Unfavorable Odds™

13: The Shot Caller

with Casey Diaz | October 14, 2019
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A gang can look like a family to a kid who grows up with an abusive father and little sense of family at home. For Casey Diaz, it was the protection and loyalty of a gang that drew him in. After violent initiations and living the gang life, Casey was arrested for murder while still a teenager. In prison, Casey became a “shot caller” and commanded the respect of enemy gang members. Then while enduring solitary confinement for most of everyday, he was visited by an unexpected visitor and would experience an unexpected change in his life. Casey’s life is a reminder that no one is too far gone to be used by God.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Guest

Looking for a sense of family, Casey Diaz joined a gang and ended up in prison for murder while still a teenager. In prison, Casey became a “shot caller” and commanded the respect of enemy gang members. It was in solitary confinement that Casey would meet an unexpected visitor and experience unexpected change.

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13: The Shot Caller

With Casey Diaz
October 14, 2019
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Casey: So he’s sitting down, and he grabs me by the shoulders. There’s alcohol all over his breath and he says—just randomly says, “Don’t ever, ever call me Dad.” Followed by “I don’t like you. I hate you.”

Here’s this gang member. He says, “We’re forming here, and we take care of each other.” When I heard those words “we take care of each other,” it gave me that sense of family. He said “Yeah man, if you ever run into any problems out here—anybody wants to do anything to you—once you belong to us, we’re family. We take care of one another.”

Kim: So you, up until that time, you didn’t know what that was like, did you?

From the FamilyLife podcast network, this is Unfavorable Odds. I’m Kim Anthony.

Unfavorable Odds is all about finding hope and help in those seasons of life when things get pretty difficult. Jesus has promised us that whenever we walk through those dark tough times––He’s always going to be with us. So on each episode of this podcast, we’ll be talking with people who have learned how, in those very difficult times, to draw their strength from Jesus.

To say that Casey Diaz was violent would be an understatement. He even described himself as an absolute animal. He in no way valued human life. Casey was a gang leader in Los Angeles who went to prison for second degree murder. And even in prison, he was still running things as the shot caller, which is also the name of his book.

Well, I had a candid conversation with Casey about how he went from a life of violence to a super natural encounter with Jesus. And what you’ll learn from our conversation is that there is no one that God cannot reach.

Your book is fascinating. It is an incredible story of God’s redemption. As I was reading the book, it reminded me of when I lived back in Los Angeles in 1990. I lived near the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Wilton, near Koreatown.

Casey: Oh wow! You were down the street from me.

Kim: Yes!

Casey: I was off of Third and New Hampshire for a while.

Kim: Okay; yes! As I was reading your book, I was actually looking up my—on Google maps, I was looking up and saying “Oh my goodness! He was only blocks from me.” So I would sit outside of my apartment, on the fire escapes, at night and I would watch the helicopters circle the neighborhood, shining their spotlights, searching for people. And as I was reading your book, I realized that just a couple of years before, they were searching for you.

Casey: Yes, yes.

Kim: So let me take you back to the early 70’s when your family immigrated. Tell me a little bit about that.

Casey: So I came here when I was two years old. We settled right around—by downtown Los Angeles, which is the Rampart District of the lake. Obviously, I didn’t remember being two and coming here, but right around five or six is when you start to notice things and you’re aware of certain areas and blocks and stuff like that.

So as far as I can remember, we settled by Hoover Elementary School, which is walking distance to MacArthur Park / Lafayette Park. Those are very well-known areas in downtown Los Angeles. So we lived around there at first. Growing up pretty regular I would think. Still the generation that played baseball outside and we threw rocks at each other. We were just kids.

At the beginning of that stage, I really didn’t see anything wrong with my life. You know I don’t think you know that you’re poor at that time or that you’re not in a good place. Those things are not in your frame of thought until around when I started noticing that my father getting drunk. At that time, you start being aware of your surroundings, and elements that were in our apartment where we lived just didn’t seem—just didn’t seem right.

Kim: So what was it like for you in your home?

Casey: My mom for the most part she’s always been a hard worker. To this day she retired, and she still has to go do something. She’s old school like that. So I remember her leaving the apartment very early in the morning—wouldn’t come back until about ten or eleven at night. She always held two jobs. She was a seamstress in downtown Los Angeles. I always saw her growing up as a hard-working lady.

My father was quite the opposite—hardly ever worked. As a kid, I remember going through his stuff when no one was home, which was a lot of times. I remember running in, for the very first time, to portions of marijuana at that time. I had no clue that he was actually selling on the side. He was always drunk and then he’d come home. Here’s my mom coming in from pulling that many hours and then getting brutally beat by him for no reason at all. Those things—they stay in your mind and you start to go “This can’t be normal” as a kid. You’re a young boy. You try to make him stop; you can’t. So all those things—there’s mixed emotions of all that. It was just a hard time very early on.

Kim: So he was abusive to your mother. How did he treat you?

Casey: To me it was more of a verbal abuse than it was physical abuse. For whatever reason, he just didn’t like me. I remember in the book I share an incident where there was alcohol on his breath, he takes me into the kitchen. He was sitting down on a seat. We lived in an apartment that was probably, maybe, 700 square feet. It was very small apartment. So he’s sitting down, and he grabs me by the shoulders. There’s alcohol all over his breath and he says—just randomly says, “Don’t ever, ever call me Dad.” Followed by “I don’t like you. I hate you.”

Those words—you know I have a ten-year-old, it doesn’t even hit my mind to ever say something like that to my kids. I have two daughters. I would do anything for them. It really damages a young kid when you hear your parent—It’s not even a stepdad; it’s my biological father telling me that. So that really made a dent in my life.

Kim: At one point, you had had enough, and you walk into the room and find your dad. He’s passed out, and you decide to take matters into your own hand.

Casey: I remember I walked into the apartment and at this time, I think we had just moved to—I don’t remember to what city. It was still in Los Angeles, but he was laid out on the floor. I remember his face being very close to—you know back in those days the older units had these metal furnaces. They kind of looked like accordions.

Kim: Yes, like a radiator.

Casey: Like a radiator, exactly.

Kim: Yes, yes.

Casey: So his face was right next to that. I remember on many occasions when my uncle was there, and they would turn that on, they would use a lighter or a match and that’s how it got started. You kind of opened the gas and you lit it and that’s how you got the heat.

Kim: Okay.

Casey: So I was aware that the gas was there. I just knew it. So what I did was I pushed his face as close as possible as I could to the furnace, and I opened up the gas on it. You could hear it and you could smell it. It was racing out of that thing pretty fast. My full intention was if he just breathes this and falls asleep, maybe I could get rid of him. He’d probably been there, maybe a minute or so or two when my mom walked in on us—walked in on me doing this. You could hear the whistling of the gas going. She looks at me and looks at my dad on the floor and right away she says “What are you doing? What’s going on here?” I remember telling her, I said “Just let it happen and I’ll take the blame. He’ll never hurt you again.”

So in my heart that day that particular day my heart I’d already settled that I was willing to take the life of my father to protect my mom. I remember she was very alarmed. She turned off the gas. She said “You don’t do that. Don’t ever do that.” My mom was just so protective of everybody. She couldn’t hurt a fly and yet the pain that she was going through with my father just abusing her like that, it was hard to deal with.

Kim: I can imagine. So you weren’t getting the love from your father at home. You were watching him abuse your mother and there really wasn’t much you could do about that. So you turned to others to get the kind of love that you were looking for. When did that happen? How old were you?

Casey: I was eleven years old when I actually joined this street gang in Los Angeles. This is very early on in the 80’s. The gang culture in Los Angeles is just starting to catch wind. They’d been there since the 40’s, but now it’s getting a second wind and it’s going. When you leave a young kid unsupervised for that many hours that kid’s going to get into devious things and is going to test the waters. I think that was what I was actually doing.

Here’s this gang member and he’s kind of talking to me. I remember him writing graffiti on the floor with a spray can. That was the initial conversation I had with this gang member. I remember asking “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m hitting up my neighborhood.” I didn’t know what he meant by that. I said, “What does that mean?” He says “Well, I’m from Rockwood”—that was the gang—“We’re forming here, and we take care of each other.” When I heard those words “we take care of each other,” it gave me at that time a sense of family. We take care of each other. He said “Yeah man, if you ever run into any problems out here—anybody wants to do anything to you—once you belong to us, we’re family. We take care of one another and we take care of business.”

Kim: So you, up until that time, you didn’t know what that was like, did you?

Casey: I didn’t. I had seen—you know at eight years old, in one of those buildings that we lived in with the fire escapes, I witnessed three men being executed right in the alley where we lived. I remember in that very fire escape I was sitting down—my legs are dangling down from the fire escape—and this guy takes out three guys—took their life right in front of my face. I was on third floor. He didn’t know I was there, and I saw the whole thing.

So you’re looking at that kind of violence and then you have this gang member telling you these aren’t nice streets so if you ever need backup, we’re here for you. It was so intriguing. Then I saw the fun—what I thought was fun at that time. They came in with nice cars. There were always girls around them. Gangs started to become very popular. So you had all these girls all around, and all these guys hanging out, and it just looked like I could do this.

Kim: Like a glamorous lifestyle.

Casey: Yes!

Kim: Let me take you back to that moment when you witnessed a triple homicide. That has to do something to the mind of a young boy.

Casey: Yes! It made me look at that life in a different way. Because here is this guy, an adult, and he walks right out of his car—he parks his car—walks right out of his car. He walks over to these three guys that are walking up an alley. He goes into his coat and then puts one bullet into each single one of them so that they can’t go anywhere.—Then continues to unload the revolver and continues unloading it until these three guys are dead.

I think that at that moment it was when I thought life is nothing. You get rid of somebody and this is how you deal with people in life. You see that violence and just the ugliness of watching your father relentlessly beat your mom and leaving her in pools of blood, and you see that kind of violence outside, it just really does something to your psyche / to your brain as a young boy that life is kind of cheap.

Kim: So you join this gang at age eleven, was it?

Casey: Eleven, yes.

Kim: Were you initiated?

Casey: I was initiated. I was jumped in by three other gang members. If you’re a southern California gang member—most southern California gang members that are Hispanic, we have what’s called jump in. It’s usually about a 13 second count where three or four—up to ten—gang members will beat you for that long and that’s your initiation. Then there’s more to that as far as they will send you out on what we call the mission or a hit. So it just starts progressively becoming worse and worse.

Kim: So what was it like for you in the gang? I know there was a lot of violence, but from reading your book it also sounds like you were receiving a lot of love—at least more love than you were receiving at home.

Casey: Yes! I think the part that is dangerous about the gang culture is that it gives individuals / young people the false sense of family. When you’re looking for validation—when you’re looking for that pat on the back—that you want from an older person and the gang is giving that to you, it really throws you for a loop because you think somebody’s cheering me on here. Somebody’s looking out for me. You know if I had, you had. That kind of thing.

So for a young person that’s in the ghetto—that’s in a very drug infested / gang infested area—you look at that kind of validation from a gang member or a leader or someone in there, it gives you a bad perception. When you’re young, you’re not thinking. You’re just going “Wow, they like me.” It’s not real, but it’s real to that young person that’s looking for a pat on the back.

Kim: Yes, it’s real at the time.

Now I don’t want to upset any of our listeners, but I do want them to get a picture of what you were like back then. Can you describe some of the things that you’ve done—your mindset—as you lived this gang life?

Casey: When we first started this book, I had to be very careful in not glorifying some of these things that I’ve done. We wanted to be careful with that, and at the same time, we’re living in a generation—in a time—where violence is so prominent. One of the moments that somebody asked me in another interview: What are those things that you regret? One of them and I’ll share with you guys—I didn’t go into full details with him, but I’ll go in a little bit deeper with you guys.

I went into a rival gang territory of this gang and we found one of their gang members there. We started chasing him. He ran. I was very close to him and I didn’t know what he was running to. He was just running away as far as I was concerned. I ended up capturing him. He ran inside of his apartment and his family was in there—his mom / other adults were there. He tripped over a small coffee table as he ran into this apartment and I ended up stabbing this guy multiple times in front of his family.

I remember his mother saying my son, my son in Spanish. She was so scared and frightened. There were male adults that were frozen. I mean they couldn’t—I guess the fear of them trying to even stop me was just overwhelming and they just froze. I remember one of my gang members holding up the door while I kept stabbing this guy.

This was part of an initiation. We had just jumped in one of our younger gang members at that time. I remember we got in the car and this guy that we had just jumped in—this kid—I looked at him and I licked the screwdriver in front of him and I said “This is what we do if you ever rank out.”—is what I told him. It’s a street name for somebody that would chicken out of going on a mission or anything like that. I said, “If you ever rank out, I’ll personally—because I jumped you in—I’ll personally come after you.” The fear in his eyes was overwhelming. I think he knew at that moment that he had just perhaps made a mistake, but he couldn’t reverse that mistake.

We came to find out later on that this gang member that I ended up stabbing would end up in a wheelchair forever. Those things as a believer now—as an adult now—you wish that you had the power to turn back that clock and not do stuff like that. But unfortunately, you can’t and what’s done is done. I have to be careful because the enemy tends to throw those images from time to time when I’m going through things. I’ve got to remain very prayerful and, on my feet, to not allow those thoughts because I understand that God has forgiven me of all of that.

The tremendous part about Christianity is that God pursues people to the ends of the earth. No matter how dark you’ve ever been in your life—how wicked you’ve ever been in your life—if you repent and call on His name, He’s there to save. It just does something to me that God would even forgive someone like me.

Kim: As you were telling the story and I’m looking at your face, I see the remorse. I see the sorrow that those were things that you did in your past. I can see why and how easy it could be for those memories to come up again, but you have a new life now. You’ve met the Savior in an incredible way—which we’ll get into a little later—but I want to come back to this point where you have literally put a man in a wheelchair. You’ve stabbed him with your weapon of choice, which was a screwdriver, and usually you would get way with things. You got away with a lot of things but there came a point where the tables started to turn. You were in, I think, its Dino’s on Pico?

Casey: At that point—and this is one of those things where you’re not looking for trouble—I was simply having a meal at this little hole in the wall by myself. A truck full of a rival gang happened to see me and caught me slipping in that neighborhood. They jumped out of the truck. They came into the little restaurant and a fight ensued right then and there. I knew that I was going to be overtaken very fast if I didn’t run. Well, outside of that restaurant I had a stolen car there, which I jumped in and under the seat of the car was a sawed-off shotgun.

The guy—the first guy that was after me was carrying a crow bar and as I turned around, I remember jumping in the car and I reached for it. There was one shot; it was a one-shot shotgun. I turned around. He was about to hit me with that crowbar and is when I pulled the trigger. Unfortunately, on that first shot his life ended and I kind of went into a panic mode. I stepped out of the vehicle and proceeded to unload and load several times more. It was broad daylight. It freaked everybody out. I could hear people screaming and yelling. His gang members dispersed. They just all ran different directions. I ran. I ran in the daytime and I was able to get away for 21 days before I was captured.

Kim: Did you expect to be captured or did you think that you would get away with it like you had gotten away with so many other things?

Casey: I don’t think I was thinking anything. I think it was just—the one thought that came to my mind is “There it is. That’s done.” I remember I ran away and I hid in abandoned construction buildings. I remember staying at one particular—it was like an apartment building that was almost done but they had left alone for some reason. So I ended up staying there for I want to say like maybe a week or so. It was carpeted. There was running water. There was no power, but I stayed there. I had to wake up early in the morning just in case construction crews would come in.

My gang member’s mother housed me as well for about another week. So I stayed with her. I was just moving constantly moving. Did I think I was going to get away? I don’t know if I was thinking that. I think it was just kind of like you’re in a blur because you know what you’ve done.

Kim: Yes. So I think it’s important for us to know how old you were at that time because you were not a grown man.

Casey: No, I was 16, 16 years old at that time. In that particular time in the 80’s, there were so many—it was a bloodbath in Los Angeles. The murder rate—I mean if we look at the statistics today, it was in the thousands of gang members getting killed on those streets. So I was 16 years old and California was just about fed up with the gang violence.

So they took extreme measures and a law came into place where they wanted to see how young they could try young offenders as adults. I ended up falling in that category of their experiment. So I’m being tried as an adult. And what they would do is once you got found guilty and sentenced, some of us were allowed to be sent to what’s called the California Youth Authority. California Youth Authority could keep you until you were 25 years old. Then you would make the switch to a California state prison / to an adult prison.

Kim: Okay.

Casey: Well when I was in CYA, there was another gang member of mine that was there, and he was in there for a triple murder. They put that guy in the same unit with me—thought something was going to happen. You have two teens that absolutely have no care for life, and we ended up planning the murder of another rival gang member while we were in there.

We were caught in the very act of—I was strangling a rival gang member and we almost ended his life. If it wasn’t for an alert probation officer there, that guy would have ended up dead as well. From that point on, the state of California said rehab is not for these guys and we would end up being shipped to LA County jail to reorganize and then send us to state prison.

Kim: What was state prison like for you? Walk me through the trip there. What did that look like? What did it feel like? What were you thinking?

Casey: You know you have these Ivy Leagues of prisons. You have Pelican Bay. You have the Corcoran SHU and then you have New Folsom. Those are the three prisons that every gang member / every organized criminal wants to get there. If you’ve been to any of these three, you’ve made it—in that type of mentality and lifestyle.

So for me, I really didn’t care. I continued my assaults in there. I continued in mayhem in there. I was placed in what’s called the gang module in downtown Los Angeles in the men’s central jail. That’s where they house all the gang leaders of LA. If you’re a valid gang leader, that’s where you’re going to be at. So they put me there and then I was transferred to—I was there for a while—and then I was transferred to Wayside / to 2400. That unit in Wayside was the old maximum-security prison there, or jail. I was housed there with about another 300 murderers in there. You kind of just wait to catch the chain is what we called it.

Kim: Catch the chain, explain that.

Casey: So that’s a term that we use for when you’re getting transferred from county jail to a state prison. So you’re catching the pain. You’re waiting for the chains to come upon you and be escorted to your next destination.

So I was there, and I went to what is called Delano State Prison. I was housed there for 120 days. There is where they evaluate you. They want to make sure they cross their “t” and dot their “I” with each individual inmate in there. The CDC, California Department of Corrections, had a—and still has I believe—a scoring system from 1 to 100. Wherever your points fell, that’s how they determined the kind of security that was needed for each individual inmate. So I went in there with 97 points.

Kim: Oh goodness.

Casey: Meaning that was a SHU term.

Kim: A SHU term. What’s a SHU?

Casey: So the SHU term is the segregated housing unit of CDC. This is the prison inside the prison. This is where they house the worst of the worst. You’re going to be in there for 23 hours out of the day. You’ve got one mandatory hour, state required hour, outside of your cell.

So having 97 points, I remember one of the guards—one of the CO’s—looked at me and said, “You know where you’re going?” And I was so prideful—so just careless—didn’t care about life or anything, and I said “It doesn’t matter where I’m going. I don’t care.” I remember him saying “You’re going into the SHU program. Look how young you are, and you’ve wasted your life.” It didn’t matter. His words at that point in my life, life didn’t matter. I was almost proud to earn that type of name in there.

So I get transferred from Delano and I end up going to New Folsom state prison. I remember we got there, and I think one of the most alarming things is when you get there and you see this giant wall—just massive wall—and you see SEALS/correction officers in nothing but riot gear along the wall. And you’re talking about a lot of guards in full riot gear and they’re about to welcome you. It’s almost like the movies, and you have the gunner. You see the gunners up there with Mini-14’s pointed at your head.

I remember they took me out of the bus and immediately took me to a holding cell there. They gave me a little brief discussion. I remember the warden and the gang coordinator telling me “We know who you are. We know what you’ve done. We know your crime. Your file is in our hand. We’re going to make sure you serve the rest of your sentence in the SHU program in solitary confinement.”

Kim: I want to ask you something. I want to take you back to where you were serving time before New Folsom.

Casey: Yes.

Kim: There was a reason they sent you there and it’s the title of your book. You played a role while you were in prison that is one of the most respected positions as a gang member who is incarcerated. Can you tell us what that was about?

Casey: Well, there is an election process in there that happens in order for you to become a shot caller. You’ve got to have a good name / a good standing within the criminal empire if you want to call it that. For me, I had a lot of respect—and I think it was more fear than it was respect—that people just didn’t cross my line / my way and I had both enemy rival gang members that knew that if I caught them it would be a bad day for them.

One of the eye-opening moments for me was when I was in Wayside, in 2400, and I was brushing my teeth and here comes this rival gang member. As I’m brushing my teeth—I washed up and he’s standing there and he says, “You’re Casey, right?” I said “Yes.” He calls out my gang name. He says “I was there when you stabbed my homeboy in the eye. I don’t know if you remember that.” I said “Yes, I remember that.”

He says, “Good to meet you” and he stretches out his hand and shakes my hand. It’s kind of weird that here is my enemy and this is from a gang that is very well known both to the media and to—It was an 18th Street gang member and he was a leader himself. For him to stretch out his hand and say, “Good to meet you,” you know, you’re aware that I stabbed one of your own and you’re shaking my hand. When you have the respect of your enemies and your friends in that kind of environment, there’s that election that everybody gets around you.

I remember that’s what happened, and I was put in charge of all the prison made shanks in there. So at that point, I became the one that if anything needed to be done, you came to me. If anybody needed to be hit, it had to go through me.

Kim: Explain what a hit is.

Casey: I was the one that gave the orders whether someone got stabbed or not, whether somebody got jumped or not, assaulted or not—whatever you want to call it. That was the decision that was left solely to me at that moment. So here I am going into New Folsom—into Delano and then New Folsom with that kind of a jacket on me. I remember when I got to New Folsom—in fact, when I first got in front of other inmates there, I was greeted like a king. I mean I was greeted very well. They had a lot of stuff that they shouldn’t have already in my cell.

Kim: What?

Casey: It was this organized. That things that I didn’t even ask for were already there. It’s very organized and I think the public would be very surprised at how organized crime works in there and the gang culture in there is very organized.

Kim: How does that happen? How do you get into your space and you already have some items there?

Casey: It’s just a matter of respect and you have guys that are trustees—other inmates that are able to roam around the prison for whatever reason. Those are the ones that are used by other shot callers to take care of people like me when I walked into these prisons.

Kim: Okay. So what was your time like in New Folsom?

Casey: Well, the beginning was spending a lot of time in solitary confinement. You’re given a pair of white boxers, a white t-shirt, a roll of toilet paper, and that’s all you have. I mean this was solitary confinement to the uttermost. You’re in an 8x10 cell. It’s about the size of a parking space. Maybe in your living room you might have a rug, an area rug, that’s about 8x10. Just enough to stretch out your arms left and right very small. You have a toilet there a sink and a concrete bunk and that’s it. That’s all you were given. You were given no more material than that. You had no TV. You had no library time. You had none of that.

They made sure that every shot caller was housed at maximum security potential. Even to go to a shower—I can give you a little insight to that. To go to a shower you’re just walking maybe, 15-20 feet from my cell to the shower stall and you’re having to be extracted from that cell by four to five guards in riot gear. They’re chaining you, putting five-point restraints on you, to walk you 20 feet to a shower stall and handcuffing you—one of your hands was the only one that was free to wash up. You only have about three minutes to take a cold shower and then you were escorted by four or five guards in prison gear and riot gear right back to your cell.

The moments were very calculative / very strict. It was very routine. You’re there just with your thoughts. You’re there by yourself and if you don’t have a strong mind, you’re going to break. I saw many men break in there. You hear so many men that are 6’2 / 6’4, 19” arms / 18” arms, musclebound guys that would crawl and get into a fetal position because being in a tank like that / a little cell like that one could very easily start hearing voices and just losing their mind. We saw that continually in there.

When I got to the SHU in New Folsom, the gentlemen on my right / the cell on my right, he had been in there for 10 years already in solitary confinement. I had just got there, and he’s been in there for 10 years in this little cage. Here’s the thing, I think, as far as solitary confinement goes, they put us in there because we needed to be put in there.

We were predators. We were violent men and we didn’t care. I think that it was necessary for the state of California to keep individuals like us in that kind of segregation. That needed to happen. It stopped a lot of the movements. It stopped a lot of the gang hits. That still was carried on, but I think it put a dent in the organization as a whole.

Kim: How long was your sentence? And then how long did you have to stay in the SHU?

Casey: So I was sentenced to 12 years 8 months. Back then they weren’t giving lengthy sentences like they do now. Back then you got 15 years / 15 years to life. They weren’t giving huge sentences. So for me—I mean prior to me getting sentenced to almost 13 years, there were guys that were doing the same thing and only getting 7 years because you’re young. You’re a juvenile. So all you did was four years / seven years. So when I got to almost 13 that was a big deal back then. So I ended up doing three years and some change in the SHU program in solitary prior to me becoming born again.

Kim: You had an unexpected visitor to the SHU. Tell me about her.

Casey: Yes. She’s a special lady in my life that God used. There was this little church that came to visit us in solitary / a little Baptist church. This lady by the name of Frances Proctor. She was a little black lady and she was probably about 5’2 / 5’3 but with the boldness of a lion. This lady had the love of Christ and loved what she did and believed that God could change anyone.

You know when you are in the SHU program, you lose all concept of time. You don’t know if it’s day or night. There’s no watches or no clocks. The way you know that it is lunchtime is because of your meals. That’s how you kind of know the time. But you don’t have exact times.

So this church would come only once a month on a Thursday / last Thursday of the month. They would come and this one particular time is when there was a conversation being held outside of the cells and I hear this lady and she’s saying, “Is there an inmate inside that cell?” I didn’t know they were talking about me at all. And the guard said, “Yes there is, but you don’t want anything to do with that.” This guard discouraged her several times—three times to be exact—and Frances would not let this go. I remember hearing her “Jesus came for everybody. Can I approach his cell?” And this guard said “Well, that’s Diaz. You go right ahead. You’re wasting your time.”

She approached my cell. I remember the first question she asked me was how I was doing. She had a very southern accent—an older lady and she says in this very southern accent—I’m not going to try it because I’ll ruin it, but she says, “How are you doing?” I said, “I couldn’t be doing better.” She laughed and said, “That was a dumb question.” I said, “It’s alright.” I said, “What’s going on?” She said “I want to invite you to our Bible study. It would be good to see you / to talk to you about the Lord.”

I remember I wasn’t disrespectful. I just didn’t want to buy what she was selling. I told her “I’m not interested in any of the religious stuff. I’m good. So I don’t want you to waste your time.” She said “Listen, I believe that God’s going to use you.” You’re hearing this lady, going “Do you know where you are at?” That was my first thought. “Lady, you are nuts. What are you talking about?” She says, “I’m going to pray for you and Jesus is going to use you.”

That just blew my mind away. I just thought this lady—if I thought she was crazy, now I know she’s crazy. There’s no—who is Jesus and what are you talking about. I didn’t say that to her I just said, “You can go ahead and say what you want, but I’m not interested.”

She said “Would you mind if I stop in when I come here with my church? Would you mind if I came here to your cell? I’m only going to have like 2-4 minutes talking to you. Is it okay if I come and chat with you and pray for you?”

I said, “You can do whatever you want, but I think you know right off the bat I don’t want anything to do with any religious stuff.” She said “Alright.”

Well she put in her heart—God put it in her heart to intercede for me for a year and six months. This lady went into intercessory prayer and she prayed for me. She prayed for me every single time. I remember she would come, and she’d tell me every time before—we had 2-4-minute conversations all the time once a month and she would tell me “I’m praying for you. Jesus is going to use you.” After some time in there, I had an encounter with Christ in there that would change my life forever.

Kim: What happened to you that day when you encountered Christ?

Casey: It was a normal day type of deal. I was laying down on my bunk / on my slab and I remember having my hands behind my head laying down and I’m looking at the wall. There’s nothing else to stare at there. Usually I would do push-ups, jumping jacks, whatever type of calisthenics I could do just to take up time, but at this moment I was just laying there.

Right on my wall I start seeing what looked like a movie reel—like an old movie reel—the little films and I could hear the sound of [movie reel sound] that sound of a turning film reel. It was at that moment I started seeing my whole life being played back from childhood. I mean things that only I knew are being played on that wall. The first thought that came to my mind was “This isn’t real. I’m awake. I’m not on drugs. I’m fully in my five senses.” Now let me rewind here for a second. Remember the guy that was next door to me that was in here for ten years?

Kim: Yes.

Casey: That guy at some point he broke and started hallucinating and thinking that there were ducks in his cell—completely lost his mind from the solitude that was in there. I mean we had normal conversations and from one minute to the other that was it. It was like somebody turned off the switch on him and he thought that there were ducks in his cell. No one could convince him that there were no ducks in his cell. He had completely lost it. He talked to himself after that. You could hear him—what sounded like him playing with ducks. I mean he lost it.

Kim: So did you think that was happening to you?

Casey: That’s exactly what I thought. The first thought that came to my mind when I saw this was that’s it. This is where I lose it. I said Piggy thinks he has ducks in his cell and I’m watching a movie here. So at any moment somebody’s going to bring me some popcorn because there’s no way that this is real. I’m watching it though. I’m wide awake. It’s not in my sleep. I’m awake and aware and I’m watching this. Then it would show me footage of me growing up—events that only I would know. Then it would kind of go blank and I would see a guy carrying his cross.

Now Frances never really explained to me. There was no time for her to explain to me the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus or anything like that. She was going in with conversation and the love of Christ. She would talk to me about the Bible, but when you’re a nonbeliever, you might as well just talk to a wall because if you’re not open, you’re not going to hear anything. You’re not going to understand anything.

Kim: Yes.

Casey: So even when she would quote scripture, I didn’t know what that was. It was foreign to me. So here I am and I’m seeing this guy—she hadn’t explained this to me and I never had seen this—But I’m seeing this guy carrying a cross and I could see crowds around him that are just angry crowds and it looks like they just want to get their hands on this guy. I remember seeing whoever’s carrying this cross is looking at me. I can’t see his face, but this guy is looking at me.

Then it would kind of go dark again and back to scenes and everything was in order. So it wasn’t like in one scene I’m 16 and then it goes back to me being five. It was just in order. I start seeing events: stabbings that I did, robberies, people that I tied up—the whole nine yards. I’m seeing it being played out and the same guy with the cross walking. I saw when the nails came into the hands and the feet. He’s on the floor on the cross. I could see the cross coming up and him on it and something interesting happened at that moment.

Because at around eight years old when we were still playing out on the streets—baseball, football—I remember my birth name is Darwin, but I never liked my name. We were playing baseball and I remember telling the kids—I gathered all these kids that were playing—I said, “From here on out, you’re going to call me Casey.” I remember everybody looking at me like “What’s that about?” I said “Yes, you’re not going to call me Darwin anymore. You’re going to call me Casey.” I don’t know where I grabbed that from. I don’t know where it came from. I just kind of grabbed that name and from that point on everybody started calling me Casey including my mom, my dad—

Kim: Really?

Casey: Everybody calls me Casey to this day. I mean that name stuck. I think that’s one of those things when you look back and go God put leadership inside of me way back then. I just didn’t know how to—Nobody showed me how to maneuver it. Nobody showed me how to be a good leader / a wholesome leader. So when you don’t know something, you’re going to misuse it.

So all this time I’ve been called Casey and here’s this guy on the cross and I know that he’s looking at me. I can’t describe his face. I can’t see his face, but I know he’s looking at me. And then he says “Darwin, I did this for you.”

I remember his face just falling just doing that. I could hear the audible breath of God coming out of his body. I remember in that cell. I’ll never forget it. I could hear the [breath sound] like that—very vivid. It was just so audible.

Nobody had ever taught me how to pray. Nobody had ever led me in a sinner’s prayer or anything like that. But I knew right then and there that this was God. I knelt in the middle of that room / that cell. I remember asking Him “I’m sorry, God, for stabbing this guy.” Maybe a normal person would say “I’m sorry for being a lousy husband or lousy politician.” I don’t know whatever. For me it was “I’m sorry for stabbing that guy and for stabbing the other guy and for tying these people up.”

There’s this amount of peace that came into the cell at that moment was so extreme and so overwhelming that I remember I just wept. I wept uncontrollably in the middle of that cell. I could tell you that you could put me next to a waterfall in the most beautiful place in the world and nothing will beat the freedom that I felt in that cell. Nothing will ever feel that free in that moment when I gave my life to Christ.

Kim: After you surrendered your life to Christ, He told you to do something very specific when you left the SHU, what was that?

Casey: He said you’re going to grab your gang members and you’re going to let them know this exactly I want you to—word for word was “You’re going to tell them that you no longer have anything to do with this. That you’re now a Christian.”

I thought “Well okay when I parole.” When I get out of here meaning when I’m paroled because I was told I would be in the SHU program until I paroled. Low and behold shortly after hearing those words / those instructions is when the gang coordinator and the warden would come and open my cell and their words were “We don’t know why we’re doing this, but we’re going to put you in mainline—in regular population.”

I mean, it’s still level 4 yard. It’s still a maximum-security yard but you’re giving me freedom and that’s so unheard of. Then it dawned on me that’s why God had told me these instructions. I remember as soon as I got to the yard on day one, I grabbed some of the leaders there. There’s these cement picnic tables that are out there in the yard and I grabbed one of them.

I announced to them I would no longer have anything to do with this. That I was a Christian and at that moment—I don’t think the public knows that feeling when your life is in danger at that point. I remember they just turned around and slowly just walked away from me. It was them telling me “You’re done. We’re going to put a greenlight on you and you’re done.”

When your gang is big enough or organized enough what they’ll do is they’ll send one of your very own to do the hit. That’s what happened in my situation. It was a tough decision, but I didn’t even think about it. It didn’t bother me doing it. I just didn’t even think twice. I just knew God had told me what to do and I was doing it.

So they sent one of my very own to do the hit. Usually hits are done in the morning during line movements to chow hall. I remember the night before they sent this guy and he was very upset with me—clearly upset with me. He says, “They’re asking me to take you out.” I remember he’s outside of my cell. I’m inside the cell. The cell doors locked. I’m staring at him in this little window.

I told him “I know what you have to do. I totally understand that, but I can’t change my situation here. I know what I’ve experienced and so I’ve got to follow through on this end and whatever you’ve have to do, you need to do it. I’m telling you right now I forgive you for what you need to do. For what you’re about to do.”

He was so angry. I said “You were under me. I understand what you need to do. This is not new for me. Do what you need to do.” He goes “No.” He interrupts and says “If you change your story, we’ll make something work.”

Why would he say that? That’s something you don’t say. You’ve been given orders to do something in there, you’ve got to do them, or your skin is on the line. I looked at him and said “No, I can’t change my story. Something happened to me. That’s undeniable.” I said “So do your thing man. I forgive you. Just do your thing.”

So that night it was a very long night. I prayed. I read my Bible. I’m not going to sit there and tell you it didn’t cross my mind “Do I change my story? What do I do?” It was a long night because by the morning the chances are, they’re going to come into that cell and stab you to death.

So the morning came, and I remember I sat—I had promised God that I’d never put my hands on another human being again. I think as a young Christian sometimes we make promises that we shouldn’t be making. I didn’t know any better. So I had promised God I’m not going to stop these guys. I’m not going to defend myself. I’m not even going to look at his face. I’m just going to let him stab me and call it a day.

So I sat at the end of my slab and Gary came in with shank in hand and everything else. I was surprised that he didn’t come in with other guys in there—with other inmates. I remember I’m not looking at him. I could feel him like right there. He says to me “I can’t do this. I can’t do this to you but whatever you’re a part of I’ll roll with you.” He became the first guy that I led to Christ.

Kim: Wow! That’s incredible—incredible. And the two of you stuck together side by side but you paid the penalty, didn’t you?

Casey: Yes, for the next few years. There’s a prison term called hard candy and that’s when shot callers are sending guys to brutally beat somebody down almost to death. They don’t want you dead. They just want to put a hurting on you. So for the next two years I had to endure that hard candy for many times and everybody that ended up joining me and converting had to go through it. So it was a testing time. It was a trying time. It was a painful time.

But I think all of us felt the same way because we all thought—as a young Christian you kind of go “Well I had this coming. How many people have I hurt?” I was just completely fine. I think all of us were. We were all completely fine that whatever had to happen had to happen and we’re okay with that.

But then a big giant riot would take place at New Folsom. It was a big racial riot that happened and everyone that was persecuting us was shipped out of this prison. When the beatings stopped, that’s when really the evangelism kicked in there. By the time I would parole, over 200 inmates would become born again.

Kim: Two hundred inmates became born again in a maximum-security prison where there are a bunch of murderers. How in the world did you evangelize that prison population?

Casey: The only way I knew how to. God gives us the creativity to do so many things. I’m amazed at how he does things. But in there we had these things called kites. They were usually used by shot callers as well. They were little notes that we would pass out. That note was either going to be a note telling one gang member “Hey, we need this amount of drugs being moved from this yard to the other yard. Make it happen.” Or it could be somebody’s name in there that needed to be murdered. Or somebody that needed some hard candy in there.

So I used that same element and I would write just simple notes in these little kites. These notes would always be simple. It would say “If you’re reading this, you took the time to read this. You took this note from my hand, so I know you’re reading it. I just want to let you know that Jesus loves you. There’s a plan for God upon your life. This is not your end.”

I said “Look,” and I’d share just briefly. “You were under me. You had to do what I said at one point. Why would I give that up? Unless for certain something happened to my life while I was in solitary.”

I would put a scripture in there. I would hand it—I knew they couldn’t be seen talking to me. They couldn’t be seen doing anything with me. I would find them by themselves at times and I would slip that note to them. If they took it from my hand, I knew they were going to read it. One by one, these men started coming to Christ. Just so you get a picture of this: my first meal there was served by the Hillside Strangler. I don’t know if you’ve—

Kim: I’ve heard, yes.

Casey: Yes, so he was the one that gave me my first meal there. So these are the kind of people that were there.

Kim: Oh, unbelievable.

Casey: One of the founding members of MS13 gave his life to Christ in there through my conversion. It just spread like wildfire. We had one of the safest and most awesome moments of ministry while we were in a maximum-security prison.

Kim: So you allowed God to use you and your newfound freedom in Christ in a way that impacted so many who were in a similar situation. But then that wasn’t enough. You didn’t just go after the prisoners. Who else did you go after?

Casey: I went after guards. [Laughter] I would slip notes by my cell. When you were sending out mail, you would push your mail through the door. You would wedge it out and it would stick out far enough for the guard on that side of the cell to grab your mail and out it would go.

Kim: Okay.

Casey: I would start writing letters to guards and I would put them the same way that I would put out mail through the slot and they would grab them. They would read them. I remember one of them, a lady—I don’t talk about her in the book, but she came to Christ through one of those letters. So many other guards that just were impacted by what Christ had did in my life. They knew me before and then they knew that I had come to Christ. I had repented and was okay with whatever would happen in there.

Kim: When you say that you were okay with whatever would happen, it’s because you knew that you had committed some serious crimes and you needed to pay. Well, the time came up for you to go before the parole board. What happened then?

Casey: The day that I paroled it came to me by a surprise. I had no clue what was going to happen. To me I thought it was a normal day. I had been to parole boards many times year after year. You just knew that you weren’t going anywhere.

So this particular day, I remember one of the Christian guys that would come into this prison from the outside, he came on this particular day. I remember seeing him and I said, “What are you doing here?” He said, “I came to pray for you.” I said, “To pray for me?” I said, “I’m just going up for a parole hearing.” He said “Yes, I’m here to pray for you.” I said “Yes, but I still got a couple of years over my shoulder here. It’s pretty much going to go in there and come back out.” He said, “Well let’s pray before you go in there.” I said “Alright.” I remember being so adamant about this. “You know I’m not going anywhere, right?” He said, “I get it but let’s pray!” So we prayed.

Then I walked in. My turn came to step into this parole board and here they are they started talking to me. It was always the same thing. “What have you been doing the last year since you were here before the board? Have you completed your assignments, court orders and all that?” I talked to them about that.

Then the question came in which they asked “Why do you think we should let you out? Why do you think we should parole you?” I don’t know what came upon me, but I said “You shouldn’t. I know what I’ve done, and I know that I deserve every day in here. I accept what the court has given me. In fact, I think they only gave me just a little bit of what I really deserve.”

Kim: Wow.

Casey: “I really deserve to spend the rest of my life in here. For all the things that I’ve done, I deserve a life sentence in here. I don’t ever deserve to get out.” I don’t know what happened to them, but I remember their countenance just changed. They took a little brief recess. I went back out. That minister was still there at the bench. So we prayed again. He wanted me to pray again.

They called me back in. I remember this board member he says, “What are you going to eat today?” I’m “What am I going to eat today?” I said this to them I said “Well, I’d like to leave right now because if I don’t, I’m going to end up getting a sack lunch.” Because back then they were still giving three hot meals in state prison. But if for some reason you didn’t get chow, you’d get a horrendous sandwich and I told him “I really want to avoid that sack lunch.”

They laughed about it and he says “We think that we’ve all agreed that something has happened in your life in here and we’re granting you parole this day. I couldn’t believe it. When they pushed that paperwork in front of the desk—just like the movies they always do that. They pushed the paperwork. It was a pink and a yellow slip to sign. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I could not believe that they were paroling me four years early. I just couldn’t believe that.

Kim: Only God.

Casey: Only God, for sure.

Kim: Take us to that point where you step into freedom. You walk through those prison doors into open space. No giant walls around you. No gunman pointing at you. What happened after that?

Casey: Well, there was a little incident that happened right before I actually get out. I’m walking out and I’m one glass door away from freedom and there’s two guys with milk crates and chains and I have my box on my side. They buzz open the door. I open the door and there’s these two men there. One of them asks me “Darwin Diaz?” I said “Yes.” “Let’s go ahead and put the box down and turn around for us.” I thought “Am I being arrested again?” And the first thought was maybe it’s a crime that’s been brewing and now I’m going to be going through another episode. They chain me up.

I wasn’t born here. I came here when I was two.—legally came here. But when you commit a crime anywhere in the United States—it could be different from state to state—but if you commit a crime and you’re not a citizen even if you’re legally here, they can take away the permanent residency and they can send you back to your country. So it was INS that came to meet me. They put me in a van and took me to a federal detention center. I had never been to El Salvador. I was born there but I’d never been there. This is going to be new.

I get to the detention center and I get put into this holding tank. It’s a pretty big holding tent where there’s two Hispanics in there. My Spanish is really bad. It’s really bad. It’s awful. So for whatever reason I had two Spanish Bibles. I don’t know how I had them, but I had kept them with me since I got born again. Two of them.

One of the guys asked me “Where are they sending you to?” I said, “I was born in El Salvador, so I guess I’m going back over there.” He says, “Do you have family there?” I said “No, I don’t have any family over there. My mom’s out here. My dad’s out here.” I said, “that I know of we don’t have any family over there.”

“So are you going to call your mom? Are you married?” I said “No, I’m not married. I don’t have kids. I don’t want to bother my mom right now. That’s going to really break her heart. So I’ll probably just call her when I get to El Salvador.”

Kim: Wait, wait, wait. You’re very calm about this. You’re about to be deported and sent to a country where you haven’t been to since you were two? Where you don’t have any real memory of, and you seem rather calm about that. How is that?

Casey: And I was. Again it’s that peace that God just gave me I guess since I got born again. I just trust Him. So I started witnessing to this guy. I let him know who I was and what God had done in solitary confinement with me. The next thing I know we’re holding hands and I’m leading him to Christ.

I remember I went to the bars / to the gate and the same federal agent that had put the chains on me—that went and picked me up—he happened to be walking right by the cell doors. I asked him “Hey, I’m sorry to bother you but in my box there’s a Spanish Bible in there. Can you open my box and give me that Bible?” He did. He gave it to me. I gave it to him and started talking to him.

One of the questions that he asked me was “Aren’t you nervous about—I mean you don’t have family there. You’ve practically never been there. Aren’t you afraid of what is going to happen over there?”

I said, “Jesus is in my heart man and I just know wherever He takes me, He’s going to take care of me wherever that is.”

So the second guy starts listening in to my conversation with this guy and I start witnessing to him. So now my conversation is aimed at him and just witnessing to him / sharing my faith with him. Low and behold just a few minutes later all three of us are holding hands and he’s coming to Christ. So I led him to Christ.

I remember I went back to the gate and the same agent I got his attention again. I said “There’s a second Bible there. Can you give it to me?” He gave it to me, and I gave it to this guy. We’re talking and I remember encouraging them.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they put me in the cell with you guys. I want to encourage you that wherever you go”—they were both Mexican. I said “When you go back to Mexico, you need to tell your family about Jesus and what happened to your life right before you were deported. Let everybody know. Don’t ever be ashamed of the gospel because what you have,”—and these guys are weeping. These are not guys that are—they’re weeping, right as I’m telling them, they’re weeping.

I remember one of the scriptures that I quoted was one of Frances Proctor’s favorite scriptures. It was Proverbs 3:5-6 “Don’t lean on your own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he’ll direct your paths.” I quoted that to them and as I’m talking to them the same federal agent that got me the two Bibles, that went and picked me up, that went and put the chains on me, he says “Diaz.” I said “Yes.” “Do you have anything else in that cell?” I said “I don’t have anything in there. No.” He says “Go ahead and step out. Somehow, we’ve made a mistake, but we can’t let you go home from here. We have to take you back to the state of California and we’ll parole you.”

Those two guys looked at me and said, “We thought you weren’t born here.” I said “I wasn’t. I was born in El Salvador. I’m telling you the truth.” “Then why are they letting you go?” I said “It’s what I’ve been telling you since I’ve been here. You put your trust in Jesus and Jesus Christ alone and then you leave it up to Him to do whatever He’s going to do with your life.”

We hugged and we’re going down this corridor back to the van. I have no chains on me. This federal agent tells me / he says “Let me ask you a question. What happened back there?” I said “They just came to Christ. I shared my story with them, and they came to Christ.”

He said “You know, I’ve been here for over 20 years and every time I pick up somebody that claims to be Christian and as soon as I put them in that tank, they’re talking about how high they’re going to get, how drunk they’re going to get, who they’re going to go sleep with and they forget all about their Christian faith the minute I put them in this tank.” He said, “This is the first time I’ve ever seen something like that.” He said, “I’m a believer as well.”

Kim: Wow.

Casey: I remember we’re walking, and we got to the place where the crates and the chains were. I’m standing right before him and he reaches over to the crate full of chains because he has to put restraints on me. When he came up with the chains, he’s looking at the chains, he’s looking at me and I see this federal agent—his lip is shaking, and his eyes are watery. This is a federal agent and he’s telling me “I feel so guilty putting these chains on you. You don’t deserve these chains.”

Not in a million years would I ever thought that a law enforcement officer / a federal agent would have that kind of a heart. I remember I stretched out my hands and I told him “It’s your job. It’s all good. Don’t feel bad. This is the last of the world so it’s all good.” He put the restraints on me. He took me back to state without a partner. It was just him and me.

Kim: Okay.

Casey: Now in the back of the van there’s a fence dividing him and me. It’s all locked up. But on the ride back I’m sharing my story with him because he asked me “What happened to you?”

I just go into my whole story with him. I remember he is sobbing as he’s driving. I remember I said to him “Man, I’m not going to tell you nothing more about my story because you’re going to get us into a car accident and I’m never getting home.” We laughed and the whole nine yards.

He invited me when we finally got there he said “It would be really great if you have an opportunity to ever come back here and share your story and testimony. There’s a lot of agents that are born again and they would just love to hear a success story like yours. I don’t know if that agent is still alive. I know that if he is and he gets ahold of my book, he’ll know who he is.

Kim: Did you ever think that this would be your life when you go back to that 11 year old joining a gang, and then those years following that entailed such violence such what sounds like hatred, did you ever think your life would be what you’re living now?

Casey: No. No. It’s amazing what God does in the life of anyone. It’s His grace and His mercy that’s new every morning. He is so faithful and so true to His Word and when we repent and we give Him all of our hearts, all of our minds, all of us—when we do that and obey His Word, it’s incredible what He will do with your life.

I mean this year I got invited to the White House for the prison reform thing and meeting all these people and seeing—We’re getting emails left and right from prison guards, wardens, police officers, inmates that are coming to Christ through this book.

It is just mind-blowing what God is doing. That’s God’s grace. That’s God’s favor and His mercy that has carried me and carries every one of His children. I don’t deserve anything. I know that I’ve done so much harm but then God is there, and He continues to just love us and forgive us and puts us in places that we never thought we’d be.

Kim: At the end of your book, you give tips to parents / to people as to how to keep their children from being involved in gangs. I know we don’t have enough time to go through all of them but are there one or two of the most important things you could list for us?

Casey: I think for the parent, for the single parent, or for the parents that think there’s no hope. Maybe their kid is already involved in a gang. Maybe they’re already in jail. That’s not the end of life. I would say if you’re not a Christian, you’re one prayer away from a relationship with Christ and that prayer is very simple. It’s when we repent from our sin and we acknowledge Him as our Creator, as our God and we ask for help.

God has made everything so simple for us to understand. His Bible is very simple. I think humans complicate things when it comes to a relationship with Christ. It’s so simple.

You know when you’re drowning—if you’ve ever been drowning or in a pool—you don’t know how to be a good swimmer. That’s not the time you take out a notepad and start analyzing how am I going to get out of this? Immediately the first thing that you say is “God help me.” He’s in our already whether you like Him or not He’s already at work. While we were yet sinners, Christ, he loved us, and he died for us. He’s just there.

If you’re a parent and you think that all hope is lost, it’s not lost. If there’s air in your lungs, cry out to God. Ask for His Son to come into your heart and then your prayer becomes effective immediately. That relationship is established with His Son. His Son Jesus Christ, He’s the only way, the truth, and the life and He will absolutely fight for your kid. He will fight for anything in your life.

Be part of your kids’ lives. It matters! Kids really don’t need a big truck. They don’t need a vacation in Hawaii. They just want you to be there through the hardship, through the good times, through the in between. They just want you to be part of their life and I think that when we do that it becomes so healthy in bringing up the next generation of young leaders and in the world.

Kim: Sound advice. Sound advice. Final question, Casey. What does your family look like now?

Casey: What does my family look like? I’ve been married to a believing wife. July 3rd we go on our 20th year.

Kim: 20 years!

Casey: We celebrate 20 years. 20 years it’s amazing.

Kim: Congratulations!

Casey: Thank you. I have my oldest daughter—her names Samantha—and she goes to Azusa Pacific University. Then I have my second daughter. Her name’s Mia and she just got accepted to Biola. She’s here. I have my 10-year-old son, Jacob, who is joining his football team in middle school. We’re just having fun. It’s just if you were to ask me what is my treasure? It’s these guys.

Kim: And you’re able to be to them the daddy you never had.

Oh I wish you could have seen the emotions on Casey’s face as he remembered those things that he did in his past. I could feel his pain. I could tell that he was no longer that man who did not value human life. I could tell that he was a man who had been changed by Jesus.

Well, here’s a few takeaways from my conversation with Casey Diaz. God loves us so much that He will, one, do whatever it takes to get our attention. And then, He will also use the most unlikely of people to carry out His plans. All it takes is for us to be willing vessels. And then, God also meets us wherever we are. There is no place He cannot reach. Even the SHU—solitary confinement at a maximum-security prison.

I don’t know but maybe there’s someone in your life that you’ve written off. That you feel has no hope. Well after hearing Casey’s story, I truly hope you reconsider those thoughts / those beliefs.

Think about Frances Proctor. One woman who committed to praying for Casey. Think about the impact she had on all the people he reached. Think about it. He reached hundreds of inmates and guards. He became this evangelistic machine. When you think about what he’s doing today with his book and his speaking, it numbers in the thousands.

So what kind of impact can you or I have on that person that we’re thinking is hopeless. Maybe we should think about praying for that person instead of criticizing, calling out to God for that person instead of tearing them down, and maybe God will make us a part of someone else’s story of victory.

Thanks for listening. If you’d like more information about Casey’s book, The Shot Caller, check out the show notes on the Unfavorable Odds page at FamilyLife.com/podcasts.

If you enjoyed today’s conversation with Casey Diaz, I hope you’ll consider subscribing to the podcast. You can search for Unfavorable Odds on Apple podcasts or Stitcher or wherever you go for podcasts.

Oh, and by the way, we’d love to get your feedback, and positive reviews are appreciated.

And if I can ask you a big favor. Will you help us spread the word about this podcast? Maybe think about one or two people you think might enjoy or benefit from listening.

Next time on Unfavorable Odds.

Rene: She asked the question “Do you know why you’re here?” I said, “I’m here because I got test results that didn’t look clear.” She said “I’ll ask you again. Do you know why you’re here?” And she was trying to get me to say that I have cancer and I just couldn’t get it out of my mouth.

Dr. Rene Rochester, next time.

I’m Kim Anthony. Thanks for listening to this episode of Unfavorable Odds.

Unfavorable Odds is produced by FamilyLife® and is a part of the FamilyLife Podcast Network.


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