George found his identity in crime, but God knew he was meant for more.
George Lang was 14 when he saw the gangster film Scarface and said, "That's the guy I want to be."
George sounds like a bona fide Minnesotan as he describes growing up in St. Paul. Raised in the projects with five siblings, he watched his father and mother struggle with alcoholism. Their arguments often swelled into violence and rage when they were home, which wasn't often. Recovery meetings and long work hours often kept his parents away, and while George admired their work ethic, he felt their frequent absence.
Looking back, he says, "I found my identity in crime. ... People needed something from me, so that made me feel good."
Then came the substance abuse. First, he used and dealt marijuana, then graduated to selling narcotics. Eventually he owned a bar, which he used as a central location for selling drugs.
Soon the law caught up with him. The third time police raided the apartment above the bar, they found George with a needle stuck in his arm.
"When they kicked in the doors, I just remember crying. I wasn't crying because I knew I was going to jail. I was crying because I wanted to die. I was trying to overdose ... and I just couldn't seem to die."
By the time George arrived at Minnesota Correctional Facility-Lino Lakes, he had been married and divorced. He'd traded his four children for a life of crime. He knew he'd let down everyone, including himself. And he felt alone.
I'm a nobody in here, he thought in his cell.
Then George embarked on a new journey: the Prison Fellowship Academy®, a holistic, biblically based life-transformation program. He admits he was shocked at what he found. "For me, to be exposed to a community of believers was extremely bizarre."
In the Academy, George discovered a family. Caring staff and volunteers guided him every step of the way. Until then, George had very few people he could trust. The Academy changed everything.
"The lightbulb went off that this is what healthy community is," he recalls.
George learned that many people across the country were praying for him and his classmates to open their hearts to Christ. For the guy who grew up within the radius of a few blocks in St. Paul, that meant everything.
"My worldview started to change," he says. "God was calling me into something that was bigger than my circumstances."
George turned down the opportunity to be released early so he could complete the Academy and never looked back. When the time came to leave prison, he was uneasy about the obstacles he would face. He stayed close to mentors and persevered.
Since returning, George has remarried. He has reconciled with his children, and he has been sober for 15 years. Today, he is the proud director of FreedomWorks, a post-prison ministry that, in many ways, continues the work the Academy begins on the inside. He calls it a reminder of God's continued grace.
Look George Lang in the eye today, and you will see no remnant of Scarface. But you will see Christ's peace and joy.
"The freedom that I feel is not because the bars and chains are off me," says George. "It's because I'm free in Christ."
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