George Lang remembers someone in his childhood home being paralyzed after a lead pipe ended an argument over a can of beer. Although not all arguments were resolved this way, violence and anger were commonplace, he remembers.
Years later, while enrolled in the Prison Fellowship Academy™, he was baffled when he met men who were loving and gracious in their examples as fathers and husbands.
Growing up in the projects of St. Paul, Minnesota, George learned early on to fend for himself.
"If I was gonna eat, get clothes, it was gonna be by my own doing," he explains. By 10, he was living a life of crime. As a young adult, he had set his sights on living out Al Pacino's character from "Scarface."
George purchased a bar that he turned into a night club. He used as a hub to control all of the drug traffic in the neighborhood.
"He thought he was 'big pimping,'" recalls his daughter Jessica, the oldest of his four children. "He thought he was the greatest guy who ever touched Earth."
Meanwhile, life at home was a mess.
"Before he went to prison, [there are] a lot of memories of chaotic stuff," says Jessica. "[My parents were] always fighting."
Instead, he discovered a relationship with Jesus Christ. Slowly, his outlook on life changed and he decided to enroll in the Prison Fellowship Academy at Lino Lakes. He grew a lot during this time, as he dealt with issues from his past and studied God's Word. But perhaps the most valuable gift George received at the program were the interactions he had with the volunteers.
"The biggest impact I had in [the Academy] wasn't a curriculum." He explains. "It was the modeling of a father through the network of Christian men who came in to support the program."
They would come in week after week and spend time with prisoners like George, talking about various challenges they had had with their children, and explaining how they had worked through them.
"It was a healthy modeling of parenting," says George.
PROOF OF GOD
George got out of prison ready to be the father his children always needed. Jessica was 12 or 13 at the time.
"I didn't buy it," she says about his transformation from drug kingpin to follower of Jesus Christ. "I didn't believe any of it was true."
Despite George's desire to be present for his kids, a lengthy family court situation prevented him from contacting them for several years. In the interim, he got involved with FreedomWorks, a post-prison outreach for Christian men in the Twin Cities, and began rebuilding his life from the ground up.
Eventually, he was able to reach out to his three sons and daughter again. George began modeling the parenting he'd learned at the Academy through patience and consistency. And over time, George was delighted to watch his younger sons develop their own relationships with Christ.
Jessica, now 21 and the mother of a toddler, remembers bumping into her dad for the first time in four years in a public place. "We started talking," she says, and since then she's realized his turnaround is not an act.
The two have been on good terms for the past three years now.
"I really thought he was gonna get on the drugs," says Jessica, admitting her initial skepticism, "[but] it's been 11 years since he's been sober. I've gone to church with him. I've seen the things he's done for the community. People … have pulled me aside and told me things he has done for them. I look up to him now because I didn't know someone could change that much."
And although Jessica says she's not particularly religious, she does admit that her father's faith has grown her own.
"As a teenager, I didn't even believe in God, but he's shown me things in my life that shows God is there."