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From San Quentin to Freedom in God

“In the gang culture that I was involved in we didn’t let people walk away,” said Mico. “People would get stabbed multiple times and stuff like that and you become numb to it.”

In 2004, Jose Quiroz, known as Mico, was a gang member rising up the ranks in Santa Rosa California. For Mico, life was all about money and violence. “Looking for rival gang members, ambush them with baseball bats and whatnot,” said Mico.

For Mico, gang life was normal. As a twelve-year-old boy, his role models were gangsters.

Mico recalled, “Seeing some of the men coming home from prison all tattooed up and just the way that people respected or responded to them. When they would come around with their cars, their low riders and stuff – the level of respect, I knew that that’s what I wanted.”

At thirteen, Mico was sent to juvenile detention for burglary. Over the next five years, juvey became a second home. That same year Mico’s mother, Anna, who was a drug user, got clean and became a Christian. She began praying for Mico’s safety and his salvation.

Anna said, “Him and his sister being asleep in the room and me taking them off the bed and putting them on the floor while they were asleep, thinking there’s going to be a shoot-out outside or something so they wouldn’t get hit by stray bullets. I said, ‘God, don’t let my choices affect them. Protect them.’”  

Still as Mico got older, his crimes escalated. Dealing drugs paid his bills and eventually he too became an addict. He recalled, “It made me crazy to where I was out running around more and just more violent. I was basically turning psychotic.”

His mother continued praying for him. Anna said, “I’d fall asleep on the floor in a puddle of tears on the wooden floor. Praying for his salvation.”

Mico spent time in jail for drugs and weapons charges. He wore it like a badge of honor. Even when he was sent to prison.

Mico recalled, “There were other guys waiting for, what we call the Grey Goose, the bus to come pick you up. I remember that there were other guys waiting for the bus too and how scared some of them looked. In my head, I wasn’t, I couldn’t wait for the bus to come get me."

Anna recalled a sense of relief when Mico was behind bars. That is, until he was sent to San Quentin. “It’s a whole other ballgame,” said Anna. “Going to visit him and a guard telling me, ‘This is the most dangerous prison.’”

Life in San Quentin was hard and for the first time since he was a child, Mico was afraid. “Okay, now I’m in danger,” said Mico. “I knew I was going to end up dead or doing life in prison, a validated gang member in the shoe with, you know, coming out the cell for an hour a day by yourself in a dog cage. If you’re involved in gangs then you’ll eventually come to a point where your eyes are opening, and you know that that’s what’s going to happen.”

While in prison, Mico’s gang-related activities got him sent to solitary confinement. Anna continued writing Mico letters, sharing God’s love for him. Anna said, “And I’m like, ‘It’s going to come to pass, one day.’ I didn’t know how. I didn’t know when or what.”

“The walls were closing in on me,” said Mico. “My heart wasn’t in it anymore and I looked at myself in the mirror and I told myself, ‘Why? Why am I still doing this?’ Everything of who I thought I was, all the value I had in myself was built off of me being a gang member. That my manhood, my arm, my integrity, everything was rooted in that. But once I knew that that was going to be my demise, right there in San Quentin, I got on my knees and I cried out to God. I was brokenhearted. I felt the presence of God with me there and I just knew that if I was going to be able to get out of this, that it was going to be the power of God.”

After his release from solitary, Mico called his mother to share the news. Anna reflected, “I was jumping for joy. I was thanking the Lord. I was jumping for joy!”

Mico served out his four-year sentence at San Quentin and returned home to a new life apart from the gang. His heart that had been so prone to violence, now began developing compassion for guys who were once just like him.  

“Now to where I look at people, other men, that are involved in that life and my heart jumps or – it hurts,” said Mico. “I think that’s one of the big transformations that the Lord has done in my life.”

Today, Mico is married, has a great job and a family. He’s even leading bible studies at his local church. His mother says his transformation is proof that God can change even the hardest heart.

“Oh, I am so thankful to God,” said Anna. “My heart swelled over with joy to see him, to see where he’s at and how he overcame all that through Christ.”

Mico shared, “I think of – and I fully grasp what He’s done, that He chose me and I’m His son and I’m going to be able to stand before Him one day at the Judgment Seat and He’s going to embrace me. I’m just grateful. The power of God is amazing. I’m grateful beyond words.” 

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