“As my mother lay passed out on the sofa in our apartment, I was led by a new friend, sometime beyond the midnight hour, to a park. He told me there were some cool people waiting for us there. I found myself standing before a figure sitting on a bench. He motioned for me to come closer as my friend departed back into the darkness. As I stepped forward, I could make out the features of the man—he could not have been more than 20—who was to become my leader. ‘Do you want in?,’ he asked in matter-of-fact tone, as if I knew what ‘in’ meant. I did not. But the absence of being ‘in’ anywhere else, and a sense that this could be fun, or at least sufficiently dangerous to make me feel something, compelled me to say ‘yes.’ He then clapped his hands, prompting a bunch of boys, including my friend, to emerge from the shadows and line up in front of me. ‘If you can remain standing, you're in,’ he explained. ‘If not, you better run and hope we never see you again.’ With that, the first boy in line drove his fist into my stomach without warning. As the next boy approached, now I knew to tighten my abs, receiving his blow. Each boy in line punched me in the gut until my whole body was trembling with nausea. But I remained standing. ‘You’re in,’ the guy on the bench announced, as he stood to his feet and walked away. ‘That’s Sly,’ my friend said. The unspoken truth was that I had just been initiated into a gang and Sly was my leader. I was given a name that was both funny and appropriate. Someone in the group called me ‘Casper’ and it stuck. At Sly's bidding, night after night we roamed the streets of LA, marking off territory with graffiti, breaking into cars and stealing whatever valuable content we might find, bringing the loot to Sly, getting high to celebrate, and being sent out to buy and sell drugs.
One night, losing the will to live, I half-on-purpose overdosed on a mix of narcotics and alcohol. My friends carried me up three flights of stairs in my apartment building, lay me in front of my door, knocked and ran. My mom pulled me in, stuck her finger down my throat forcing me to vomit, put me in bed and nursed me back to life. Shortly thereafter, she decided to get clean and started attending Alcoholics Anonymous. She insisted that I begin attending a teen addiction program run by the same organization. It had no effect on me, but she was now sober and would never look back, making a series of decisions that saved my life and my soul. In desperation to extract me and my siblings from hell that was our life in LA, she moved us to Sacramento. That’s where I met the girl that would become my wife, but not before she became my mom’s partner in rescuing me. I got in more trouble in Sacramento. I was expelled from two schools, involved in violent episodes of street warfare until two of my friends were stabbed and the knife was put to my chest, only to watch the badly beaten-up kid pull the knife away from me, jump in his car and speed off. That event, combined with a few other insane situations, led my mom to move us to Washington state. There, she and my girlfriend began studying the Bible and underwent a radical conversion to Christ. They then proceeded to apply all their motherly and girlfriendly powers to chase down my soul for Jesus, leading to my radical conversion. Sue and I were married and have been following Christ ever since.”