Discovering Real Life After the Gang Life
By Randy Rudder
The 700 Club
CBN.com -“My idea of what a man was at the time was, a man used women, abused women, disrespected women. A man carried a gun. A man used a gun. A man basically did whatever he wanted to do to get whatever he wanted,” recalls Anthony Acevedo.
Anthony grew up on the streets of Chicago, one of the most gang-infested cities in America. “My brother at the age of thirteen got into the gangs and the drugs, the alcohol, and that attracted me, and that was something I started to pursue myself.”
His parents divorced when he was young, and his mother moved the family to a rough suburb. The notorious Latin Kings gang soon became his new family. “They just gave me the attention that I guess as a young kid I was looking for that I didn’t receive at home,” Anthony says. “They provided security for me. They provided an identity for me: this is a cause (the gang) worth living for, even worth dying for.”
Anthony started using and selling drugs, carrying weapons, and breaking into homes. He also became violent and wanted to enhance his street cred by becoming known as a killer. He found his target when a childhood acquaintance joined a rival gang. The two quickly became enemies. One night, Anthony tracked him down.
“One day my cousin was like, ‘Hey! You know I live in a neighborhood where this guy lives. Why don’t we go over here? Why don’t we all take care of him?’ I’m like, ‘Hey, you know, that’s a very good idea. He actually came out and walked through the middle of the park and he met me right where I was. I had a hoodie on, and had the gun in my pocket, and as he started to walk up to me, he began to talk crazy to me; cursing at me, Anthony recalls. “I didn’t say anything. I was just standing there smiling. Right before he got about two feet in front of me, I just pulled out the gun and put it as close as I could to him, and I just fired it off.”
The first bullet didn’t kill him and the man ran off. Anthony chased him down, until his victim found his way to a police station. Anthony shot two more times, and left him for dead.
“At the time, I actually did think that I took his life. I went up to the third floor of my cousin’s apartment, and from the window we could see the whole crime scene. We could see the police there and we could see everything. And we were saluting each other and the gang, and we’re like, ‘Yeah, we did it! I killed this guy, and there’s going to be more to come,’” he says. “I was just feeding off the feeling that I felt, of trying to take someone’s life.”
HIs euphoria was short lived. Within hours, he was arrested and he learned his victim was still alive. “I wanted him to die because I didn’t want him to testify against me, and I wanted it to look like I really am a killer, but then I didn’t want him to die because then I would have to serve all this time.”
Anthony was charged with attempted murder and sentenced to eleven years. In prison, he continued to sell drugs and lead a violent lifestyle. Then he got a new cellmate who was a Christian. “He used to be in a gang. He used to try to talk to me about God.” I’m like, ‘That Jesus stuff doesn’t work for me. I love this lifestyle. I’m a sinner. I love sin. I’m a Latin King and love this life.’”
Still, his roommate persisted. One day he gave Anthony a Bible to read. “I grabbed the Bible and I was going to throw it in the corner of my cell, which is where I threw my garbage,” Anthony says. “The Bible was like glued to my hand! It didn’t fall out.”
That was the first of several incidents he couldn’t explain that made him think God might be at work in his life. But he remained skeptical.
“I grabbed a Bible, I said, ‘you know what. I’m going take this thing, and I’m going to read it. I’m not going to read it to change my life. I’m going to read it to criticize and condemn all these hypocritical Christians and Catholics or whatever else you want to call yourselves.’”
But things did not go exactly as Anthony had planned.
“For three years, I read the Bible, all day, every day, from Genesis to Revelation; I just read it, non-stop, ten, fifteen hours a day. All I did was read the Bible.”
Anthony says God continued his relentless pursuit for his heart while he was in prison.
“Every cell mate that I had from that point forward, were all ex-gang members turned Christians. God was working through these five individuals to show me the truths of God, to show me how real God is, despite the realities of prison life.”
Still, Anthony continued his drug use and gang activity. Then one day, he attended a prison chapel service. “This guy comes in and he’s a guest speaker and he says, ‘I came in to give you one message for one group of people,” Anthony recalls. “God’s telling me to tell you guys to stop it--knock it off. Quit playing games with God. Quit playing games with the devil. Either serve God faithfully, get out of the gangs, get off the drugs, and follow God with your life, or forget God, forget the Bible and follow the devil and serve him 100 per cent. But you can’t do both.’ So as I’m hearing this message, I’m sitting in the back of the chapel, and my heart is getting kind of pricked, and I’m like, ‘Hmm, he’s talking about me.’”
Afterward, Anthony returned to his cell. “I went back to my cell. I heard a voice speak to me, and it was as audible as you can hear my voice now, but it was in the depths of my heart where I heard it. And the voice I heard called me by my name. He said, ‘Anthony, today is the day that you’re no longer going to be a Latin King. Today is the day you’re going to be My son, you’re going to be My child. That lifestyle is over with.’”
At first, he thought he was going crazy.
“I looked up and I thought, ‘What was that?’ I cursed,” he says. “The only rationale that I had was it must have been my cellmate speaking to me. So I’m like, ‘What did you just say to me? You just spoke to me. I heard you speak to me. What did you just tell me?’ And he said, ‘What do you mean? I don’t understand. I’ve been watching TV the whole time with my head phones on.’ And I’m like, ’Why would God speak to me? Why wouldn’t He speak to the nice ‘church’ people, the goody two-shoes, the saints and all those nice people, the baptized ones? I’m the worst of sinners. Why would He want to talk to me?’ And again, I heard the same voice that said the same thing, and it said, ‘Anthony, you are My son. You are My child. It is over with. You are no longer a Latin King. You are My servant.’”
For the first time in his life, Anthony prayed and surrendered his life to Christ. The next day, he told the Latin kings he was leaving the gang.
“I told them, ‘Well, this means that I’m taking off my crown and I’m giving it to you guys. I don’t want it any more. And I’m picking up my cross and I’m following Jesus.’ And I looked at them, and I said, ‘Whatever you guys want to do to me, I’m right here. Go ahead and do it.’ And they looked at me like, ‘We can’t, man. We can’t. We’ll give you our blessing.’”
For the rest of his sentence he committed his time to follow God and grow in his faith. He served eleven years in prison, and was released in 2011. He met and married Jessica and is now enrolled in Bible college at Moody Bible Institute. Today he has a whole new definition of manhood. “My definition of a man is one who can truly humble himself before almighty God, a man that can deny himself daily and take up his cross and follow Jesus Christ.”
Anthony also shares the love of God with the homeless and gang members in Chicago. “I have an immense heart for gang members, or drug dealers, inmates, or convicts. God can reach them the same way He reached me,” he says. “God can love on them, and God can forgive them, and He can re-establish them and make them new creations in Him. My heart is just to be a vessel in God’s hands to impact this lost and hurting world for His cause and for His name’s sake.”
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