“Kids at group homes for foster children introduced me to crime, drugs, and gangs. But I came to Islam through a rival gang member.”
My mom passed away from cancer while I was 10 years old and I went to live with my Dad. He was a drug addict and alcoholic who was abusive and I was taken from his case and placed in various foster homes and group homes. At 11 I started to get involved in crime, drugs, and gangs – mainly due to the influence of the other kids in these group homes. At the age of 13 I was sentences to the JDOC (Juvenile department of corrections), where I continued to gang-bang (I associated with a branch of the Latin Folks, Maniac Latin Disciple to be specific) and get in trouble. At the age of 15 I got in a fight with a guard and was sentenced to 3 years in adult prison which I was shipped to on my 16th birthday. I continued to gang-bang and get in trouble.
My dad died of a drug overdose when I was 15 so the gang was my only family besides a few brothers and a sister I hadn’t seen in years, and a grandma. When I was 18 I got another 2 year sentence for getting into it with the guards, I got out of prison 2 months before I turned 20 – I had been locked up 6 1/2 years straight, 4 of them in an adult prison. To say in the least spending all these years at such a young age incarcerated in a violent environment around hardcore criminals and gang members had a traumatizing effect on me. I have struggled to overcome the gang lifestyle, criminal thinking, drug addiction, and psychological issues since. Islam helped me break free of much of this.
Path to Islam
At 17, I started to have reoccurring dreams about dying from gang-banging, which scared me and made me question where my life was headed. I also had extreme anger issues and serious mental health issues, my goal was actually to get out of prison and kill as many rival gang members (Latin Kings) as I could. Between the dreams and reflection I started to realize I had major issues, so I decided to study psychology to try to discover what was the root of my issues.
While studying psychology I became interested in the symbolism of religions and the archetypal dimensions of the psyche (Jungian Psychology). Though still in a gang I started to not be as active and to focus more on studying. I went on to study many world religions, with an emphasis on mysticism and occultism. I was first exposed to a distorted picture of Islam through these writers teachings on Sufism(which these authors did not properly understand).
After 9/11, there was a guy who was a Latin King (one of my old gang rivals) who lived next to me in prison and was getting out. He was a Muslim and left me some various items and Islamic materials out of nowhere. The material fascinated me (it was mainly on salat). I then went to the prison library and checked out a Quran, book of hadith, and “The Ideals and Realities of Islam” by Seyyed Hossein Nasr.
(I would just like to mention the Latin King who gave me the material when he was getting out – his name was Sulayman – I ran into him at the Masjid. He was shocked to see me! Here we were, former gang rivals who would have killed each other in the past, now brothers in Islam, SubhanAllah! The Ayat of Quran where Allah says you used to be enemies but now Allah has united your hearts in Islam was living proof here)
After studying various philosophies and religions I had come to believe in 1 supreme creator, I had already rejected Christianity and Judaism due to the contradictions I had found in those books. I wanted to discover/experience the truth and not just blindly believe in something, so I was attracted to mysticism and the occult. Nonetheless I found much conjecture in those also and still felt a spiritual void.
When I read Nasr’s “Ideals and Realities of Islam” it was like a key fit – here was a religion that made 100% logical and rational sense, and also offered a true religious experience witnessing (not just belief alone) through Sufism. Nasr’s book was exactly what I needed as he wrote from the perspective of someone well studied in world religion and demonstrated Islam’s superiority through the book. Next I read the Hadith book and felt like I was sitting before the wisest man in the world, SubhanAllah. Next I read the Quran and it was like Allah speaking directly to me. At that point Iman entered my heart and the next day I found some Muslims on the prison yard and took my shahada – this was June 24th 2002 at the age of 19, I got out of prison 1 month later on August 1st 2002.
When I became Muslim, I was totally transformed to the core of my being, I quit gang-banging 100% and took my Islam very seriously. I was at so much peace and felt the love of the brotherhood of Islam so deeply, I really felt like I had found my purpose on this Earth after all those years of searching, Alhamdulillah wa Shukrulillah.
Most of my family I had left (my grandma, aunt, etc…) turned on me for becoming Muslim, though Alhamdulilah one of my brothers and many of his friends became Muslim. I also struggled with some of the baggage I brought into Islam, trying to overcome my nafs and psychological issues. I never sought help for these issues due to what I thought others would think of me, over time I became depressed due to my failure at applying the shari’ah in certain areas of my life, this lead to my drug usage and re-incarceration. Once re-incarcerated I made tawba and became serious about my Islam again.