When LaDavid Taylor was young, he never felt at home. He was brought up in Dallas by his mother and his stepfather, who was his only father figure from the time he was a toddler.
"The way that he showed love—he always provided, but he didn't talk much. … He was a wise man, but we didn't talk much," recalls LaDavid. His mother was young, and she and LaDavid had their issues, too. LaDavid struggled with feeling abandoned and misunderstood, so he tried figuring out life on his own.
That didn't go so well.
GETTING BACK ON TRACK
"I needed molding; I needed mentoring," he says. As an adolescent, things spiraled downward. "I got into the streets and a lot of foolishness." LaDavid believed in God, but he would often get upset with Him and turn away from Him.
LaDavid knew he needed to get his life together, so he joined the U.S. Marines. He really enjoyed life in the corps—until he hurt his knee, essentially ending his military career.
That sent him into a depression, which he numbed with alcohol. One day he woke up in a Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital. A friend had brought him there after finding him unconscious at home. The doctor told him his liver was damaged. "[He said], 'All it’s going to take is for you to drink you a couple more beers, and you'll die,'" LaDavid remembers. "That was it for me."
"All it's going to take is for you to drink you a couple more beers, and you'll die."
Determined to get his life on track again, LaDavid stopped drinking. Unfortunately, the friend who had brought him to the VA was on a different path. The friend started drinking and became aggressive, even taking the keys to LaDavid's car. The two men got into an altercation when LaDavid tried to get the keys back. The friend had a gun. After a struggle, LaDavid shot him twice, which led to a sentence of 25 years in prison. He was 24 years old.
SURRENDERING HIS WILL
LaDavid felt the full weight of what he had done. At the end of his own resources, he told God he didn't want to turn away from Him anymore. "[Then God] told me to prove to Him that I love Him," says LaDavid. "And that meant just basically, 'Seek My face in the middle of your darkness.' And I grew from that."
Prison might be a dark place, but LaDavid stayed focused on trying to seek God and to grow in his faith during his sentence. Hoping to improve himself and prepare for life after his eventual release, LaDavid applied to join the Prison Fellowship Academy® at the Carol S. Vance Unit in Texas.
The Academy uses targeted curriculum, compassionate coaches, and restorative community to replace participants’ criminal thinking and behaviors with renewed purpose and biblically based life principles. Graduates complete the yearlong program as change agents and good citizens inside and outside of prison. In the Academy, LaDavid embarked on a transformative journey.
"[Academy volunteers] look past the front that you're putting up—this mask," says LaDavid.
The program helped him to ask the deeper questions and get to the underlying issues that lead to unhealthy behaviors. He adds that the volunteers also "address the boundaries, things we need to face, things we need to think about before we come home after all this time: how to think about family, how to deal with family, and how your current situation tells how you're going to react to the situations you're going to face on the outside." He credits the Academy with helping him grow in his faith and his character.
"Then God told me ... 'Seek My face in the middle of your darkness.' And I grew from that."
RESTORING PRISONERS TO CHRIST
Individuals and communities are never static. Whether solo or in groups, people are dynamically shaped and molded through productive—or destructive—influences and interactions. Prisons are no different. The brokenness that lands men and women in prison, left unaddressed, perpetuates a cycle of destructive thinking and behaviors that impacts individuals and communities—both inside and outside prison walls.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
LIVING FOR SOMETHING GREATER
"Alpha took me from head knowledge of my faith with Christ to an intimate knowledge, just through asking questions and being able to evaluate my personal views about my own faith," he says.
While LaDavid was growing as a person, he was also growing as a dad. He signed his children up for Prison Fellowship Angel Tree™, a program that serves incarcerated parents by giving them a pathway to restore and strengthen relationships with their children and families. The year before his release, LaDavid asked his girlfriend—who stuck with him the entire time he was incarcerated—to marry him. She said yes.
LaDavid was released on August 8, 2018, at 44 years old. He and his family are doing well. LaDavid has since started a janitorial business, and it’s prospering. He also has a role with Alpha's Inner City Initiative in Houston, which allows him to continue with his favorite part of the Academy program. He says his favorite part is building relationships with groups local nonprofits and churches so that together they can support their community.
Of course, life after prison isn't easy or stress-free, but LaDavid has learned to take things one day and one step at a time, keeping his eyes focused on Jesus.
"There's always problems," LaDavid says. "But God has given us a peace to walk through them that has been so smooth. I don't understand it. But I'm grateful."
The greatest lesson LaDavid learned from his time in the Academy is one he is still practicing today: "Living life for something greater than yourself."
"There's always problems. But God has given us a peace to walk through them that has been so smooth. I don't understand it. But I'm grateful."
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