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Search for Family Leads to Dangerous Places

When Kwabena was in third grade, he came home one evening to see his mother’s boyfriend putting a needle in her arm. “My reaction was to cry. I was scared for her,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what my mom was dealing with, or what she was going through.  Normally when needles are involved, there's something wrong. Later that night I came back out of the room and I walked down the steps and I saw my momma walking in the living room. Her eyes were so big I thought she was a ghost. She kissed me on the forehead and told me to go back to bed and get some rest. I got up the next day, and she was gone--and she didn't come back for three days.”

Although she tried, Kwabena’s mother could never conquer her addictions. “Even though we stayed in the projects, my mother kept the house clean,” he says. “ She pretty much kept a hot meal on the table. Her worst downfall was the men that she allowed into her life.”

For much of his young life, Kwabena, or ‘Beno’ had limited contact with his father. When his mother was eventually sent to jail for drugs, he found another family in the streets. “The reason why I joined gangs is not because I was a killer or I was just hard-core or anything like that. I was just looking, for what basically every man, woman, boy and girl wants in this world, which is love, acceptance and purpose,” Beno says. “People use gangs to medicate pain just like people use opium to medicate pain.”

Selling drugs and gang affiliations brought Beno protection and profit--but it also led him to jail.
“My first charge came about when I was in high school,” Beno says. “I was in the 12th grade, about to finish up school, and I caught an aggravated robbery charge.”

Beno spent most of his 20’s in prison. while there, he got an education on the history of his gang and how to be a better criminal.  “Grown man don't join gangs; children do.  And a child is going to look and see where he fits in best. My heart began to harden because the love for my homies led to a hard heart toward our enemies. I learned more about the gang I was involved in, how it all originated, and our mission, and that's when the devil entered into my heart and my mind and my life, and I wanted nothing more in life than to commit to this family.”

During a fourteen-month period while he was free in 2001, Beno went on a tirade of chasing women, selling drugs, and battling rival gang members. it ended in a tragic shoot-out.

“Somebody from a rival gang had started something with one of my youngest homies,” he says. “We fought it out that night and we were kicked out of the club. He went back to the other side of town, they had a meeting, and they decided they wanted to get me, and a couple others. So they came back a week later, and shot up the place. It was all like slow motion. I didn’t get hit that night. I began to crawl for cover. One of my homies that had nothing to do with the situation was shot. Basically, he lost his life for something I did. He had nothing to do with it.”

Later that night, Beno was arrested on a weapons charge. “It was time to get me in a place where I would listen, where I would reflect and see the need for a change and see what my actions were causing.”

While he was there, a man who did prison ministry came to share with Beno and some other inmates. “You could tell he had a zeal. One thing I love about this brother: he didn't really come off as if he was any better than me. And he shared with me how an all-powerful God could be merciful to a man that had messed up as much as I have, and boy, did he have my attention.”

When he heard the word of God that night, something pierced his heart. “This night I was aware that what I was doing was wrong. So I said, ‘God, you said that if I believe in Jesus Christ, that He died for me, if I believe that he was buried and raised on the third day, you said that you would hear my prayer, so God, I want to change.’ I needed help with my condition and I knew I couldn’t do it on my own. I wanted to change. I wanted to be a better man. Beno says. “And I began to wet the floor with my tears. That night I know he heard me, because when I got up, you know what I had?  I had an appetite for the Bible.”

He joined a prison Bible study and began craving the word of God. “The word of God is what changed my life because it changed my thinking. It gave me a new inspiration,” Beno says.  It gave me a new mindset.  That is what changed me, and I don't understand how man could be changed without the word of God because the Bible says that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. So without reading, that is no transformation.”

Beno was released in 2006 and left the gang life for good. Today he has a heart to share his story with gang members through his writing, speaking, and prison ministry. “No weak Christian can win a Blood or Crip, Vice Lord or GD if they're more committed to their sect than you are to your God,” he stresses. “They won't take you seriously. And I think it's time for some real men and women to step up and show every gangster, every player, every hustler, no matter where you're from or where you’re at, there ain't no hood, no sect, no gang like Jehovah. If anything, we need to be going harder than them because we have hope that nobody has.”

That hope has given his life new meaning. “I know where I would be if it wasn’t for his grace and His mercy, and I’m so thankful for the change,” Beno says. “His love has been there and it was His hand that had me the whole time: not my home boys, not the guns. I wasn’t still alive because I had a reputation in the streets. I was still alive that day because His hand was with me when I was a fool. My purpose and my destiny means more to Him than it did to me. So that is why He wants me to know that ‘Kwabena, without me you can do nothing.’ The greatest thing God done for me was give me a new heart, a heart that loves his Word, a heart that admires his leadership, a heart that loves his holiness, a heart that seeks after him, a heart that knows I need him, a heart that knows that I'm nothing without him.  And you know what, what could we want more than that?”

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