Discovering a Meaningful Life
By Michelle Wilson
The 700 Club
“You can hear people screaming at each other, talking about they’re going to kill each other. And it was getting louder and louder and louder,” says Ignacio.
At just 17 years old, Ignacio Pizano was serving time as the youngest inmate in San Quentin prison. Ignacio remembers, “And I’m just laying in my bunk and I kept saying, ‘I can’t show no fear. I got to be a man. I got to be strong.’ But everything inside of me is scared.”
To those who knew Ignacio, it came as no surprise that he ended up in jail. “My family told me I was going to be just like my father,” says Ignacio. “Nothing but gang life, killing, drugs, the gangster lifestyle.”
Ignacio was 6 when his dad came back into his life after being absent for years. But soon his father started abusing him and his mother. Ignacio recalls, “My mom would say something and he would push her and slam her to the floor. And then he would grab me by my chest and shove me against the kitchen into the sink. And he’d say, ‘C’mon, be a man. Hit me. Hit me.’ He goes, ‘I’m never going to leave you alone until you hit me.’”
Ignacio never did hit his father, and the abuse continued. But his anger and hatred towards his dad grew deeper until one day, when he was 12, Ignacio pulled a gun on him. Ignacio says, “When I pulled the gun on him, I remember he looked me straight in the eye and he said, ‘Pull the trigger. If you’re a man, pull the trigger.’ And I just told him, ‘Don’t ever touch my mom again. If you ever touch my mom again, I’ll kill you.’”
Shortly after that confrontation, his dad left home for good. The abuse stopped. But by the time Ignacio was 14, he had become just like his dad, immersed in the gang life selling angel dust and fighting. Ignacio remembers, “I ended up figuring out that I was actually pretty good at fighting because I had so much anger built up. It would come out when I’d fight. And the more I fought the more respect I got from the guys in the neighborhood. The more attention I got from the girls.”
Meanwhile, his mother knew what her son was doing. Often, when he would come home after a night of gang banging he could hear his mother pray for him. Ignacio says, “I would see her praying over the gun and praying over the drugs, ‘Please, take this away from him. Get him away from this life.’ And I would just look at her, and I was like, ‘There ain’t no God. God is just a crutch for weak people.’ I told her, ‘One day, I’m going to die in the gas chamber with my rag on my head representing my gang.’”
Ignacio was closer to that than he realized, because at 15 years old, he shot a man and was convicted of murder. After two years in a county jail he was sent to San Quentin to serve out a life sentence. He was just 17 and very scared. Ignacio remembers, “And I’m thinking, ‘how did I get to this point so fast so young?’ I just kept thinking to myself, ‘I’m never going to have kids. I’m never going to know what it’s like to be a father.’ I was like, ‘life’s over.’”
His mom visited every month, and told him she was still praying for him. One day, she told him he had to start praying for himself. When Ignacio got to his cell, he made a promise to God. Ignacio recalls, “I got on my knees and I told Him, ‘If You give me a chance, if You take me out of here, I’ll change. I’ll never come back. Give me an opportunity, I’ll make a difference in young people’s lives, I’ll do whatever You want me to do. Just give me a chance at life.’”
Ignacio believes that’s exactly what God did. It was later discovered that he should never have been sent to San Quentin because he was convicted as a juvenile. On appeal, he was transferred to the California youth authority and the life sentence was reduced to 10 years. He was released when he was 24. “The day I was released, I was amazed. I couldn’t believe that God loved me that much that He gave me a second chance at life.”
After that Ignacio left the gang and cleaned up his act. He married, started a family, and even went to church on occasion. But he never committed his life to Christ. It would take him 20 years to figure out he needed God’s forgiveness. By then he was divorced, unhappy and still carrying the guilt of his past. Ignacio says, “I started thinking about the family that of the man that I killed, parents and his mom. I was thinking, ‘I can’t live like this. I can’t live with this kind of guilt.’”
Ignacio was at home when he finally surrendered his life to God. “I asked Him to forgive me,” says Ignacio. “I asked Him to cleanse me of all of my sins and to give me that joy and that peace. All of a sudden I just was overwhelmed. The Spirit was hitting me, tears coming down my face. I didn’t care who knew. I didn’t care who saw me. I remember feeling a hand on my head and I looked up to see who was touching me, and there was nobody there, and I knew it was God. I knew He was touching me. My whole life was completely transformed and I was no longer the old person who I used to be, and I was now a new creation in Jesus Christ.”
Today, Ignacio reaches out to at risk inner city youth with his son Jeremiah. He also wrote a book about his story. He believes without his mother’s prayers, he wouldn’t be where he is today. Ignacio says, “It doesn’t matter where you’re at. It doesn’t matter if you got a life sentence. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the streets homeless with no hope, I’m telling you, give your life to God and He’ll change you, and He’ll make you a new creation
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