From a life of crime to a life of Christ
On March 21, 2011, a St. Louis judge gave him a choice: become a client with The Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) or spend the next 14 years of his life in a state penitentiary.
“It sounds crazy to me now, but I almost picked prison,” Raven said. “In my life at the time, I saw going to prison as part of the lifestyle, something to brag about. In my mind, going to The Salvation Army would be admitting defeat. But it’s apparent now that’s not what it was at all; it was me reclaiming my life.”
Raven’s path to this crossroad was a tumultuous one, wrought with gang activity, drug and alcohol abuse, and violence. He had a mother who worked hard to provide him with everything he needed, but the lack of brothers and a male role model led him astray.
“I sought that older-brother relationship on the streets and did what I thought I had to in order to be accepted,” Raven said. “That meant I was a violent gang member by the time I was 11 and selling drugs by the time I was 14.”
A St. Louis native, Raven said things took a turn for the worse when he was arrested and expelled from high school for being involved in a gang fight.
“They considered the crime so serious that they wanted to try me as an adult,” he said. “My mom was scared of me and what I had become.”
Without the stability of school, Raven became even more involved in gang activity. At age 16, he was shot in the back with a shotgun.
“That was the inciting incident for my mom,” he said. “I was told I couldn’t come back home. Not only had I been shot, but she found drugs and weapons and large amounts of money hidden in the house. She didn’t feel safe with me there.”
Raven was continuously in trouble for the next several years. After a brief stint running drugs from Baton Rouge, La. to St. Louis, Raven was living in North St. Louis and had been arrested more than 100 times. In 2004, a drug deal went wrong and Raven found himself shot in the back for the second time.
“I was probably bleeding in the gutter for an hour, just hanging on to life,” he said. “The Salvation Army Temple Corps was across the street, and one of the people there found me and called and ambulance. That was the first time they saved my life.”
Unfortunately, Raven wouldn’t decide to change his life for six more years. Several arrests later, he found himself in front of a judge, making the most important decision of his life. On March 21, 2011 he was delivered in shackles to The Salvation Army ARC.
“The Salvation Army was a total surprise to me,” he said. “I had experience with treatments before, but this was different. I wasn’t just learning how to abstain from drugs, I was learning skills and lessons I needed to change my life. They took the drugs out of my life and replaced it with a relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s not even fathomable that I could have made these kinds of changes without him or The Salvation Army.”
The Salvation Army’s ARC is a work therapy program designed to help men who suffer from all forms of addiction. The men live on-site, work on-site, and attend Bible studies and counseling sessions for 180 days. After Raven’s term was through, he was offered a job with the ARC in its communications department, allowing him to support himself in a legal way for the first time in his life.
“My life is fantastic now,” he said. “Working with The Salvation Army is more than a job. I feel like I am part of a family, that I have a career, and it gives my loved ones a reason to be proud of me.
“My son saw me on TV and said, ‘Daddy! That’s my name on the TV, too!’ It brought tears to my eyes. I knew I was finally the role model for him that I didn’t have.”
In the next five years, Raven hopes to have obtained his bachelor’s degree in Social Services to work with at-risk children.
“My biggest goal is to reach kids,” he said. “If I had found someone like me when I was that age, who knows how my life would have gone. I don’t want anyone else to fall into the same life that I did. They need to know the real endings to the stories they’re so tempted by.
“Everyone needs to know that there’s hope,” he continued. “The Salvation Army has shown me that if there’s hope for me, there’s hope for everyone. It’s never too late to make a change.”
Special kids make special volunteers
Ryan’s strength is put to good use at The Salvation Army St. Charles Corps, where he and fellow special-needs students volunteer once a month.
Beginning a year ago, special-needs students from Francis Howell High School started volunteering with The Salvation Army. They mainly help with the corps’ food pantry by sorting cans, reading labels to make sure goods are not expired, and marking them for distribution. They also help keep the chapel clean by washing windows and cleaning pews.
Adam, 18, said the work doesn’t bother him; he actually enjoys it.
“I like coming here because I think we really help,” he said. “We just do little things but I think it makes a difference.”
Special Education teacher Tracy Graham said the monthly visits not only provide invaluable life and work experience, but they also give the children a sense of self-worth.
“The kids really love coming here to help, and they’re always excited when the day finally arrives,” Graham said. “They enjoy getting the opportunity to show people what they’re capable of, as well giving back to their community.”
Fifteen-year-old Bradon agreed.
“People think we can’t do a lot, but we can,” he said. “I like working here and helping people who need food. I feel good about doing that.”
St. Charles Corps Captain Laura Key said the partnership has not only been enjoyable for students, but for her as well.
“There’s a young boy named Jacob who insists you wave goodbye to him after every visit,” she said. “It’s a great feeling to see how genuinely happy that makes him. It never fails to brighten my day.”
Graham said the students don’t look at their time with The Salvation Army as just work; they see it as spending time with their friends.
“For them, they’re really not coming just to work,” she said. “They think of the people at The Salvation Army as their friends. The Salvation Army has been great to these kids. They know they’re always welcome here.”
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