"I knew about Christ. I knew about the Gospel," Juan says. "I just didn't know what the Gospel meant."
Juan is in his mid-40s and has been incarcerated for 21 years. As a younger man, he first began following Jesus after spending time in "the hole," or solitary confinement, for a crime he committed in prison. But it was all just "head knowledge," as he puts it—"I wasn't changed within."
His knowledge wasn't enough to transform his life, and after his release he returned to his old lifestyle. Which is why today, he is a "three-striker," he explains from the yard at Folsom State Prison.
Juan couldn't get his life right on his own. But although he knew who Jesus Christ is, he wasn't able to surrender his life completely to the Lord. Thankfully, there were others incarcerated alongside him who were.
Two of his fellow prisoners would frequently pray together, Juan noticed. He found their display of faith embarrassing.
"They used to pray all the time," he says. "They would always invite me [to pray] and I would say, 'No, no. Pray for yourself … I'm OK.'"
But Juan wasn't "OK." Something was missing from his life—something was wrong on the inside.
One night, Juan approached the two praying prisoners. He didn't know what he should do or how he should pray. But he told the men, "I'm here. I'm here. Just pray for me."
This humble step began a change of heart within him. His faith was no longer based on knowledge but on a relationship with God.
That relationship would grow deeper, but the journey would be painful.
THE CATALYST FOR CHANGE
Juan was unable to be present in his son's life due to his life of crime and incarceration. In 2012, his son passed away while Juan was in prison.
"I was going through a lot because of his death," Juan shares, "but you know what? I can honestly say that his death brought me closer to Christ."
Instead of allowing himself to become depressed or wallow in his sorrow, Juan focused on his relationship with Jesus while he grieved.
Today Juan is incarcerated at Folsom State Prison where he works as a porter for the prison chapel.