A Convicted Criminal Rehabs His Heart
By Audra Smith Haney
The 700 Club
CBN.com -“I knew when I was about 13 or 14 I wanted to be a gang member and I wanted to go to prison,” John Martinez said. “Those were the goals I set for my own life.”
John Martinez ultimately achieved his life ambition. By the time he was 30, prison was like a second home and hard drugs were a part of his everyday life. It all started when John was 13 and his family came crumbling broke up. He was the youngest of 5 kids, and his parent’s divorce hit him hard.
“When I found out about my parents’ divorce, I felt kind of separated. I felt kind of lost,” John said. “My brothers and sisters were gone and all out of the house, and I was basically going from house to house. I felt like not knowing what was the next step for my life and where I was going to go.”
As a latch key child, John longed for a place to belong. He found his new family in the street gangs of Rialto, California.
“I was doing horrible in school,” John said. “I remember causing problems, causing fights. What the gang brought to me was some sort of acceptance and I like the style. Because of my anger issues I felt like I fit right in.”
By 14, John had dropped out of high school and was completely engulfed in the gang lifestyle. He was willing to do whatever it took to fit in.
“I feel like I had to put a front on all the time, to prove myself,” John said. “I wanted to make my name known, and I really didn’t care who got in my way. My good day was someone else’s bad day out on the streets. Anywhere from stealing cars, to possession of a controlled substance, got caught with a gun, carrying a concealed weapon.
“I started using a lot of crystal, I started dipping heroine,” John said. “I mean, things like that bring you respect eventually in your neighborhood. They want to see who is the ‘downest,’ who is riding for the neighborhood.”
Because of his drug addictions and crime sprees, John became estranged from his real family.
“Occasionally, I would feel guilty,” John said. “I would feel like, man, ‘I’m hurting my family.’ When your family doesn’t want to be around you because of the things you do, of course, you are going to hide the pain and do more drugs. I remember one day my dad asking me, ‘ what’s it going to be? Is it going to be your family or them?’ And basically I said, ‘it’s going to be them.’ I felt like I had found my new family with the gang now.”
John’s life goals to become a gang member and imprisoned felon were achieved early. , By the age of 30, John had been in and out of the county jail 20 times. He also served 5 terms in the state prison, mainly for grand theft auto and parole violations. Now, he had the respect of his fellow gang members and plenty of enemies. In 1997, a rival gang member shot John at point blank range in the back of the head.
“I remember someone jumping out of the bushes and the next thing you know, I remember the gun to my head,” John said. “If I wouldn’t have turned, I believe it would have been in my temple. But instead it was lodged in the back of my skull. I wasn’t too sure what was going on, but I did know that there was blood all over the place, and I started thinking about God at that moment”
“I don’t think I was ready to die. I think that is why I called out to God,” John said. “I said ‘God, forgive me for what I am doing.’”
John survived the gunshot wound and was able to leave the hospital two days later, with fragments of the bullet still lodged in his skull. But, he quickly returned to the streets. In 2002, he was sent to Chino State prison for another crime. While he was there, John began to think more about his prayer and by now he had learned that about some of his friends back home who had become Christians.
“I had accepted that my life wasn’t going to change but at the same time, if there was a God and if he saved my old friends, then maybe there was a possibility that that miracle could happen in my own life. For the first time, really, I started praying.”
John was released almost 40 days later. Instead of going to his old gang, he went to see his mother.
“Regardless of whatever I went through in my life, my mom would always encourage me.” John said. “She would make little comments like, ‘well, one day God's going to change your life.’"
This time, she encouraged him to check in with his parole officer instead of returning to his old habits and addictions. John started thinking about the effects of his lifestyle and knew he would be killed if he returned to the streets.
“This fear came over me like I hadn't had before,” John said, “and I felt like I was going to die and I told my mom,’ you know what, if I go back, I'm going to die.’”
John’s parole officer gave him the number of a Christian men’s halfway house. John checked in the next day. During John’s first day in the house two men started to talk with him about God.
“I remember these two guys coming to me and they asked me if I knew Jesus Christ and I told them ‘no, I didn’t know who he was,’” John said. “When I read the scripture that my sins would be washed away, you know that there is nothing too big or too small that he couldn’t forgive, and when I found out that Jesus could forgive my sins, that is all I needed.
After three months in the program, John was studying the Bible and praying regularly.
“It started to change my desires,” John said. “My desires became, I could say they became Godly desires. I wanted a family, I wanted to get married, things I didn't have before. I started to work, I mean, I never held a job, I never even worked. It really started ministering to me about things that I really needed to do as being a man in my life.”
One day, during a prayer time at the men’s home, John asked God to help him with his drug addiction
“I felt like I challenged him that day, I said, ‘God if you are for real, I won't drink no more, I won’t smoke no more, I won't go back to what I used to know, if you are for real. I remember Him telling me that I wasn't going to go back no more, that the cycle had been broken, and it ministered to me. I believe that God with me did the one step program and took everything away when I came to the altar that day.
John never returned to gang life or his addictions. Today, he is married and has reunited with his family. He is also the pastor of a church and runs a street ministry. I would say the biggest part is that He can forgive you.
“I can honestly say what God has done for me is that he has just not delivered me but he has been my strength in the time of my storms,” John said. “The thing that I would say about people that lived in that type of lifestyle, I would say you know, I would say that you can change, it is possible. God is for real and I can be the first to say that, that miracle can happen in somebody’s life
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