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Trading the Shackles of Hate for the Hope of Love

“I looked at the police officers and I pretended like I had a gun underneath my shirt, and I said, ‘Look I’m gonna shoot you all if you don’t shoot me first,’” Zach Smith had run-ins with police before – but this time he carried a death wish. “I wanted to die. I had no reason in my mind at that time, to live. I was just so lost and so angry and I just didn’t care,” he says. 

Zach’s parents divorced when he was 4. Later, his father suffered from mental illness and spent time in an institution.  “I very rarely saw him. When I did see my dad, it was usually in a mental hospital, or he was not in the right state of mind,” Zach says. “I didn’t understand why he was the way he was.”
By high school Zach was drinking heavily. He also had a quick, violent temper.

“When you don’t have a father in your life, you try to be a man in different ways—always trying to fight,” Zach says. “I could just go off at just the littlest thing. Just a certain thing would set me off. If I felt disrespect or if I felt you offended me in any way that would set me off. I definitely wasn’t afraid to hurt somebody.”
By age 20, Zach had done jail time. In one of his stints, he found a common bond with the white supremacist group – the Aryan brotherhood. “Growing up, I was pretty racist. I was attracted to the Aryan Brotherhood because of respect,” he says. “I wanted respect. I wanted to be part of a family--and I wanted people to fear me.”
Zach joined the brotherhood, which hardened him even more. “Before I joined the Aryan Brotherhood, I wasn’t a good person, but I wasn’t off the deep end yet,” he says. “I was just a drunk, kind of a rowdy, teenager, just drinking and partying and fighting. But once I got involved with the Aryan Brotherhood, I turned cold; I turned darker. I got even worse--and hateful—just full of hate.”                   
Zach was swept up in a hailstorm of crime and violence. Alcohol and drugs were his only escape. “When I drank. I just didn’t feel any pain. Sometimes I would stay up for days drinking and on drugs too,” Zach says. “And I was selling drugs, of course, and robbing, so I would stay on a binge of alcohol and drugs, and chaos.”
The only person in his life who had hope for Zach was his grandmother. She was a Christian, who prayed for him constantly. “I knew something about my grandma was real, and her prayers and her God that she served was real. So I didn’t want her praying,” Zach says. “She would call me and say ‘I’m praying for you Zach,’ and I was thinking in my mind, ‘I don’t want you praying for me.’”
Eventually Zach thought suicide was his only solution. “I didn’t care about anyone else’s life and I didn’t care about my own,” he says. “There was no hope in anything. I had no happiness. I had no joy.”
One day after being cornered by police for auto theft and drug possession, he tried to bait them into shooting him--but they didn’t bite. “So I got in a fighting stance and said, ‘Let’s go!’ They started spraying me down with mace, and then they tackled me and arrested me.”
Because of his record of violence and his involvement with the brotherhood, Zach was put into solitary confinement. “I was scared of being in solitary,” he says. “That’s when I actually had time to just stop and think. I was stuck in this little cell all day every day.  Everything was crashing down on me, so I started praying to God but I didn’t know about Jesus. I was just praying to a God I didn’t know.”
Shortly after that, an inmate gave him a radio. The only channel with a clear signal was a nearby Christian station. “I stopped on that radio station and I just started listening, and he was preaching about the cross. He was just preaching the simple gospel that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and He was perfect in every way and had no sin in Him, and He came to this earth to die on the cross to take our sins, and that I was a sinner and that I needed Jesus and that He was my Savior,” Zach remembers. “When I heard that--that was all I needed to hear. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I hit the ground and just started crying and bawling. Because the Lord started showing me just how selfish and hateful I was, and started showing me all the evil that was in my life and that I had done.”
Zach says his grandmother’s prayers--and the preachers’ words-- finally pierced his heart. “I just started repenting, and asking God to forgive me of my sins and everything that I had done.  And I knew that Jesus had come into my life. I knew that He was real. I knew that He had just saved me. I knew I was a changed man, right in that second—I knew that.”
As Zach devoured the Bible, he knew he had to break all ties with the brotherhood. “That’s when the Holy Spirit had shown me. His specific words were, ‘You can’t serve light and darkness at the same time,’ so I got on my knees and started praying to the Lord, I said, ‘Lord. You’ve got to give me the strength to get out of this, because I can’t do this on my own,’ I sent him a letter, and I simply said, ‘I don’t want anything else to do with you all. I’m done. I’m out. I take full responsibility for my actions, but I’m done with it.’ I sent it to them, and that was it, and I didn’t hear anything else. They just stopped talking to me. The Lord took care of it.”
Zach was released in 2012 and is now active in his local church in Dallas. He also loves telling people about the transforming power of Jesus. “Everything that was in me: the hate, the sin, the unforgiveness, everything that was in me was just taken off me, and I just felt relief--and freedom,” Zach says. “I found happiness and hope and love for the first time in my life. He became everything to me: my Savior first, my Father, my Friend. He’s everything to me. Everything I need is in Jesus.”

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