I’m not—I can beat this person. I can beat that person.”

He also started smoking marijuana. “Get high, stay high and just don’t think about life. I didn’t like to sit back and think how messed up my family was.”

Then when Damien was a teenager, his father announced he was gay, and no longer wanted a family. Damien’s mother took the kids and moved in with another man, but he didn’t want a family either.

“And he would be so nasty. He would complain about everything. Until one day I was there and he said look, to my mom. I’m sick of this. I don’t want them here. You have a choice: either they go or you go. In front of us. And my mom, she just lowered her head and said sorry, you all have to go. So it was like that day a door opened for darkness and I just went and said I’m unloved. No one cares about me. So I’m going to keep going until I die. Someone’s going to kill me and then this life will be over.”

Forced to live on the streets, Damien dropped out of school and started selling drugs. He also joined a gang that – at first – felt like the family he never had.

“You laugh, you get high, you drink, you rap, you make jokes. But then, when the other side of it comes in, is when you start to realize, you know, this is serious. When you’re getting shot at, when people are trying to kill you. I was actually sure my entire life that I would die before 18.”

At one point, he decided it would be better if he took a handgun and did it himself.  But someone walked in before he pulled the trigger.

“My parents didn’t care. My sisters didn’t care, brothers, uncles, no one. And that’s where I was at. It’s like it was a day to day, I’d just rather die than to live like this.”

After two years living on the street, Damien was arrested and found guilty for attacking an undercover cop. At 16 years old and facing 5 years in prison, he asked for help – from someone he’d reached out to before.

“I always said that little quick like oh God, help me get out of here kind of thing. But I think this time, sincerely the difference was, I’d had enough. I said Lord, if You are real, help me this time because I need to see a sign. If You get me out here, they’re telling me I’m facing time. If You get me out of here, that’s going to be my sign to me that You are real. And I promise You, I’m going to do my part.”

Then, instead of pushing for jail time, the prosecution recommended Damien be put on probation. The judge agreed, and ordered Damien to go live with his father.

“That was the first time I saw God work in my favor. I’m like okay, I think this is my miracle.”

Away from the gang and drugs, Damien bought a Bible and started reading. But he still felt something was missing. “I said how can God accept me and forgive me after everything I’ve done? I knew that maybe I had a chance, but it’s like an inner battle. When He helped me get out of jail I knew okay, this had to be God. But that didn’t make me feel like okay, I’m forgiven and I’m saved, I’m welcome. I still wrestled every day with the things I’ve done.”

At church, a pastor started teaching him about God’s love and forgiveness. But even then he found it hard to accept.   

“Every week I would ask Him in. Because it’s like I wasn’t believing that He had accepted me yet. And that I was really His. I’ve realized I couldn’t just expect for everything to automatically feel perfect. I had to believe. I had to believe that He forgave me. That’s when I said God, I’m no longer in this gang. I’m done with this. I’m not doing this anymore. I’m Yours. And I want more of You and less of me from now on. And I’m going to pursue You. And I’m going to get closer to You and I’m going to bring You to this whole world.”

Having accepted god’s forgiveness, Damien was able to forgive his parents and himself for his past life. At 21, he became a pastor in order to fulfill his promise to God.

“I don’t look at the world and say oh, this person’s so bad, they’re so evil, they’re so this; but if they had God in their life, then they could change. God didn't look at me the way people did. They saw a criminal, a gang banger, a thug, a dangerous guy. God looked at me and saw a hurt child, a hurt soul. I had to find my peace and my happiness in Jesus. I had to realize His love is enough.”

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