Second chances are the bedrock of life. A safety net but with more bruises.
Everyone has stories of mucking up—some hitting rock bottom harder than others—yet some get up, fix their mistakes, and are wiser for it, gleaning a greater appreciation for life’s blessings. It's a story as old as humans.
For Larry Clements, 66, mucking up stemmed from a rough upbringing in a military family in Orange County. He rebelled, stumbled into drugs, and wound up in a tussle with police. Shots were fired, and Larry landed himself in jail.
Nobody's perfect. Nobody’s parents are perfect. Larry’s veering astray, to some degree, flowed from his "mean" World War II vet dad.
“He was in the Navy. He was actually in the Battle of Midway,” Larry told The Epoch Times. “He was on the ship the Japanese sunk, the Yorktown. He was what you call a lifer in the military. ... He was pretty hard on us kids. He was pretty much an alcoholic. Wasn't until his later years in life that he gave that up.”
Looking to his hoodlum older brother for guidance, Larry was delinquency-bound. “When I was 13, he was arrested for murder-robbery,” he said. “At 13 is when I started messing up thereabouts. I looked up to him; he was my oldest brother.”
Larry dabbled in things he probably shouldn't have, “you know, marijuana and different stuff,” he said. “[My brother] never told me, ‘Hey, Larry, don't follow this path.’
“That's kind of why I went off the way I did … I just kind of rebelled; if [Dad] told me to go right, I went left.
“About the age of 18, I started shooting heroin.”
Almost Attempted MurderAt some point during the ’80s, Larry, then in his 30s, living in Oregon, was shuttling to California and was stopped by police. “[The officer] could smell alcohol on my breath, so he started searching the car, found the bottle of booze and stuff,” said Larry. “Anyway, I had warrants that occurred in Orange County.
"Long story short, it became a wrestling match for his gun. As we're wrestling for it, a shot was fired and it grazed his knee.”
Larry hadn't intended to kill anyone, so later in court, the prosecution dropped the attempted murder charge, though he did time; it wouldn’t be the last time. Nor was he reformed when he got out—not at all. In August 1999, police kicked in the door of Larry's home, in Orange County again, and found “some heroin and cocaine, and about $26,000 in cash,” he recalled.
“They could have gave me 80 years to life, because it was a three strike [rule],” he said. “The judge showed me some leniency.” Larry had written him a letter.
His deeds, though far from forthright, weren't those of an incorrigible criminal. The judge saw that. Larry recalled his letter: “‘Your Honor, I'm not afraid of prison; I've been there five times already. ... I'm afraid of getting out and doing the same thing over and over. I'm tired of it, I want help.' And he showed me some leniency, you know? So, I'm thankful for that.”
The potential lifetime incarceration dematerialized into 13 years. Larry went to a level IV, maximum security prison in Calipatria, where they “play for keeps." “Most of the guys [there], they were gonna die in prison, doing life without parole,” Larry said. “I wasn't there very long. And I'm thankful for that.” The prison point system saw him shipped to Ironwood, a level III facility.
Meanwhile, his withdrawal from heroin and subsequent sickness in 2001 purged that scourge for good. Shaking and convulsing, he told God he wouldn't touch it again.
Larry never went to church in his younger years, nor had he been a practicing Christian, though he'd always believed in Jesus, he said. Interestingly, he found in prison the redemption that somehow eluded him on the outside.
A Hunger for Life EverlastingThey came for the food. And came next year, too. There, Larry happened upon a lifer who'd found faith, who would catalyze a change in Larry, who by then was primed and ready to hear more.
“And from that time on, it was just like a light switch. ... I’d be in my cell [reading] for hours on end.”
Larry’s cellmate, “Biscuit,” complained about his neglecting their chess matches. “You’re always reading your Bible!” he’d say. “I didn’t even understand what was going on," said Larry, who consulted his church friend, Henry, for answers: “What’s wrong with me?” Henry replied, “You’re learning the truth, the truth sets you free.”
Larry's ego—compelling him to don a façade so as to not look “like some weak dude”—and bashfulness about being seen toting a Bible to church across the yard fell away like the molted cocoon after a metamorphosis.
While working out, a cellmate needled Larry to “praise God” in front of everyone. He hesitated. “I looked at him, and I go, ‘I do praise God,’” he said. “I just kind of gave him that look like, ‘What are you going to do about it?’”
Larry was released early for good behavior in 2009 having served 10 years and 22 days. His church activities only snowballed from there. With experience under his belt setting up bible studies for inmates, he came to know the Scriptures.
On the outside, he joined an evangelist ministry up in Chino Hills and became a leader, before striking out door knocking in Orange County. “Our opening statement was, ‘If you were to die today, do you know for certain if you’d go to heaven?’” he recalled. “Most people believed that they’re going to heaven.”
Nine out of ten people would say, “I’m a good person.” “What about your sins?” Larry would ask. “God is a loving God, but he has to punish sin.”
He told them they must change their mind about certain things for their souls to live forever.
A Prodigal Son's Return“My brother was over at the hospital, they called us and said that he not gonna live through the night,” Larry said.
He showed up and found his dad on sedatives, unconscious, tubes running down his throat. He asked hospital staff if they could revive him so they could share a final farewell. They did.
“I told him, ‘You know, you're dying, you're not gonna make it through the night,” Larry said. “‘Have you seen a change in my life?’ And he acknowledged, he squeezed my hand. ... 'That's because of Jesus. Heaven and hell is real.’
“‘And I just got to share the gospel with you.’”
Within minutes, before his son’s eyes, Larry's father breathed his last, his face sinking white in the fall of an eyelash. “I was like, ‘Whoa!’” Larry said. “I can only hope that he received [the gospel].”
Life went on, as life does. The 2008 financial crisis saw Larry literally picking scrap metal to survive—which served him well. He started a recycling business.
During the pandemic, he fell into depression as church services were shuttered. Even after lockdown mandates were lifted, his pastor continued barring gatherings. Larry complained.
“I tell him, ‘People want to come to church, I need to come to church!’ And he goes, ‘I don't want people to get sick,’” Larry recalled.
Not all is sunny in life—not even in saved lives. Now, Larry counts his blessings, though; he has a roof over his head—his old family home in Orange County—bequeathed to him by none other than his old man.
"That's a miracle in of itself, because I got other siblings," he said. "I got money in the bank, I literally have nothing financially to worry about.
"God did all that. I mean, I could be on the street. It's just amazing."
Larry also set down his redemptive journey in his book, titled “The Good, The Bad, and The Saved.”
That story of redemption continues. So does his calling to save others.
“I still go to church on Sunday, and I got my Bible study on Wednesday,” Larry added. “I teach a study here at my house on Thursday.”