Prison can be a scary place. You need Someone to watch your back.
Montreal Major was just 14 years old the first time he tried crack cocaine.
"My fellow classmates pulled out crack and [were] like, 'Do you know what this is?'" Montreal recalls. "I had seen it on TV, but I had never seen it in real life."
It was a defining moment in the young man's life. "It took me for a twist," he says. "I was like, 'Wow, this is my reality.'"
Montreal was one of five children born to a single mom. When he was a teenager, his mother moved the family "from a two-story home in Missouri City to a one-bedroom shack house in Fifth Ward," Montreal says. "And that cultural experience—that kind of did something to me. I went from a second-class family to a very low-class family. Poverty was all around us."
In Fifth Ward, Montreal found drugs and gangs waiting to take him in. "Everything that I had learned in my old environment, it had to get altered in order for me to survive."
Montreal learned to adapt. He began skipping school and gave up on basketball. Instead, he threw himself into the street life and joined a gang. When he was 17, he was arrested and charged with aggravated robbery. He faced up to 99 years in prison. He was sentenced to five.
FIGHTING FOR SURVIVAL
"I can remember getting off of the bus, shackled down, walking through the gates," Montreal recalls, "and I could feel a cold shiver take over my whole body."
Afraid of what he would find behind prison walls, Montreal felt the pressure to survive—and to find a community so he wouldn't feel alone. He quickly sought out a gang to join.
"The same way that the gang rules apply in the free world, in real life, they apply in the prison system as well, so I immediately joined a gang. I already had a little rep—people knew about me from the streets."
Being part of the gang meant he had protection, but his life was far from being a comfortable. At such a young age, the experience had a traumatic effect on him. On the outside he tried to be tough, but inside he was full of fear.
"I put on a hard façade. I had to. I had to survive, I had to adapt to my environment to get back to my family."
THE FAÇADE CRUMBLES
While in prison, Montreal began attending church services. He and his gang members would deal drugs in the back of the chapel. The other prisoners would eventually leave and go back to their cells or the yard, but Montreal often stayed. He liked to listen to the music.
Montreal started out sitting in the back row, but week after week he found himself moving forward until one day, three months after his arrival at the prison, Montreal found himself sitting on the very front row.
When the guest preacher that day gave the altar call, Montreal responded.
"He was preaching, giving a sermon about forgiveness and redemption. When he asked, 'Does anybody want to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?' I didn’t even stand up. I just fell to my knees and grabbed his legs and started crying."
His hard façade had crumbled before the name of Jesus Christ. Montreal had spent his whole life learning to acclimate to the culture around him. But now he had the chance to be the man God had always intended him to be.
TRADING IN HIS GANG FOR A FAMILY
After his conversion, Montreal realized that he couldn't follow Christ and still be an active gang member. He was terrified, knowing the repercussions that often follow when someone leaves a gang, but God intervened and provided a way out. With the support of his new Christian brothers, Montreal left his old life behind and never looked back.
Just before his release, he was transferred to the Carol S. Vance Unit in Texas, a pre-release facility. It was there that Montreal enrolled in the Prison Fellowship Academy™.
"Walking off the bus to Carol Vance and being greeted with hugs from inmates was strange, I can honestly say that," he says with a chuckle.
Located in select prisons across the country, the Academy takes men and women through a holistic life transformation spanning weeks or months where they are guided by Prison Fellowship® staff and volunteers to lead lives of purpose and productivity inside and outside of prison.
"Once I got out [of prison], I knew I really had to put the rubber to the road, and I had to be about everything that I was saying I was going to do," Montreal says. Today, Montreal is a college graduate with a degree in business who has dedicated himself to serving his community. The scared, rough young man is gone. God has restored Montreal and given him a bright future.
"I know that as a man it is my God-given ability to teach others and to build up the youth in my community. It's just all about giving back and making sure that the next person is good."