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Jesse Is Lifting His Hands In Praise Once Again

Jesse, portrait

Jesse grew up with his mom and sister near Monterey. “My dad was in my life, but my parents got divorced when I was 1,” he said. “My mom and I have a close relationship. My dad was very hard, emotionally and verbally. He has seven other kids and I was the last one. He was pretty rough on me growing up, so I’d lash out.”

Jesse started stealing from stores and getting in altercations at school when he was just 12. “From 12 to 18 I probably spent three to four years incarcerated,” he said. “I remember repetitively violating probation for minimal things. They tried to give me programs to help me and I’d violate them to just rebel against authority.

“I was hurt and confused. I didn’t know who I was or who I wanted to be. I was being brought up by two different people: my dad was very strict and uptight. My mom was really lenient and more emotionally intact. I was attracted to the wrong people, so I let that influence who I was. I think I was just crying out for help. I was lonely.” Jesse’s mom tried to get him in therapy. “I didn’t want that. I had my dad in my head (saying), ‘You’re weak if you do that.’”

When Jesse was 16, he started using marijuana and alcohol, and at 18, he went to county jail for the first time for being drunk in public. At 19, he committed residential burglary and was sentenced to four years. Before he went to prison in 2012, Jesse entered a Christian recovery program. “I really felt compelled in my spirit to just … give the Lord a 30-day trial period. Just to see, if I commit, if things will change. From then on there was a drastic change in the way I perceived myself, the rules I followed, clothes I wore, music I listened to. It all shifted to Christianity. I started reading the word, listening to worship music, fellowshipping with other believers. I started wanting to live out the example they talk about in the bible.”

But Jesse still struggled with authority, and left the program four months into the six-month program. He served two years of his four-year sentence and got out at 22. After an argument got him arrested again, Jesse was convinced he’d be in prison for a long time because of his felony record. “I thought everything was over. I thought I’d be in prison until my 30s. That’s when I tried meth.”

Jesse ended up in jail for only two weeks, but he when he got out, he used again, and was hooked. “For the past five years, I’ve used meth,” he said. “This is my 20th program. I’ve also had 20 jobs. My cycle with this substance seems to be: Do good for a while—three to six months of sobriety—use for a week or two and go psychotic. I lose the job or leave school. Christ has still been with me. I can’t stay in that lifestyle for too long without feeling so compelled by the spirit that I’m totally living contrary to everything my soul believes in. So I end up in another program.”

Jesse has been in the ICU twice for meth overdose. He couldn’t breathe on his own and his mom has been called to say goodbye. After his most recent stay in the community hospital, Jesse was living in a shelter in Santa Cruz. “I kept relapsing. And I thought, ‘If I could just get back to prison.’ I had peace for two years there. I was freshly saved. I was singing songs of praise. The environment was so hectic—I saw a lot of gang violence. And I kept thinking, ‘How come no harm is coming to me?’ But I was just trusting in the Lord.”

Jesse couldn’t bring himself to commit a crime to get back into prison. “I figured the next best thing was a long-term residential program,” he said. “I’d been to 30-day, 60-day, 90-day programs—the longest was six months. And they were mostly about medicating you and treating the symptoms.”

Jesse decided to enter the mission’s 10-month Life Recovery Program. “I’m just soaking myself, drenching myself in the word, biblical teachings, prayer,” he said. “I need to really utilize this time. I need to pursue true change, and pray for God to stir that hunger up in me, with no more detours.”

Jesse’s family has been moved by his progress. “My dad is 72, from Guatemala, and he’s seen a lot of tough things,” Jesse said. “Seeing what God has done in my life, he’s back at church. And my mom is so grateful that I’m here. It gives her peace and rest. She says she can hear a change in my voice.”

One seemingly small change in his behavior means a lot to Jesse. “I used to be really on fire for the Lord, jumping and shouting, and the enemy has really put a burden on that,” he said. “I’ve recently been able to lift my hands again at church. It’s not the outward action (that’s important). It’s what’s happening inside that allows me to lift those hands. It’s the Lord lifting me up.”

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