Shared from the 4/8/2018 San Antonio Express eEdition

Faith, poetry drive former gang member

He’s inspiring crowds and is releasing book of verses about his turbulent life

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Photos by Robin Jerstad / San Antonio Express News

Young, who joined a gang when he was 16 years old, credits his role as a messenger to Psalm 142:7, the Bible verse he recites every day: “Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me.”

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Former gang member Joshua Young speaks at a Last Chance Ministries. He calls his ministry creative communication in the form of poetry.

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Speaking to the Last Chance Ministries youth group, Young said the teens all have unique gifts based on their minds, wills and emotions.

Sunday mornings at Last Chance Ministries, the Holy Spirit is alive, fueled by shouts of “amen,” rousing hymns and arms lifted to heaven.

At a recent service, whispers of “yes, Jesus” buzzed throughout the 500-member congregation as Pastor Jimmy Robles and communication manager Pamela Allen introduced a self-proclaimed poetic abolitionist to testify about his spiritual resuscitation from the gang life.

Clad in a black short-sleeved shirt, black pants and midtop Chuck Taylor sneakers, Joshua Young recited poems with a hip-hop cadence that brought the flock to its feet in the shadow of a weathered wooden cross.

“Save me from this casket, Lord, and keep death’s hand at bay,” the poet’s voice boomed as he punctuated each verse with a wave of arms tattooed with the Gospel. “Let your light shine in my heart and drive darkness away. Almighty Potter, forget not your hands have formed this clay. Bring my soul out of this prison. Rescue me, I pray.”

Several years ago, Young waged violence and sold drugs in housing projects not far from the West Side church. There were numerous fights and arrests. Now he bared his soul upon a stage, gripping a microphone — his new weapon of choice.

“Put your hands together for this amazing man of God,” Robles said as he wrapped his arms around Young. Several teen congregation members escorted him to their youth ministry classroom, where he testified more about his life.

Recently, the 37-year-old poet sat with Allen at a North Side eatery to discuss his poetic ministry, which he shares in his new book, “Bring My Soul Out of Prison: Soul of Anguish Released.” It features 10 poems in each of the three parts. Young calls his ministry creative communication in the form of poetry.

“God answered my prayers,” he said. “I have to be a voice. I want to create a shelter to save them from people like I was.”

Young credits his role as a messenger to Psalm 142:7, the Bible verse he recites every day: “Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me.”

As a former gang member who is now trying to help his community, he serves as a role model for young people on the West Side, much like members of the Ghost Town Survivors, who escaped the gang life and return regularly to aid families in their old neighborhood.

By the age of 8, Young was embittered by his parents’ divorce. By age 16, he had joined a gang and his outlook on life had grown darker. He went by the alias Lunitic, battling voices in his head that urged him to hurt others and himself. In his 20s, he began rapping in local clubs as Tombstone. Seven years later, his friends nicknamed him Stone, because of his hard ways.

Smitten with a young lady, he followed her to religion and church, but when they broke up, he left the days of worship behind him. He returned to struggling with depression and blaming others for his shortcomings. He found brief stability with the birth of his daughter, a wife and her family, who became his reasons for living.

But there were some issues in the marriage that were hard to overcome, and on Jan. 29, 2012, Young came home to find his wife and daughter gone, along with all their furnishings.

He barricaded the front door of the bare apartment to prevent anyone from trying to stop him from ending his life. He sat on the floor in the dark — a knife in one hand, a 40-ounce can of beer in the other. He was thinking of slitting his wrists. Then he blacked out for three hours. When he regained consciousness, it was 12:53 a.m. the next day and he was still alive.

“That was my God moment,” Young said.

He credited divine intervention with saving his life that night and he began serving God, trying to right the wrongs he had done in the past.

He said it was also divine intervention that connected him to three men of faith who have helped shape his new life.

When he started attending Summit Christian Center on the far North Side, he met Durell Bess, a prayer team co-leader who recognized Young as an up-and-coming Christian in need of support. Bess would visit Young at his home and share his knowledge of the Bible. Sometimes Young wasn’t interested in going over the material, only to realize he’d wound up talking about Scriptures for two hours.

Bess was amazed, not only at hearing the poet deliver his poems but that he had memorized hundreds of verses.

“That’s a quality of great men. They’re able to memorize things,” Bess said. “I think it’s excellent that he’s fulfilling his destiny. The Lord was grooming him and gave him a message.”

Licensed marriage and family therapist Mark Jones also helped Young, who was still conflicted about why his previous churchgoing days hadn’t brought him peace.

Young started with Jones’ Trinity Program, a two-and-a-half-day program that stresses resolving the past, restoring health and retraining the mind. Jones counseled Young for more than two years, helping him identify mechanisms that triggered his rage. During the sessions, Young wept as he faced each of his old personas: the hateful gang member, the angry rapper and the scared 8-year-old child.

“We did a lot of counseling and prayer to give him the power to come out of this,” Jones said.

San Antonio Police Officer Marcus Trujillo, whom Young talks to weekly, completes his support system, joining Bess and Jones as a mentor and accountability brother. Now, these are the days of Young’s reconciliation with his father, the ongoing support of his mother and love of his daughter.

After leaving the Last Chance sanctuary that recent Sunday, he stood before a dozen teens and talked about how each has a unique gift based on their minds, wills and emotions.

“You’re not made to be Beyonce, you’re not made to be Jay-Z, you’re made to be exactly who you are,” he said.

Mike Murphy, pastor of the church youth ministry, said Young’s testimony was a blessing for his teens, many who live in the environment that the poet describes so clearly.

Tenth-grader Carlos Gutierrez said Young’s poetry resonated with him.

“I can relate to what he’s saying,” the 17-year-old said. “I really love what he said and how it touched me.” vtdavis@express-news.net

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