It’s easy for a young person to get pulled into the gang life, particularly if there isn’t a strong family unit at home. One young man joined a gang at an early age, but the life sent him to prison. Now, he’s helping young people in his community avoid the same fate.
Casey Diaz grew up in Los Angeles, California under some difficult home circumstances. The now 46-year-old recalls playing football and baseball with friends outside in his neighborhood. However, he vividly remembers a less normal home life.
Diaz’s father would brutally beat his mother on a constant basis. She would go to work at 4 a.m. only to return home at 10 p.m. to be on the receiving end of another beating.
His mother was at work most of the day, and his father was often drunk, resulting in a lack of parental supervision.
“I think that’s one of things that when a kid doesn’t have a mentor or a father figure that’s a healthy figure to teach him lessons, work ethic, stuff like that, or be part of their life, that really does a big dent in that kid’s life,” Diaz told The Epoch Times.
By age 11, Diaz had joined a gang. In the beginning, the gang provided him with a sense of family. They would pick him up, take him to parties, and hang out. Furthermore, the culture of gangs in the 80s was a big deal in Los Angeles.
One of the gang leaders who was well known took a liking to Diaz, and became a kind of mentor. The leader had a reputation, and was respected and feared by members of his own gang and rival gangs as well.
After Diaz’s initiation into the gang, the leader took the 11-year-old Diaz to a rival gang where they jumped a rival gang member and stabbed him with a screwdriver. Diaz quickly found himself in and out of juvenile hall. By age 16, Diaz was arrested and convicted for a gang-related murder.
When Diaz turned 18, he was transferred to state prison where he spent three years in solitary confinement. On his third year of solitary, a woman from a bible study fellowship began stopping by his cell once a month.
The two would only speak for two to four minutes. However, the woman always left him with one phrase.
“I’m still praying for you, and Jesus is going to use you,” Diaz remembers the woman telling him.
After a year and a half, Diaz found Jesus Christ in his cell by himself. The religious moment of clarity was undeniable for Diaz, and it brought him to his knees. He repented for his sins, and he stepped down from his leadership position in the gang.
As a result of dropping out of the gang, an assassination order was placed on Diaz’s life. In fact, the gang ordered one of Diaz’s own men to take him out.
By this time, Diaz had been removed from solitary confinement and placed in the general population, which put him in a vulnerable position.
The hitman approached Diaz’s cell, and the two began talking through a narrow vertical window. The man told Diaz that he had been ordered to “take out the trash,” which meant the gang had instructed him to murder Diaz.
Diaz looked at him and told him that he had played prison politics himself, and knew the man had to do what he had to do. Furthermore, Diaz forgave him for the murder he was about to commit.
“I reminded him that he took orders from me prior to this incident, so I understood fully what needed to happen. But changing my story was not going to happen. I knew that I had encountered Christ, and if it meant me losing my life in here then that’s what needed to happen, and I was okay with that,” Diaz explained.
Diaz prayed the whole night, and by the time morning came the man didn’t have the heart to carry out the hit. Diaz was able to convert the man to Christianity, and was able to convert other gang members as well.
For the following two years, Diaz and his group were constantly attacked. However, after a large prison riot, the people who were after Diaz were sent to other prisons. By the time he was released, he had converted over 200 inmates.
“It’s overwhelming to see lives changed,” Diaz explained.
Release and Salvation
On July 3, 1995 Diaz was released at age 24. Eventually, he found a gentlemen in a barbershop who led him to his church. Soon after that, Diaz began working two minimum wage jobs and attending every available bible study.
After serving as a youth pastor for eight and a half years, Diaz left that church. He had started to see that church had become more theatrical and entertaining instead of religious, and started and became the pastor of his own church in 2007. In February 2017, he merged his church with a Foursquare church.
Part of his responsibilities as a pastor includes counseling parents on how to keep their children out of the gang culture. He gets to know the kids one on one, and becomes a mentor instead of coming at them as an authority figure.
In fact, one of the kids he had been a youth pastor for has become a youth pastor himself.
Diaz believes there is so much talent in our youth, and he hopes to help kids find it and use it for good. Diaz has recently published a book entitled “The Shot Caller,” which recounts his life and transformation. He is also now married and the father of three children.
“All it takes is a little handful of people to step up and to help,” Diaz said.