I grew up in St. Petersburg, FL. Most of my early childhood is a blur except a few incidents. One in particular was me playing with Matches. I set my grandmothers chair on fire. I was about 4 yrs old. I was running back and forth to the kitchen with a cup of water. I finally put the fire out but later there was another to be lit. This one was on my back end. This was a day when "Corporal Punishment" was a norm. Unlike our day of "child abuse". I learned a valuable lesson. Do not play with fire or you will be burned. At least I had the wherewithal to get water right?
Most of my memories start at the age of 10. We lived in a community named "Bethel Heights". The year 1988 was the height of the crack cocaine. So many homes in the neighborhood were condemned. They had been raided by a drug task force dubbed the "Green Team". They were cracking down on drug dealers and homes that were used for use. There were so many doors with that "Green Team" sign on them.
For the most part we were oblivious to the drugs outside of the raids and gold chains some of the older boys wore because they sold. Us youngsters were impressed with their clothes, shoes, and jewelry. For the most part it was just admiration but our main thing was football. Our lives revolved around football and the swimming pool during the summer. We didn't care much about anything else.
I can remember promising myself that I would never be caught up in something so worthless. While most kids at the age of twelve were into girls and looking at playboy magazines I always found myself a little different. Not to say I was not into those things but my mind was always on higher things. I always wanted to write short stories and think of the purpose of this life. "Why am I here"? "What is all of this for"? I followed politics and the Gulf War. At the time Rush Limbaugh had a TV show at the time. I would sit and watch him rant about what ever was on his mind. I lived with my Grandmother at the time and we would sit up late watching crime stories such as “Unsolved Mysteries”. Mornings with her were great I would make a pot of coffee while she cooked. A nice breakfast, conversation and off to school and work. We had good times that I will always cherish. She motivated me to be all that I can. Everyone knew I was her favorite. There's nothing wrong with that right? I believe she had high hopes for me and was hard on me at times because of it. She would not let me settle for less. I remember distinctly telling her I would never get into the drug scene. I miss those days of innocence.
My passion in life has ever been the sciences and God. Some seem to think these can not coexist but I say different. For God is a master at the sciences and mathematics. This is how the Earth sits in a perfect position in relation to its sun. Is that not perfection when it comes to Math? Everything we see is a testament to his Knowledge and Wisdom. I wrote a lot of short stories at the time. I was always pretty outgoing but at the same time a very thoughtful person. I always felt like a “stranger” in a strange land. I have felt that I really did not belong.
My first real taste of the danger happened when I was 12. I was running around the yard with my little brothers and all of a sudden we heard shooting. We saw a white van driving slowly shooting at the individuals at the park my mom lived across from, and they were shooting back. My brother and I were trying to get into the house. He was running and I drug him to the ground. We crawled all the way to the back door to get inside. There was only one person shot. He happened to just be there picking his nephew up. His nephew is “Winky Wright” the boxer. I can recall vividly hearing his cries for help, “help me I’m dying, please help”. The paramedics were too late. He died right there. There were bullet hole in my mom’s house also.
What I am about to speak of is very personal and some may not understand. In fact I may have only told 3 or 4 people of it. Some may not understand even as I did not while it was occurring. I believe in both a Heavenly Father and his antithesis Lucifer. We have been taught that Lucifer can disguise himself as an angel of light. He was able to do this to me while I was 13. I do not recollect the exact timing of the year when these encounters happened. I just remember "talking to myself" but suddenly realizing that it was not me. This was a time in my life where you would not hear me swear. That was something I just did not do. These "thoughts" would use words I knew could not be from the "light" but I can remember distinctly the voice stating, "It’s okay to use these words and people are too strict. Jesus does not mind these things." These conversations went on for months while during this time I thought I was insane I know better now. The last time I heard from it I was told that he must leave. I was at this time accustomed to him, I asked why and where and was told, "My time here is up and that I must go help others". I never heard from him again. That was 18 years ago. I know some may not believe or think it is a lie, but I know and I know God knows it and I know now that it was not of God. I can only point you towards Job though my situation was not as dramatic. God allowed this being to try me though I was so young.
During this time I developed habits that would lead me down a path I would never dreamed of going. A dark life became mine.
At the age of 15 my mom decided to move to Georgia. My stepfather was from there and they decided to try it out for a while and just for us to get to know them. I decided I would go with them. It was my freshman year of high school. This was such a drastic change. I'd worked all that summer and was able to buy my own clothes, the name of the county was "Randolph", and the high school was "Randolph Clay". Everyone in this small town knew me. This was very overwhelming. It was though I was a commodity. I was a novelty from a big city and according to them I spoke "proper". Yeah right!
This was all so great, girls, plenty of friends, and the clothes that I wanted. It was a dream, like I was on top of the world. It did not take long before it all came crashing down. One day I got word that my mother was in an argument with a neighbor and it had become very heated. I heard there was a gun involved. My initial thought was someone was about to shoot my mother. When I finally arrived on the scene I saw something I thought I would ever see from my mother. She is someone who would give everything to a stranger. There was a young man whose parents had kicked him out. My mom got word of it and he was living with us no questions asked. He was a brother to us. He lived there for a few weeks. My mom had a pistol in her hand threatening to shoot another person. I had to talk her down off this cliff. "Mom, if you do this what will happen to your kids".
This brought her down to earth but a little too far. She fell apart. I am a 15 year old boy chasing his mom down a railroad track while nearly the whole town is watching, what a blow to my pride. I had two thoughts, how will I get her back in shape and then what about my impeccable reputation. The latter was a little short-sided but again I was 15. Finally that nightmare was over. Only for a short while though.
Those same railroad tracks would prove to put my reputation in another compromising position. I would have to drag my 6.3 foot stepfather down these tracks along with my mom and cousin. This was absolute dead weight. There were people laughing while we struggle one or two feet at a time. I felt that I was the man and woman of the house. They just drank way too much. There was a lack of parental oversight. When the cats are away the mice will play. While living there I got hooked up with one individual who was an absolute thief. I did not know this until it was too late.
I was one night talked into breaking into a local store around Christmas. We had it all planned out we would break the front door split up and grab predetermined items. The glass would not break, and we went home. At had been raining that night and we left shoe prints all over the front of the store. It could have been left at that but he and another young man decided to go back later that week and succeeded. I was then woken up that night by my mother and the police. Those two had been caught and implicated me from earlier that week. Though I had not done the deed I was still an accomplice. I spent a week or so in Juvenile Dentition Center. None of the staff could understand while I was there. According to them I was an exceptional kid. I received a sentence of time served a community service.
It did not take me long to wake up but I had to go through two more experiences before I really woke up. First was getting shot at by an older gentleman for fishing on his property. There were 4 of us just having a good time fishing. He gave us no warning. We saw a truck and a rifle. He just started shooting. We all are on the ground freaking out because you can literally hear the bullets fly by. He stopped and called us out. Took all of our fishing equipment and sent us on a long walk home. I am short (always have been) and he thought I was the youngest though I was not. He asked why I let these older boys talk me into coming on his property. We did not know anyone owned it or cared. It was just fish!
The second incident was in my mind more of an impact and more frightening because of the feeling I received shortly thereafter. One of my friends had a cousin from Valdosta, GA. If you know much about this city you will know the gang problem, at least at that time. He came down to "initiate" us. We had two choices, either to be "beat in" where a few others would all fight you and you had to survive or to be hit in your chest 6 times by the "OG" (Original Gangster ) there is a hierarchy and this was his title, Of course we all chose the 6 punches in the chest.
There was a circle made with symbols within it and you had to stay within the boundaries of the circle. After the initiation you were taught certain signs and keywords. In fact there was a "bible" that they had. When we were done I had a feeling that at the time I could not explain. It was so dark. This feeling was so evil I could not shake it. The only thought I had was to run to the church on the hill. They happened to be having a night service. I dare not go in thinking I would bring an evil upon them. I just sat outside and prayed that God would please remove this feeling, again I knew it was evil it was so, so dark.
I met "Brother Brooks". He was a sophomore who always had a tie and slacks at school along with his worn out bible. I loved him though he was "hell fire and brimstone". He took me under his wing. That church I ran to he happened to belong to. He always sat by my at least for a moment at lunch until the other guys ran him off. He would do his rounds in the lunchroom with his trusty bible. You know he was devout no pretentiousness in him. He finally invited me to a conference his church was having. He explained there would be pretty, virtuous girls. Well that got me and another friend to agree. I later joined.
My membership in that church was short lived though. The initial reason was that there was something missing. I could not quite put my hand on it. It took me years before I understood what I was looking for. We were a family that went to church together when I was 7 to 8 years old. We stopped when I was 8. The sermon was again as always it seemed, Hellfire and Brimstone. After service I asked my mom if I could get baptized. She was excited and we approached the female minister and explained that I wanted to be baptized. She proceeded to grill me about why I wanted to be baptized. My 8 year old answer was that I did not want to go to hell and I wanted to follow Jesus. Needless to say it never happened. We as a family never attended church again, we could not understand the sermon and then the denial of a sacred ordinance. I was baptized by a group who came around on a bus to take kids to their church. That was a great feeling that day. I thought my life would change and I would be a very righteous person, how naive I was. I did not recognize that there would be no support from the family, neither from the Church that did the baptism. I think their intentions were good, but feel far short of what we kids needed. Afterwards if someone would curse on Sunday I would remind them of what day it was and to never use His name in vain. I was so serious about the change.
The second reason for my departure of this church was a girl...Isn't that always what it is about. She was considered a “harlot” by Brother Brooks... He warned me that she was working for the devil. It was all fun and games for me at the time. I thought he was overreacting seeing that she did belong to the church. But he was right. As soon as I stopped going she stopped coming around. She was not the reason though. The church lacked something.
The way the Holy Spirit was “manifested” in the congregation was highly disturbing to me. Once an older woman "caught the Holy Ghost", and I asked a fellow parishioner what was wrong with her she was on the floor having convulsions with her eyes rolled in the back of her head. I thought to myself if that is the Spirit I want nothing to do with it. Why would God have you in a trance and when you came to, you had no news or revelation to share. What purpose was this? I left the church.
We eventually ended up back home and this is where deep darkness engulfed me. I was still 15 years old just about to turn 16. We were living on 16th Ave in a duplex. We lived next door to distance relatives. I guess they were more friends of the family. The family that just had moved out of the adjoining apartment had two older boys about my age. They happened to be in the neighborhood that night. I was speaking to a girl one of them liked. A fight ensued where I had to defend myself from two brothers while my cousin sat and watched. I handled them both to the point where they wanted to quit but would not release me because of fear. My mother came running out of the house with a very large knife. They let me go instantly. Neither my mom nor I could not understand why my cousin did not help. Because he did not help me I gained a Friend, no a Brother name June. He was a great example to me. He was married with two kids. That was something so rare in my hood. I did not have a father he'd left a long time ago. My stepfather drank too much for me to care to reach out to him. In a sense I was the man of the house at 16. How does a Man leave his kids to rot in the cesspool of life in the Ghetto while he and his family live a middle class life in the suburbs? I will admit that I spent a little time with his family but my brothers never accepted me as one of them. He was never around even when I was over there. I remember him picking me up once to go and watch a movie named “Like Father Like Son” of all titles. I would never be “like” him. The one thing he taught me was to never leave your children in this position. I made a promise to my children at that time, no matter how their mother and I felt about one another they would always have me as a resource. That was the only thing he taught me.
My wife has continued to try to reconcile this relationship and yet the man refuses to answer one simple yet tough question, Why, Where were you? That's all I want to know. Let's start there Dad. I have a hatred for the man right now. There is no love. To quote one of my favorite artists Tupac: "Now ain't nobody tell us it was fair. No love for my daddy cause the coward wasn't there. He passed away and I didn't cry cause my anger wouldn't feel for stranger. They say I'm wrong and I'm heartless but all along I was looking for a father he was gone. I hung around with the thugs and even though they sold drugs they should a young brotha love".
He just up and left me to figure it out on my own. But June was a man who loved his wife and kids and though they had great trials he would never leave neither her nor them alone. I love him for that. He taught me how to be a man. I was 16 he was 22. He let me into his home and his life. It was far from perfect but he encouraged me to stay in school. He would ask me everyday, "Did you go to school"? I would lie at times till eventually I all together dropped out.
I will never forget Mrs. Adcock stating she would not sign my intent to transfer papers unless I promised her I would not drop out. She was so good to me. She was my Language Arts teacher and she had great confidence in me. In fact she would stop the class 5 minutes early everyday for me and another classmate we called "Kemp" because he looked like Shawn Kemp the Basketball Player. We had a skit everyday we would do either a dance or some sort of short play. She was so good to me. I had no real intent of returning to school. I lied to a woman that had nothing but my best intentions in mind. I have thought about her often wishing I could see her now.
I dropped out and really dove into the life of a Thug. I became a monster! There is a saying "idleness is the devil's workshop". I had nothing but time on my hands. I needed money and I remembered those "older boys" who had all those nice things and I wanted that. I broke that promise I made to myself. I smoked marijuana, drank, and made money. This was so to just easy...sit around and let the dollars roll in.
I could not hide from my thoughts though, my true self. I could not hide from the whisperings from a higher power reminding me of my true nature. My true nature was good, but that nature could not feed my desire for money, and respect. There is nothing like having respect where I come from. Because of my physical stature I needed that respect. I needed people to know that I was out of my mind and would do anything to get what I wanted and needed. I quickly gained this from my three good friends. It happened when I saw an acquaintance from school in whom I had lent my bicycle to and had not seen him for a while. This was my chance! I took no time to jump all over him, no questions asked and left him there wondering what had happened to Marlow. What had happened to the nicest guy in school who would do anything for anyone? After all I had given him the bike to get around. I gained immediate love and that respect from my older friends. I was on my way. The power was about to consume the goodness. I became "Low". I dropped Marlow, and became "Low"!
I could not allow my newly gained respect to diminish I had to keep the up charade. No one could know how much I really hated myself so I was always the first to jump on a situation that would give me that notoriety. We were all over any and everyone who would get in my way. You were in danger if you disrespected me now. I had no tolerance for that. We did so much dirt, that I am often afraid to return home with my family, my little ones. There is so much, and many I do not remember and fear they will remember me. We never stay in St. Petersburg when I come home, and we have a designated time and place, I do not like to deviate from the plans. Jus a little sight seeing just family or another city to see Florida. This is how bad it, no I was.
I finally had somewhat of a wake up call when I was a victim of a setup. We received a call from a friend who had been selling crack to someone, but at the time they had no "product". They knew of our willingness to do things out of the ordinary of doing "business". We rented a truck. When I speak of renting, under these circumstances we would give someone crack to borrow their vehicle. We were waiting forever for this gentleman to arrive, our plan was simple just to put the gun in his face and demand that the money be handed over. To our surprise glass was being broken from the back of the home and a van pulling up to the front. The words, “Green Team” were being shouted. Yes the same task force who had cleaned up our streets so well was still in action 7 years later. When they finally had everyone in the home in handcuffs the warrant was read. The person they had been selling to was an undercover cop. They read every $20 bill, with its serial numbers to us. It took forever. Dates were given and all.
Kilo had the pistol; I had the keys to the rental truck. The owner had reported it stolen because we were late getting his car back. I was taken to the police station where my mom, again had to pick me up. Nothing I could say or do would let her understand I did not steal the truck, finally those charges were dropped. But I had to get out of this maze though.
Hope came in the form of a commercial. Yes...a way out I thought, "Mom, I saw a commercial for Job Corps". I was on my way within about two months. It would be an escape for me. Surprisingly the four of my circle and my mom thought it would be a good idea for me.
I was not going to mess this up. I took the preliminary GED test and passed with flying colors. I arrived there in October and had my GED in November. Most of my class (the group who came in at same time) thought I was a "nerd". In a way I was. I was smart both book wise and very astute when it came to the streets, but they could not know it. There were many choices to make when it came to an apprenticeship. I chose Painting. My classmates where taking their opportunity lightly, not I. I was 17 and serious about changing my life. Some were there due to legal issues I was there to change.
I was considered a teachers pet. We were required to scrape, tape, drywall and repaint our classroom. I essentially did it all alone. My teacher had nothing but good to say. The average time to complete the apprenticeship was about 8 or 9 months, I was done in 5. My teacher became my mentor. I let him in on a lot of what was going on back home. So was my residential adviser. I was still only 17 and could not be "placed" like my older friends and peers. I had no understanding or coherence when it came to this. I thought I was here to escape, besides I was more mature than most of the people there. I was counseled to stay and take another course until I was 18, NO! I even tried to join the military and that option failed. I was devastated that I had come all the way to Kentucky and still no help. Oh how I wish I would have taken that advice to stay. It was only 3 more months after all.
I returned to Florida, and to that beast. This time with a vengeance. I had done what was right yet rightness had denied me entrance. I was determined to gain justice against an unjust world. There was no understanding, no reasoning, I did not understand discussion just anger. I was going all out like I had done when I tried to change. I truly gave it my all now I would give evil my all.
It took very little time to gain the ultimate respect, the doorway to “manhood”. A sort of ritual like bar mitz vah. I had Just turned 18 and was caught selling crack. It was my first offense so I was released under my own supervision. I refused to show up for court, but I had become a man. It is a paradox. I go to jail and am embraced by society, my best friends and close associates. Wow, what a world. What an environment. What an atmosphere for a young man to grow up. My actions had a devastating effect on my mom and siblings. The apartments we lived in had a zero tolerance clause. If anyone in the family received a felony all must go. I tried to convince them that I did not live there, but to no avail. I had my family scrambling for a place to live. This was a nice place for them and I had ruined it. How selfish could I be? How foolish, though now I was a "man".
There was blamed to be shared although with my "parents". For example my 18th birthday party was wild. My mom and I went to Winn-Dixie and filled the grocery cart with all types of beer. Top to bottom and underneath. Everyone who came bought liquor including grandma. This was my world. Where was my mom, stepfather or biological father? Where were they, hey were drunk along with me or had flat out abandoned me!
I needed a place of my own after my second arrest. Plain clothes showed up at my grandmother's door after a long night of me working. There was no need for running, I had violated the terms of my original release. I received a 3 year sentence of probation. I knew I would not make it that long. I could not smoke or drink??? No way. That was my only real escape from my reality. I showed up once, only to meet my probation officer. It took no time for another warrant to be issued. I hid for a while and had plenty of fun while I waited for my sure arrest. One of my circle of four Kilo and I decided to get an apartment together. This would be one while ride.
We opened up shop. We let people know that we were open for business. Our apartment was very busy at night. It was a one bedroom and we shared shifts. One night it was my turn to answer the door all night long, and that's how it was, all night. He took the next night. It was crazy. We lived on grits, eggs and fried chicken. We ate so much chicken we often stated we would grow wings and fly. We had to get a little nutrition so we were talked into bartering for "ensure". That helped supplement our lack of vitamins.
My daily agenda was something like this, cook grits and eggs. Smoke a blunt, drink a beer, and wait for customers. The drinking and smoking continued throughout the day. Essentially there was not a day that went by where we did not smoke or drink. If I went time without self medicating I was absolutely miserable. If money was short we would do what we had to in order to keep our lifestyle including robbing people. I hate to speak of the women that eventually started hanging around. My wife is so pure she waited for her marriage before she would violate her morals. I often feel unworthy of her affection, love, and patience. She is so understanding, a trait that is so rare. Thank you honey!
It was so out of control that one day a women who lived in the home in front of us came upstairs one morning with nothing on but a robe. We were all a little shocked of her forwardness. She was married and lived below us, we would party with them often. This drug would make individuals do the most outrages things in order to get it. I could never understand why one would try it after we understood what it did to good people. It would cause you to steal from your own mother just to get a piece.
I would like to back up just to give you an idea of the devastating affect this drug had on your life. June’s mom, dad, and very beautiful sister were all addicted. Their home for a time was our "trap" meaning where we set up shop. It is a paradox that we would call int the trap. You are indeed trapped and it is like a maze you can not escape. You could trust no one. If his sister came up to you, you could not allow her to touch you. She would always want a "hug" but you would loose your pants if you allowed her to get within five feet of you. She would steal from her own brother. There was so much traffic coming in and out of that apartment. You could not tell who was who. I took it upon myself to man the door strapped with a .38. Again this was needed, I took no nonsense. I can remember a man and woman arguing over a piece of crack they were sharing and it became a pretty serious fight. She was all over him with a milk crate. Never have I saw a woman beat a man so badly, we had to pull her off him. Women would give up their souls for a hit. This was something I believed even at that time was most precious. Morality was lost in a fog of smoke. In my mind sex was okay as long as love was involved, but just to get high was a sad sight. We were always concerned about his sister. If we had not seen her in a while we would always look for her in jail. Hopefully she was there. It is truly a sad commentary on life in the Ghetto. You would have to use judgment and wisdom when dealing with these issues. Always keep yourself clean, and away from these types. Never allow yourself to become swept up by a "harlot". Your life may have been in danger either by a robbery or some communicable disease. You had to learn this early. Crack was so devastating to my people. What a plague on an already downtrodden people. There was always this underlying myth that it was created in a lab to destroy the black race. I think we held on to that folklore so that we did not feel so guilty of taking advantage of the situation.
Not to lead anyone to believe this life was glamorous. There was constant danger, money was not always flowing and I still suffer from those days. I feel I suffer from PTSD. I at times revert back to that "watch your back" way of life. It is hard. I have yet to feel forgiven, how can I be? I feel much like the great Apostle Paul who explained he had a thorn in the flesh. I do not know what his was but mine has something to do with all that I have so far explained.
Finally my day came. One of my friends was drunk and wanted to head home. He lived so far away and we usually traveled by bike, this was a move we used so not to not draw attention from police. Not to be pulled over. They soon caught on to us and I made a friend in "Officer McDonald" we knew each other by name and when we crossed paths I knew the drill. They rode on bikes too. I would be searched. I had to find clever ways to hide my product.
Back to the night. We could not get him to stay. About five minutes later we heard him running upstairs and footsteps following him. Your first thought was to let him in but immediately your street sense kicks in. You can’t let him in. Somehow he got back down the stairs and we watched as they chased him behind the apartment. He was clubbed into a puddle of water and arrested. Kilo and I came to the conclusion that the house was too "hot" meaning being watched heavily by police. We had been watched for no telling how long and to whom we had sold crack. We both had warrants he decided to turn himself in and let the place go before we had gained new charges.
He turned himself in and I wandered the streets wondering where my next meal would come from. I could not go to any of my family, too much shame and pride. So I went from pillow to post just trying to get through another day. People were willing to let me sleep on their floors and take a shower. This to me was so embarrassing. I was homeless! Every now and then I would stop by grandma's house for something to eat or to take a shower. I know she would take me in but I would not bring that evil into her home. I had no way to obtain new product so I had to revert to selling fake crack. This was more dangerous than normal business. You would never sell in the same place twice.
One night in desperation I walked to where we used to live and just sat at the door of a store we would frequent. I saw an older gentleman buying a two liter with a $20 bill. I knew he at least had $18 dollars left. I had no intention of hurting him so I watched which pocket he placed his change. I had to think quickly. I followed him down a dark street ran behind him stuck my hand in the pocket and grabbed the cash. I was so hungry and went straight to grab a dinner. I even bought a dinner for another individual who was in my same position. I knew that night as I prayed no harm had come to that gentleman that I had to change. Real change was on its way.
It was February 1996 and I was in the old area selling fake product again and was stopped by a cop. I was caught. I talked with him the whole way to 49th street. I thanked him because I knew I was going to spend a lot of time this time. I actually expected to be sent to prison. I figured I would get 1 or 2 years. This would allow me plenty of time to get my head on straight.
While I was in jail I had a dream that would forever change my life. I was 19 years old, I am now 31 and will recount this dream to you. It was so powerful that I will never forget it. As I walked past the statue of the virgin Mary holding in her arms the Child who would save us all, I heard a voice stating I was to testify of him. In the background of this scene I could hear cheering so loud that it shook the building I was in. As I approached the window the cheering became louder and the earth shook. I looked out of the window and saw a man dressed in robes. The more he spoke the more commotion the earth produced as well there was a great sea of people. There began to be lightening, thundering, hail, rain, and strong winds. I was extremely scared when I turned around I noticed there were others with me, we all had fear on our faces. I told them that all we needed to do was to pray. They all said you do it for us. After some apprehension I did. As soon as "Amen" was said all was well. We all went back to that window, it was like spring...birds chirping and the sun shining upon us. I turned and said, "I told you, all we needed to do was pray". They were pleased. I woke up and heard, "you are to be a preacher". I was in jail! I knew nothing about Jesus except that I believed in the stories I had heard. I knew nothing of God besides I was in jail. I got to right to work reading the scriptures and was set out to do what was commanded. I knew the voice. It felt so familiar.
My first contact with another set of scripture named "The Book of Mormon" was given to me by a young man who was in jail for a frivolous joke he had played. I look back and know God used his bad choice to bless the life of another who too had made many bad choices. He gave me no info about the book but that it was written by the Indian's ancestors. He said that he had seen me reading all the time and thought I would enjoy it.
That I did. I read and read. It felt so good. It read easier than the bible but yet sounded just like it. I read and felt a great spirit that came from it until my pride stepped in the way to my conversion and salvation. I read:
2 Ne. 5: 21, 23-24
21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.
23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.
You must understand that I am a very proud black man and could not take such a "racist" comment. There was nothing he could say that would appease my wrath, my pride, my heritage. I did not understand why he would give me a book that demeaned the color of my skin. I do not use race now because I understand that the skin color is not the, or a curse nor does it apply to the black man. It was simply a mark to set apart the wicked from the righteous among their people not us. So that they would know not to mingle or get caught up in the false doctrines of their wicked brethren. Makes sense now but not that day.
I was offended! I couldn’t believe someone would be so thoughtless and arrogant.
He and I spent a lot of time together while we served in the kitchen of the county jail. He would bare his testimony and would speak of some man named Joseph Smith. I finally asked him, “if this is so true, why are you in here with me?” He begged me not to judge his church and that book based on his actions. How could I not? You believe in it why not live it?
He left months before I did. I spent 5 months of a 9 month sentence. Released from bondage I was. I had made a covenant with God that I would be a changed man. I made promises that I would never sell drugs again, and that I would do all in my power to find Him.
I was released and again embraced by so many. I came out with a clear goal in mind, find a church, become a “preacher”. While I was gone June had gone in “business” with someone he’d recently met. They had purchased a large amount of marijuana and opened up shop at a local gas station where we would hang out. This was the perfect spot for them because of the location and there were video games outside to cover their true intent. My friend and I would sit for hours and just talk while playing cards. I would mention here that slowly I became discouraged and began to drink and smoke again. Though I still had a clear goal. We would talk about all that I had learned while incarcerated. We talk from religion to dinosaurs. While hanging at the gas station one night I noticed that my friend’s partner was behaving in a way as though he wanted my friend to fail. He would jump in the way while a transaction was being made. I could not handle this.
I without thought reneged on my promise to never sell again, I had to. I could not sit by and let him treat by boy like that. I asked my friend to give me his product and I did the same to him. New found respect came in an instant. There it was again…the “r” word. I would have become a monster had it not been for “The Woman”.
I met her one night while taking her order at the fast food chain I worked for. I had never before felt an instant connection to anyone like I did at that time. Somehow my manager at the time knew her and as they spoke, I looked, stared and knew she would one day be “mine”. When she left I asked my manager who she was. He gave me her name and I told him the same, “she will be mine”. I had no idea who she was or even if I would ever see her again, but I told everyone about her. I thought of her for weeks, everyday. I was taught that if you “ask you shall receive”. I asked often. I wanted to know her because I could not forget her.
One day she showed up to work with the uniform on. I could not believe it. I wasted no time in my approach. She agreed. We spent so much time together we had a great relationship and I was able to play my “Superman” role because of all the issues her life had to offer. She had a son and I considered him my son, I loved to buy things for him. At the time she never knew about this dark past that I was trying to hide. She was my way out. Someone who inspired me to want more, to do better. Our time together was precious and our conversations were noble. I started to really search again. Me and June tried a lot of churches but could not find something that felt right. She was in my life for such a short period of time but she will never know what she did for me. She up and left…I could never get a real reason for her departure. It was so unexpected.
She pushed me to make a real decision. Did I want to live in darkness or would I try to find the light. There was so much pressure on me. I wrote poems, I wrote words of wonder, I begin to ask more in depth questions. Really what was the meaning of it all? Why do nice guys like me lose? I was so torn so depressed. I for a short while decided to return to the monster. But I knew I couldn’t she had changed me along with two incidents that would forever push me towards the light.
There are three incidents that I know where HE was ready for me: I was at June’s house we had again been talking for hours. I decided I was going to go over to the party, essentially there was a party at this home every night. So much so that the boyfriend of the house came into $7,000 in a lawsuit. He bought a car for maybe $2,000 and the rest was spent on liquor and drugs. His $5,000 was gone in a month. I do not remember much of that month but that I was there everyday after work.
I got into my car and heard an audible voice, “Marlow do not go over there”! It was so powerful that I could not deny it. I got out of the car and knocked back on his door. I told him what had happened and we just decided to hang out at his place. I awoke at about 1:30 am to my pager vibrating. I was still quiet under the influence but knew the code. It was one of the four of us, my old roommate. I called him, and he was hysterical. I could barely understand because I just knew he was lying, he just wanted me to pick him up to take him more than likely to a female’s house. But he said it again, “Low, my brother has been shot, please come get me!” “Man, stop lying…are you serious”. He asked me to come over to the house and see. The scene was like a movie. Blood everywhere, police tape, bullet holes in widows and on the sides of the brick home. He jumped in my car and we took off. The sad part of it all is that he could not even wait for the police or ride with his only brother to the hospital because of a warrant he had.
We went to see him the next day. Tubes everywhere. He’d been hit 5 times in the stomach by a tech-nine. He was shot by a neighbor’s friend who did not understand how we partied. We would be very rowdy and wrestle around. They had been in the adjacent house snorting cocaine which made him paranoid to what was happening next door and just came out shooting.
His brother had died numerous times that night before they could finally stabilize him. They just threw him in the car and drove to “Bayfront Medical” They said he just asked if they would just let him take a nap, he was sleepy. Slapping him all the way to the hospital to keep him awake (alive).
Who knows, that may have been me had I not taken head to that voice.
I know He has been watching over me. And I am sure I made it difficult because of my actions. One day it was Kilo’s and my turn for the beer run. I had my normal route I would take to the store. He was yelling that I not go that route and while we were arguing I passed the turn anyway. The very next intersection a Jeep ran the stop sign. All I can tell you is that there was a automobile coming towards us on the left and he was coming from my right. When it was all said an done my car was facing the correct way in the other lane and he missed us. We all got out of the car even those behind me. The first thing everyone said was how did I do that? I will tell you that I did not do it. Somehow my car was lifted and turned out of harms way. He had a passenger who was sober but had refused to let him drive. We hugged and the driver of the other car said, “God was with us tonight”! That humbled me. When I got back into the car my friend asked again how I did it. I didn’t do it. I had freaked out and let go of the wheel. It was not me that had done it. I was done though at this time I had been studying daily from the Bible. Here was my schedule; wake up smoke a blunt, read the Bible (I always thought marijuana made me more in tune or intelligent). I would share what I’d learn that day to anyone who would listen, then I would party all over again. Repeat schedule the next day.
I saw a commercial. It was a free video. “The Lamb of God”, hey I couldn’t go wrong with a free video about the Man I had for so long searched. No shipping and handling charge…Wow! At this time I had come to the conclusion that the church I was reading about was not on Earth today. Where are the Apostles, the Prophets? “Mom why does the bible not speak about America”? Does God not love us enough to give us Prophets? No one could answer those questions satisfactorily for me. So there was no true church. I told Jesus that I could not find His church because it did not exist in the same form he had created. I told him I hope he would judge me on my heart but that I was done searching and hoped he would forgive me at the last day.
Oh how wrong I was. Missionaries would prove that, there are answers to these questions. I remember that day so well. I just happen to be home because I had no clean clothes. I was out in the garage washing them and saw two white boys riding bikes. I had a feeling for them that I could not explain. I chalked it up to feeling bad for them having to ride bikes through my neighborhood. They passed the house then knocked on the door with my video. They were just boys. I had expected them to be old and wanted to come over to tell me how I was going to “hell” if I did not join their way of thought. I did not want to deal with that. I was dismayed to see two young men at my door. Immediately I asked them “how can I do what you are doing”. They looked at each other in dismay. I figured they had never heard that before. I had no shirt on with a huge afro. I did not have the look of someone remotely interested in God. But He knew and knows my heart.
I invited them in. We had a prayer and they started off about a man named Joseph Smith that same name I’d heard months earlier. They explained that he had an experience where both Jesus and God had appeared to him, and had a great work for him. One question was answered. God had indeed called a prophet. The feeling was so sweet. They asked how I felt. I told them I knew what it was. It was the Holy Spirit. I knew the spirit had to be different from those earlier “experiences” I witnessed. This was such a sacred moment that I could not deny what was next. They pulled out that little blue book, “The Book of Mormon”. They asked if I had heard of it. I let them in on my first experience, but I repeat that this moment was so intense and sacred that I had to give it another chance. They gave me a passage at the end of the book: Moroni 10: 3-5, Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
They explained the source of the book and challenged me to try it once more. I started from the beginning again. I could not put the book down. I must have read for 3 or 4 hours. I read until my eyes crossed. I knew it was true. The referenced scripture tells you to ask if it is “not true” I needed not ask… I knew. I knew the Spirit had manifested to me that all what I had learned and read was right. All of the questions were answered.
I still had many issues that would hold me back in the meantime. I had women in my life that felt they could not let me go. I had legal issues that had to be dealt with and just my overall morals needed some changing. This was very difficult.
I lost contact briefly when we moved. But The Lord did not give up on me. Somehow new missionaries from the local singles ward contacted me. Oh how I was still interested. I had two more incidents that let Him know I was indeed ready for change. First was after a night of partying. I had to walk home and it was a long walk. I was under the influence and was so disappointed that change had not come yet. I cried all the way home beginning for his help. I could not do it, I needed divine help and only he could do it. The second came in the form of a three day stay in the county jail due to driving without a valid license. This stay was different. It was so unfamiliar and foreign, for I had found the true Society, the Heavenly Society. I looked at that stay as Him showing me what my life would be like had I not done my part.
I committed to baptism days after my release. You should have seen all of the temptations. Women that I had not seen in years came out of no where. “Friends” stepping up the peer pressure to drink and smoke. I had never seen anything like it. The temptations where at times overwhelming. I was not perfect and had to postpone things for a short while. I finally opened my eyes to what was going on and made my stand. I was reborn on September 6, 1998. I was baptized on my sister’s birthday. We now share dates of birth.
There are so many things that needed to be overcome even after the baptism. There was so much to forgive myself of. I still deal with those issues. Not much has changed as I recall these thoughts.
I love the thought of baptism. There is so much imagery going on, so many allegories. First, you die spiritually, and leave that old man in the water, a watery grave. You are brought forth in newness. Much like a child is in a watery womb and born of water. You are totally immersed meaning that you are to totally immerse yourself into this work. We do not simply “sprinkle” you nor say there is no need. The great prophet Nephi stated that if the Lamb of God being sinless needed baptism than how much more then we who have sin to do so. This is no “toe dipping” experience. It is total commitment and devotion. The Christ asked of his followers to give all that was required to follow him.
Some of us will give all of our worldly possessions to have that peace only He can provide but they refuse to give what he really desires, to give up all of our sins. Your Heart, Might, Mind, and Strength. Everything else already belongs to him. All we can really offer are ourselves. One night on my way to an institute (religious study class) I saw my brother and cousin running towards the house and right behind him about 20 people. I didn’t know what to think. They were all trying to beat them up. I told them that they may as well back off. They provoked me, it was still very easy to do, it was not that much time from my baptism. I just told them to wait right there. I needed to change my clothes. We fought all of them and came out ahead. They decided it was not worth it. It was crazy, I did not understand how we got out of that and in fact caused them to back down. They just gave us all respect and left. I left for Institute and left St. Petersburg for good. I understood that they only way I could change were to get away. I would be consumed had I not. I moved just far enough to be close to home but far enough not to deal with all of the issues that faced me there.
During my waiting period of preparing myself for my mission call it took longer than I expected. There were set backs and doubts about my worth. While during this time period I continued to have many more dreams that I can recount. I will later on in another chapter recount those.
I finally got my mission call. I dreamed of New York, not so. In fact the papers never came to my home but received a call from my Bishop who lived about 30 miles away. He asked if I wanted to know over the phone or to come over. I wanted to see it on paper. My roommate and I drove out there just dreaming of where the Lord wanted me. Detroit! When I heard the word I had an instant confirmation as if I had always known that’s where I was going. I’ll never forget the words of my Bishop as he hugged me he said, “now you get a chance to teach your people”. Yes I did. The Lord would use me to reach a city that has a large population of blacks. I knew exactly how it was growing up in that environment, there was not much I had not heard nor seen. And no one could ever say I did not “understand” why they could not change. He did indeed use me.
For about the first 3 or 4 months or my mission people would jump in the way of my bike in shock and dismay… “A BLACK MORMON?! That I was and am. I would not hesitate to ask, “was that all you were waiting for? Now will you be baptized?”? Of course I knew the answer but it allowed for a deeper dialogue about the church and why I chose it. I was able to accomplish things other missionaries could not do. Streets that had been tract over and over would finally become productive. People would let us in just for the singular fact that I looked like them, and not the clean cut white young man that may have been the “Feds”. That’s what they thought of us at times. There was a lot of respect for us we had been around for many years.
I had been highly prepared all my life. But most of the preparation came in a short period of time. I spent much of my time with the Elders who baptized me. In fact we were together nearly everyday all day. When at times I would wonder why I was not yet serving my own. I would receive Priesthood blessings for comfort and advice. I was once told, “there are souls, that have not yet prepared themselves for the gospel and I would have to wait until they were ready”. Wow, I thought to myself. It was not my worthiness but that there was a sure plan for others I would meet.
I am a person with realistic goals and asked my first companion what were the average baptisms for a missionaries. He told me 2. Two, I thought to myself. That is one a year. For me that was unacceptable. He and I were a perfect fit. He was my trainer but was quite quiet, while I was very outgoing. He taught me a lot about just having a great work ethic and obedience to the laws and commandments. I want to thank him for that. I was way to overzealous and he would keep me grounded. My most memorable experience with him was a day we were tracting. We had run into a Jehovah’s Witness who would not have anything to do with us. She became very irate and disrespectful. We both felt very “impressed” to say things with “authority” The authority we had been granted. When we were done with what we stated to her, her tongue was stopped as to where there was no utterance. It was a powerful witness to us both that we were indeed on the Lord’s errand.
I had a very fulfilling mission my “two” baptisms happened in November 2002. I had been out only 3 months. I could not believe the change I’d seen in this family. They were on the verge of divorce yet the gospel had the power to bond them in love once more. Everyone who met them loved that couple. They were so inspirational. Though by the end of my mission they were not as active as I and the Lord had hoped. This is what I mean when I state the Lord demands a lot from us but we must press on.
In my selfishness I was concerned that my “two” had happened so early in my mission. This would not be the case though. I had great success most of the success came when my companion and I where “one”, when we were obedient to the commandments.
The blessing that I received was manifested while I was out for a little over a year. I met a Woman who had been “clean” for the exact amount of time to the month. She had been living a rough life and had finally gotten herself into a position to overcome her addictions. She was the one who was not yet prepared.
I had many experiences like that those two years. Wednesday 9/12/2009 we were riding our bikes and we happened to pass a young lady that was just getting off the bus and was crying. I simply asked if she was okay. She grabbed me and began to sob uncontrollably. She said she had been giving a date rape drug and did not know what was wrong with her. We did all we could to try to get her home though it was miles away. I remember her quoting scripture like she had studied forever. She was falling to the ground and grabbing my leg, begging me not to leave her. I assured her many times I would not. Many people stopped by to ask if they could drive her home. Most were men and we said no, we could not leave her in the hands of a man. Finally a female stopped and asked us to bring her to her apartment. We called the ambulance and police. She ran out of the womans house and I had to chase her down and lay on her in the grass until the police arrived. I had to calm her by whispering in her ear as we laid there in the grass.
Finally the police arrived. Between that time and us laying on the ground she managed to let us know what her address was. She lived outside of our area and we sent the Elders in her area over to follow up and make sure she was okay. I will never forget her screaming for us not to allow the cops to take her, and her looking back at us as the pulled away. The following Sunday she and her mom both came to church. We learned that her blood alcohol level was near deadly. They were both baptized in weeks. I always taught after that day was to do the simple things and great things will happen. I simply asked if she was okay. Many things like that happened while serving.
These were the best two years of my life up to that point. This is where I met my Eternal Companion. She came out six months after I. We had become very good but appropriate friends while we served. I must tell you though the second time I met her she walked up to me and said, “Elder Randolph, I hate you”! I said, “Sister, I don’t even know you”. She explained that when I left the area she came into many had missed me and spoke highly of me. She had just become irritated with it all. We still have a great laugh about it.
We left the mission the same day and I figured we would just keep in touch via technology, though we had become very good friends. I went to St. Petersburg, FL, her to Farmington, UT. Coming home was very difficult. I had been in a bubble for two years, no TV, Radio, nothing secular outside of 9/11. I came home to what I thought was Hell. My mom had not changed a bit. She still had the act going as if she was 19. Partying, and “clubbing” still. One night her and my aunt showed up late and they had the most vulgar and base conversation I thought I had ever heard. I made the decision right then and there to get out of there. Not just the house but I was leaving St. Petersburg. I had very little money and was going to jump on Greyhound and take it to Utah. My Mission President had set up a college fund for less fortunate missionaries returning home. I thought I would try a school in Utah.
I didn’t have to take Greyhound another Brother in my local congregation was heading out and wanted someone to accompany him. He said he would by all the gas if I would help drive. Wow, what a blessing, in fact I drove most of the way. Two-Thousand miles! We went none stop except to see a few church history sites. We took a little over three days. My wife’s family had dinner waiting on us that day. We just wanted a shower. He left I stayed there that night. I would not see him again but I thank him for his help. I was in love almost immediately, the love we had as missionaries dissipated and something new was there. We spent so much time together, until I came to the conclusion that I wanted to marry my best friend.
I proposed January 1, 2003 at about 12:01 am. I had nothing, in fact I had to borrow the money for the ring. I figured if she loved me with nothing we could make it if we ever came into a position of having something. We had our issues almost instantly but we pushed through them. I had my own doubts. I was so back and forth until I knew for sure she was to be the mother of my children. There were many who disapproved of our marriage. I will never forget my promise I made to myself years earlier, that I would never leave the church because someone “offended” me. I made that promise because before and during my mission I heard that excuse so often. I thought to myself that would the same individual stop showing up to work because a co-worker “offended” them. There is no way. The problem lies in unrealistic expectations we place on our brothers and sisters. We are all at church because we are not perfect, if we were we would be “caught up” like Elijah and the whole city of Enoch. The Bishop of the congregation we were moving into after our wedding who I was meeting with just to get to know him. The first words out of his mouth were, “I don’t agree with interracial marriages”. Much like the President of the United States, you respect the office of President regardless of how you feel about the person holding the office. I respect his office but his views are not in harmony with the Gospel. I just chuckled and told him I did not care how he felt about MY marriage. I would take her to the temple and we would be sealed forever.
We have had many trials in our marriage but somehow have managed to keep our promise to each other. I really believe it is because of the power which bound us that day. We were given promises and we have been blessed by the Lord to help us stay committed to our relationship.
The kids came fast; in fact we had no plans for a while. We wanted to both finish school first but both had an experience about our son Nathan. Mine happened at work in the library while I was putting books away. Much like those inspired voices I have heard before, I had heard, “you need to have a son…Now”. It took quite a while before I could get the courage to tell Melissa. When I finally got the nerve she too had felt the same. No sooner then we got off birth control we were pregnant with a “boy”.
I am that rose that grew from a crack in the concrete. Under the most difficult of environments but yet with a few drops of rain and a little light, I came forward and grew with bruised petals.