This is the story of Alfonso R. Garcia, a young man raised in the suburbs of Southern California who went from gang member, to gang leader on the streets, to an organized crime boss inside the California State penitentiary system. It is also the story of a young man named Brian Drake, an extreme sports professional traveling the world in pursuit of adventure, who reached out to him and formed a bond that would completely change both of their lives.
The oldest of three children in a working class family, Al found his identity in the street gang that taught him not only how to survive the drug wars raging around him on the streets of LA, but to become fully immersed in that brutal business as a leader. Extortion, robbery, gang warfare, and gang politics became his way of life as he emerged into adulthood. Showing no fear, he did not even let his short stature prevent him from carving out a reputation as a cold blooded adversary.
But with the struggles to control the drug business came the fight against an addiction to the very substance that provided his power. A ruined family life and crumbling relationships led Al down a dangerous vortex where one disastrous episode after another caused him to form a desperate plan for escape, a series of robberies that would set him up with enough money to take his wife and children and flee to somewhere he hoped they would find peace.
His dreams were cut short when the FBI and Major Crimes Unit from LA surrounded him in a little house in Tennessee where he surrendered after a tense gun battle ended in a standoff. He found himself back in the LA County jail facing 19 life counts and 72 felony charges that ended in a 35 year sentence.
The anger inside him did not subside though, and he turned his sentence into an opportunity to continue his rampage from within the confines of the massive prison system. Organizing hits, managing the street trade of drugs, and building his reputation as a brutal and aggressive leader in the gang were all part of Al’s ambitious strategy as he was moved from one institution to another. His criminal activity as well as his frequent confrontations with authority figures eventually led to an indeterminate sentence in the SHU, solitary confinement.
Brian was also committed to pursuing a life of adrenaline pumping adventure. Beside being a highly sought after web developer in the booming internet business and creator of licensed music software, he became an expert in martial arts, skydiving, wingsuit flying, and BASE jumping. But these were secondary to his desire to live out his faith. His conviction that he should live the way Jesus taught us to live led him to a website where he could begin corresponding with a prison inmate who had requested contact. Even though Brian moved to France to further his professional career as a BASE jumper, he established a regular habit of writing to Al and sharing his thoughts as well as his adventures through letters.
Their conversations about life and faith began to stir in Al a long-felt desire that went back to his childhood. His grandmother had introduced him to the Bible and God and he made an early profession of faith in Christ as a boy. His correspondence with Brian from his prison cell led him to surrender his anger, his ambition, and his vengeful nature to live the life of a committed follower of Jesus Christ.
Brian’s death in 2014 from a BASE jumping accident had a profound impact on Al. He became more determined than ever to leave the gang lifestyle, give up his use of drugs and live surrendered to Christ. His path since has been marked by renouncement of his gang membership, commitment to his education and a determination to help other inmates transform their lives through faith like he has. He was ordained a prison pastor and conducted weekly worship services in the chapel while studying to receive a Bachelor of Divinity degree. Since his release in the fall of 2020, he founded Redeemed 2020 Ministries and facilitates programs to benefit those incarcerated.
From a life of crime on the streets to the humble prison pastor, the story of Al Garcia demonstrates the power of a redeemed life.
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