Joseph, born again...
Joseph Garcia is presently a prisoner in the California prison system, where he is serving a 72 to life sentence. Joseph met the Lord in 1978, and was rescued from a life of prison gangs, drugs and running amuck. Joseph is now a prison evangelist with a dynamic yard ministry. The following is Joseph's story told in his own words.
I was born in 1948, at St.John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and grew up in West Los Angeles. As a young Native American boy, I was not interested in spiritual things. Deep within my soul was a belief that God was in fact a real person, yet I wasn't sure if He really knew who I was or if He had any specific plan or purpose for my life.
My dad was a chef who worked out in Beverly Hills, at a place which was a well known hang out for all the upcoming stars in Hollywood. He was also an undercover alcoholic. My mother mostly worked as a waitress. My parents separated when I was six, because my mother would not forgive my father for having slapped -her in a jealous rage. My parents were not close to God, so they had no way to deal with their martial difficulties.
When I was ten years old, I would go to visit my grandmother, Carolina, who lived with my father. She was a very religious person who was raised in the strictest traditions of the Catholic Church. She would talk to me about God as if she personally knew Him and had a direct line to wherever He was. She tried to explain that God loved me and had a plan for my life if I would give Him my heart. When I questioned her why she didn't speak much about God to my brothers and sisters, she would simply say God had instructed her to concentrate on me.
I was very happy around my grandmother. Being with her gave me a break from home which was usually a run-down apartment, garage or cheap motel. I remember after each visit she would give me two dollars for saying the rosary with her while on my knees. I would use the money to take my younger brothers to a local theater. This was a special time for us, because it removed us from the negative situation at home. The movies would give us a sense of happiness, which was lacking in our family. My grandmother's interest in me kindled a spark in my heart to ask questions about God. When I was eleven she died and that spark died with her.
My Early School Years
I loved going to school, but my early school years were hectic. I was easily distracted and wouldn't put enough energy into my studies and homework. My parents seemed to only be concerned with drinking and partying. I began to ditch school and hang around the neighborhood kids, who were my age and older. Their parents were doing their own thing and not really concerned about what we were doing. I was eventually expelled from school for fighting. Consequently, I never got past the sixth grade academically.
I took to the streets before I turned twelve. Within a few months I was arrested for stealing a ten cent bag of balloons from Mr. Burns, who owned the neighborhood grocery store. He had befriended my family and allowed me to work on the weekends sweeping the floor at his store. On one occasion, he asked to see me in the back room while his wife remained up front. He turned to me with a very serious look, asked me to take off my right shoe and hand him whatever I had stuffed into it. I handed him the bag, and he said he was going to call the police "for my own good". When they arrived, they placed me into the back seat of the patrol car. I could see Mr. Burns had a sad expression on his face. I had seen the James Dean movie "Rebel Without A Cause" just before my arrest. My desire to use the balloons to make a motorcycle sound with the spokes had backfired.
That evening I was driven to the Juvenile Detention Center in Los Angeles. The police told me I would be released to my mother in a few days since the offense was minor. Three days later, I was brought before a judge and informed I would not be going home after all. My mother was not in a position to give me the proper supervision I needed. I looked around the courtroom and saw my mother. She was obviously crying with much pain and anger showing in her eyes. Later, she visited me and promised to get a suitable home so I could be released. That didn't happen. For the next four years I remained in custody. I feel this injustice and the negative influence of juvenile hall affected my conscience. I lost the ability to discern the difference between right and wrong.
Within that juvenile jungle, I had to learn to survive regardless of the cost. I allowed my heart to harden. I came to believe lying was normal and justified because my parents and everyone I knew did it. I also came to believe cheating could help me get ahead and stealing would even the score. After all that had happened to me, I did not feel I had been given a fair chance. I was jealous of the others I had grown up with who were still in school and given many opportunities to succeed.
I failed to realize how much pain I was causing myself and others. I came to believe that if the circumstances warranted it, then my actions were justified. My choices were all part of the game of life that I felt had adopted me. I was living with a perspective that kept my thoughts of right and wrong unstable and ever changing. I questioned whether my choices were the right ones.
My mind-set and twisted reality led me to illegal drugs. I ended up addicted to heroin for the next fifteen years of my life. I was in and out of prisons. My life revolved around all things that offered instant gratification: drugs, illicit sex, violence and serious crime, all the time, 24/7.
Hard Times Ahead
In 1978, I had just been released from Soledad Prison and was on my way to better things, or so I thought. Instead I was arrested for armed robbery. I had just turned thirty. Here I was facing the probability of being returned to prison once again. I was very upset for allowing myself to get into such a predicament. While I was being booked into the Visalia County Jail, I refused to give my name and fingerprints. The jail guards who were just trying to do their jobs weren't too happy with me. I began to curse them, making their job harder. After a few hours in a holding cell, I cooled off. I gathered my thoughts as to what I was going to do to get myself out of this mess before a parole hold was placed on me.
My Gang Member Days ...
About midnight, I was escorted to "high power" on the top floor of the Jail. This is where gang affiliates were kept. Earlier, I had been seen by the Jail commander as to why I didn't want to let them take my prints. When I gave no answer, he had me strip searched and because of certain tattoos, put me upstairs. He didn't know that I was once a member of a prison gang known as "La Nuestra Familia" whose main rivals throughout the prison system were the "Mexican Mafia" and "Aryan Brotherhood" (AB's). I had disassociated myself from the gang due to the many power struggles taking place within the organization. I didn't want to have to take sides and be put in the position of one day having to kill a fellow brother.
The officers took me up in an elevator and walked me down the hallway towards Cell 8. Every cell I passed was an identical single cell with the man in each asleep. I stepped inside and the door snapped shut behind me blocking out the world and all noises except for the snoring of the men in the other cells.
'There Is no one righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10). MY HEART BEGINS TO SOFTEN
This had to be a nightmare. I had to wake up. It was only twenty-eight days ago that I had been released from prison, My mind was spinning from all the events of the night. I lit up a cigarette and took a few long drags as I thought long and hard about what I needed to do to get myself back on the outside. Four years earlier, I had escaped from the Santa Monica Superior Court House and began to think along these lines once again.
"For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
I began to reflect back on my life and how fortunate I was to actually be alive. Many of the men I had known in my past were now dead as a result of their lifestyle of crime. I had encountered many life and death situations. During these times, I became convinced that, in some odd way, my life had been spared by fate or whatever label people would put on it. It was now about 1:00 a.m., so in an attempt to calm my mind, I reached over and picked up an old "girlie" magazine, which I had noticed under the bed frame. The distraction only made me realize with more clarity Just how twisted my life had truly become. Usually, it would take about a month or more of being locked up before I would begin to enjoy such magazines.
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).
A Surprise Visit
Suddenly, a very strong thought penetrated my mind: the thought that someone was in the cell with me. Words poured into my mind as though from outside of me. "Let me in. I'm here to help you. I can change you and give you the peace you are looking for." This spooked me, so I instantly jumped up and began to pace the floor again. I noticed a used Good News Bible on the floor. I rejected the thought of picking it up, saying "no way!" I had seen others in prison go crazy reading it, or at least what I considered to be irrational. Most of them were Just never the same. I felt strange being around those who called themselves Christians. At different times throughout my life, I would listen as they shared their new-found faith with me out of respect for the "old days". Many of them had run around with the same crowd I did. Afterwards, I would excuse myself and go about my business -- usually carrying out a drug deal.
Me with a friend in the old days...
"But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 6:23).
There it was again: thoughts of being summoned by Someone. It came over me with startling realization that what I was encountering was what some have called the "crossroads of life". The seeds sown by the Gospel message I had heard from my grandmother and religious friends were sprouting. I knew that God was present in my cell, and that He was reaching out to me. I couldn't resist His love any longer, so I knelt on the cold dirty floor of my cell and from the depths of my heart called out to God. For one reason or another, I had always believed in God, but had never committed my life to Him. I asked Him to come into my life and do with me whatever He chooses.
"That if you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, andbelieve in your heart that God has raised his from thedead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).
As tears ran down my face, I once and for all time, received God's forgiveness provided on the cross. I knew He was listening and willing to implant His resurrected life in me. I was aware that He knew all about the mess that I had made of my life, as He flooded my heart with His unconditional love. This was the first time since the age of six that I felt the genuine love of a father. I felt my heart had been shattered into a million pieces, but made brand new by Almighty God Himself. The pains of heartache and the feelings of incompleteness were finally gone, and in their place a relationship of divine love with my Creator, my Heavenly Father.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his oneand only Son, that whosoever believes in him shellnot perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
Reflections in Christ
Three decades have come and gone since Jesus came into my heart and gave me a new start in life. I wish I could say that I have never encountered personal failure since coming to Christ, but this is not the case. We can easily become distracted by not keeping our eyes on Jesus. This will always result in failure, which was evident with the Apostle Peter who began to sink when he took his eyes off Jesus while walking on the water.
I believe failure comes because we stop focusing on Jesus who called us to a life of holiness. Our daily trust in His promises may grow cold. I have learned to have a conscious awareness of God's presence throughout the day. This constant focus will always carry us through all circumstances and cause us to triumph in life.
As I reflect on the lives of many Bible characters, I think it's fair to say that failure is part of the process of growth, which truly leads us to depend more and more on God for everything. I am persuaded that my Heavenly Father has totally forgiven me of all sin because of the finished work of Christ on the cross 2000 years ago. He has done the same for you and desires your total surrender today.
I now serve God instead of "serving time" within this environment. The Lord picked me up and turned my past failures into a testimony of His great grace. In the truest sense of the word, I have been a "fanatic" from the day I was saved. I say this Joyfully, because when Jesus Christ came into my heart, I knew that He came in. I knew I was different and would never ever be the same again. It was the wildest, most exciting thing in the world to know that Jesus was in me. Everything I ever "was" up to that time "ceased being", which the Bible refers to as the "new birth". Where man sought to "conform" me to a system of rules, God stepped in and "transformed" me with His unconditional love. The fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit now flow through my life, reaching men in prison whose hearts are hardened through years of unbelief. It is only the Holy Spirit who can melt a man's heart, creating the desire to accept the awesome gift God offers.
"I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness,to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from thedungeon. And those who dwell in darkness fromthe prison". (Isaiah 42:6,7).
A Final Word
If you haven't invited Jesus into your heart, it is my hope that you will receive Christ as your Savior today. As we look around our world, it becomes obvious that we are living in some very uncertain times. Life is "choice driven", and my hope is that you will choose Christ, the One that can enable you to live your life with confidence as you face the "unknowns" of your future.
It is the work of Christ alone on Calvary's cross that makes a sinner right with God. It is because of God's great grace and mercy and not to be found in one's own merit or goodness. I pray that you will experience the peace of coming to know God in a personal way, through Christ.
Jesus said, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit."
The choice to receive Christ often presents itself during the most difficult times in our lives. There will be many tests in life as we look forward to going home to our eternal rewards, whether heaven or hell. How wonderful to know that our relationship with Him never grows old, but each new day brings another opportunity from our Heavenly Father to enjoy his perfect plan for our lives. I beg you to not neglect such a great salvation. Won't you receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior today? This is your day of "new beginnings".
"For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lordwill give grace and glory: no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly" (Psalms 84:11).
In conclusion, whether you are a Christian or not, I wish to thank you for making time to read this testimony. You are a very important person to both God and us, and He knows you by your first name. He loves you more than any other person can and proved it once and for all by coming to this earth and dying for you so that the penalty for your sin could be paid in full. Your life with Jesus in the center of it equals genuine satisfaction. His love, joy and peace always to abide within when our search for God comes to it's end.
As Christians, we believe and hope in Someone. That someone is Jesus. We do not always know what is going to happen but we know we can always trust God's purpose and plan for our lives. We know it will always work out for our good. The hope of our salvation remains anchored to our soul. This blessed hope is the power that keeps us steady in our times of trial. This hope keeps us in God's miracle-working realm. Therefore, let us continue to wait expectantly for our soon coming King, knowing that as believers, we will be caught up into heaven to be with Jesus forever.
"And therefore the Lord (earnestly) waits to be gracious to you; and therefore He lifts Himself up, that He may have mercy on you and show loving kindness to you" (Isaiah 30:18).
If you were touched by this testimony, let Joseph know. He welcomes all correspondence. Request he send you his poem, "The Language of Love", and many others.
JOSEPH BELARDE GARCIA H-01695
Alpine Low 126 CIM II
POB 500 C-Yard
Chowchilla, CA. 96310-0092